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STOCKTON, Calif. — On one side of the coin, South Medford's girls basketball team held a halftime lead over the No. 9 team in the country and host of the Martin Luther King Showcase, St. Mary's of Stockton, Calif., on Monday afternoon.
On the other side was a 22-2 foul disparity that left the Panthers wondering how it could continue to compete over the final 16 minutes with four players saddled with three fouls at the break.
St. Mary's used that second factor to its advantage in the second half, turning a 43-42 deficit into an 84-71 victory as South Medford eventually saw three starters eliminated from the nonconference tournament finale.
"We're up at the half and you should feel good but it's 22-2 in foul difference and three of our starters have three fouls," said Panthers head coach Tom Cole, whose team dropped to 11-4. "In the second half we never could play with all five of those players again at the same time. It was just so frustrating to watch. To have the referees have that much impact on the game, it was horrific."
The host Rams (19-1), nationally ranked by the MaxPreps Freeman Rankings and MaxPreps Xcellent 25 (at No. 21), turned the tide with an 18-7 surge during a third quarter that saw South's starting point guard Yaremi Mejia and sophomore wing Andee Ritter each pick up their fourth fouls within minutes of each other.
St. Mary's, which was in the double bonus three minutes into the second quarter, finished 22-for-37 from the free-throw line overall while South Medford was 11-for-13.
Panthers senior Kylie Towry led all scorers with 30 points, dropping in four key 3-pointers and 14 points to fuel her team in the second quarter after a balanced showing in the first quarter.
"She shot the ball really well," Cole said of Towry. "The key for us in staying in the game was our ability to break their pressure because the pressure was constant all game long. Every possession they were trapping everywhere."
Junior forward Ashley Bolston led South Medford's effort on the boards and finished with 15 points, while Mejia had eight before fouling out and freshman Julissa Tago added seven.
The Panthers got a big boost off the bench from sophomore Keyari Sleezer, who finished with six points, as Cole was forced to mix up his lineup throughout the second half. South Medford also played without sophomore post MacKenzie Cox, who fell ill during the weekend trip.
"I feel like our kids were capable of beating that team, and that's not to be demeaning in any way," said Cole. "I was just really proud of them. Our kids played really, really hard and rose to the occasion. They came out and played excited and played incredible against that team, which deserves credit, too. It's not as if that team is not a capable team when you're talking about a team that's (No. 9) in the country and lost only one game this year against a team from Florida."
Senior Unique Coleman paced St. Mary's with 24 points, while sophomore Bri Moore had 21 and junior Charise Holloway added 13.
SOUTH MEDFORD (71) — Towry 30, Bolston 15, Mejia 8, J. Tago 7, Sleezer 6, Ritter 3, Falls 2, L. Tago 0. Totals: 27 11-13 71.
ST. MARY'S (84) — Coleman 24, Moore 21, Holloway 13, Jemerigbe 11, Tudor 6, Lauron-Ramos 5, Delgado 2, Shipp 2. Totals: 29 22-37 84.
South Medford 21 22 7 21 — 71
St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) 15 27 18 24 — 84
3-point goals — South Medford 6 (Towry 5, J. Tago 1), St. Mary's 4 (Tudor 2, Jemerigbe 1, Coleman 1). Fouled out — Mejia, Ritter, Bolston.