Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
There wasn't much ebb and flow to Saturday's showdown between South Medford and North Medford, but the second-ranked Panthers showed they can win in any number of ways on the Black Tornado's home court.
South Medford forced 34 turnovers and generally made it tough for the Black Tornado to have many good looks at the basket en route to a 68-27 runaway win in Southern Oregon Hybrid girls basketball.
The Panthers (9-2, 3-0 SOH) built a 20-5 cushion through one quarter of play and were never seriously threatened despite a gritty effort by North Medford.
"We knew we just had to get out early and try to press up top to get the game under control early," said South junior Ashley Bolston. "After that we just keep going as hard as we can. We don't really look at the score, we just go off what we know we still have to work on."
Bolston, a 6-foot-1 forward, led the charge with an incredible first quarter that saw her only score two points but still set the pace with seven rebounds, four blocks and one assist. She finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks, four steals and two assists.
"She was so aggressive defensively that she was able to take (North's McKensey) Peters out of her normal scoring position and created a number of turnovers with just her length and controlled the defensive rebounds," South Medford head coach Tom Cole said of Bolston, who has verbally committed to Washington State. "She stepped up tonight. Her game in the first half was a huge reason why we go into the second half by 21."
Panther freshman Julissa Tago scored seven of her 13 points in the first half and finished with four rebounds, while Andee Ritter and Yaremi Mejia each added nine points, three steals and two rebounds for South.
A bevy of foul calls, turnovers and missed shots hindered the flow of the game throughout, but especially in a first half that saw the Panthers take a 34-13 lead into the locker room.
"We couldn't get into that quick rhythm and create transition buckets but I think the kids adapted and going into half had a solid lead," added Cole. "It was not a particularly good night from the field either but they gutted out some good ones and we're happy to get out of here with a win."
North Medford senior Maryssa Becker played a pivotal role in slowing the Panthers as much as possible. The 6-foot post pulled down a career-best 16 rebounds — most on the defensive end to deny second-chance opportunities — and scored a team-high nine points for the Black Tornado (8-4, 0-3).
"That's kind of the game that we've been waiting for her to have," said North Medford head coach Tim Karrick. "This is a nice breakout game for her. If she continues to have games like that we're going to be pretty tough."
The key to the game was the Tornado's inability to consistently handle the Panthers' non-stop pressure. Point guard Joci Ellis fared as well as can be expected but South also did a good job of trying to keep the ball out of her hands in key moments.
"We knew coming in we couldn't get turned over like that," Karrick said of his team's 34 turnovers. "That's a good running back number, it's not a good turnover number."
"South's very good," added Karrick, in the first year of his second tour of duty with the Tornado. "They're athletic and long and every one of them can shoot and dribble penetrate, and they're all legitimate scorers. It's a tough matchup and you're going to have a hard time keeping them under a big number in points."
Peters finished with eight points and three rebounds despite a focused effort by the Panther defense. The 5-11 senior entered the game averaging an SOH-best 18.1 points per game.
Sydney Thomas added five points and played tough defense for North, which shot only 27 percent from the field (12-for-45) and couldn't take advantage from the foul line (2-for-16 with 14 straight misses).
"The girls played hard," said Karrick. "Defensively they really tried to execute the things that we had talked about and I was very proud of their effort. You look up and you've given up 68 points but to a team like that, that's actually not too bad. We didn't give them a lot of easy ones."
South Medford was only marginally better from the field at 32 percent (21-for-66) but outscored North by 20 points from the free-throw line by going 22-for-27 (81 percent).
The win capped a memorable week for Cole, who earned his 100th victory with the Panthers on Tuesday at Crater and improved his overall coaching tally to 101-45 (.692) on Saturday.
In his sixth season at South Medford, Cole has already become the school's winningest coach, surpassing Andrea Jaime's mark of 98-98 set from 1997 to the 2004-05 season with this year's effort. He is the only Panther girls basketball coach with an overall winning record.
SOUTH MEDFORD (68) — Bolston 14, J. Tago 13, Mejia 9, Ritter 9, Falls 7, Towry 6, L. Tago 4, Cox 4, Sleezer 2. Totals: 21-66 22-27 68.
NORTH MEDFORD (27) — Becker 9, Peters 8, Thomas 5, Ellis 3, O'Connor 2, Williamson 0, Randleman 0, Martin 0, Hogue 0. Totals: 12-45 2-16 27.
South Medford 20 14 18 16 — 68
North Medford 5 8 4 10 — 27
3-point goals — South Medford 4-17 (Bolston 3, Ritter 1), North Medford 1-3 (Becker 1).
JV score — South Medford 35, North Medford 27.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry