Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
The shot is falling and the smile is beaming.
Andee Ritter proved Friday that she most certainly has got her groove back.
The South Medford sophomore, who had a slow start to the season, recorded 20 points, three blocks, three steals, three rebounds and three assists to help guide the second-ranked Panthers past Crater, 90-20, in Southern Oregon Hybrid girls basketball at South Medford High.
South raced out to a 37-4 lead in the first quarter against the young and short-handed Comets and never looked back.
Junior Ashley Bolston had 15 points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks, senior Yaremi Mejia 13 points, six rebounds and four assists, freshman Julissa Tago 10 points and six rebounds and senior Luisa Tago 10 points and four rebounds for the Panthers.
Freshman Jasmine Falls added nine points and six rebounds for South, which finished with 15 steals in raising their overall record to 13-4 and their SOH mark to 6-0. Crater dropped to 5-11 and 1-6.
Leading the offensive eruption was Ritter, whose freshman year was impressive but whose sophomore campaign began rather quietly.
Last season, she received most valuable player honors at the Nike Interstate Shootout and was named to the SOH second team while operating as a major player in the Panthers' undefeated Class 6A state title run.
Things only got better for the versatile 6-foot guard when she was offered a future scholarship from Gonzaga University during the summer after catching the eye of head coach Kelly Graves.
But as Year 2 rolled around, Ritter's rhythm and shot were thrown off as she often ran into foul trouble. Her woes included a two-point outing against Cleveland (Wash.) and just three points against Springfield.
"We forget that they are kids and they want to be kids and they want to enjoy the sport and not have to worry about necessarily calibrating to a next step when the next step is three years away," South Medford head coach Tom Cole said of Ritter.
Cole said he began seeing a rejuvenated Ritter at the National Title IX Holiday Invitational Classic in Washington D.C. late last month.
"By the time we left D.C. you could begin to see she was doing more things right and worrying less about making mistakes," Cole said. "From an individual player standpoint, it was a huge thing for us because she is such an important part of what we do."
League opponents have mostly gotten Ritter at her best. Two examples were the 18 points she chipped in on perfect shooting against the Comets on Jan. 8 and the 23 she posted against Roseburg on Jan. 22.
"With the team it's a flow thing," said senior teammate Kylie Towry, who had nine points and four steals against Crater. "Once (Ritter) gets in it, then everybody is in a flow. It's really nice."
Ritter said getting up more shots in practice and playing with an added level of patience and judiciousness in games have contributed to the return of her mojo.
"The first couple games I would get in foul trouble a lot so I was in and out," said Ritter, who buried four 3s against the Comets. "It got my rhythm off. So I just kind of had to get used to how the refs call the games and lay back a little in the first quarter. ... I figured it out. That is why I am getting the hang of it. Now I'm back."
Ritter comes from a hardwood background. Her dad played professionally in Germany and Argentina and her mom at Oregon Tech. Her older sister Jenni became Klamath Union's all-time leading scorer before going on to play at Portland State.
Andee can do a bit of everything — knock down 3s, drive hard, block shots, get in passing lanes and force turnovers.
And it was all on display on Friday, which brought a smile to Cole's face.
"I think (Andee) puts a lot of pressure on herself to be successful, and when she started settling down and having fun again and allowing the game to come to her, it was good to watch her have a smile on her face up and down the court," Cole said.
CRATER (20) — Bascom 5, C. Scott 4, Gavin 0, B. Heard 0, M. Heard 1, Noles 6, Ryerson 2, Gavin 0, Laws 2, Turituri 0, McElravy 0. Totals: 5 9-14 20.
SOUTH MEDFORD (90) — Towry 9, L. Tago 10, Ritter 20, Bolston 15, J. Tago 10, Sleezer 4, Falls 9, Mejia 13. Totals: 36 11-14 90.
Crater 4 4 5 7 — 20
South Medford 37 16 18 19 — 90
3-point goals — Crater 1 (Bascom 1), South Medford 7 (Ritter 4, L. Tago 1, Bolston 1, Mejia 1).
JV result — South Medford won.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499 or email email@example.com