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South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy believes there's a point in every season where you make a determination if your team is going to be a contender or a pretender before all is said and done.
He put it to his team that a three-game stretch that included games against Roseburg, Crater and North Medford would be that point for his squad, and when the dust settled Tuesday night, Murphy had his answer.
Contender it is.
Ninth-ranked South Medford earned its seventh straight victory and third of the season against cross-town rival North Medford by never trailing in a 62-51 romp in Southern Oregon Hybrid boys basketball at the Black Tornado gym.
The Panthers (14-4, 6-1 SOH) opened an 8-0 advantage and led by as many as 16 points in the second and fourth quarters against the Black Tornado (12-6, 3-4), which couldn't get closer than eight points in the second half.
"There's no question about it we're getting better," said Murphy. "We're much better than I really thought we would be and that's a credit to the kids. They've really taken to the coaching and they're working harder and they're getting tougher."
"It's a great win for us on the road," he added. "The kids came ready again and played hard."
South Medford shot better from the field, 47 percent (22-for-47) to 39 percent (22-for-57) for North, and used a 37-25 rebounding advantage to its benefit Tuesday.
The Panthers had three players reach double figures in scoring, led by Mark Winans' 16 points, and another in Adrian Garcia who flirted with a triple-double by posting nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Garcia, who also had two steals, was especially dominant in the first half, coming up with seemingly every loose ball and then finding ways to get his teammates involved in the offense.
"You really see his senior leadership this year," said Murphy of the 6-foot point guard. "Seniors know how important it is to play in big games and he has done that. From making shots to rebounding to assists, he's really the glue and keeps us going and makes the plays when we need to."
Garcia netted a pair of clutch last-second free throws that allowed South to eventually earn a three-overtime victory over Roseburg last Tuesday, then netted 14 of his career-high 20 points in a fourth-quarter surge that moved the Panthers past Crater last Friday. His goal Tuesday was simply to keep South from early-game lulls that have crept up from time to time this season.
"Murph's been repeating that it's very difficult to beat a team three times so we just had to come out and give it our best, especially being at their place," said Garcia. "We came out hot at 8-0 and we made them try and play from behind the whole time."
Julian Gray led the way for North Medford with 13 points and four rebounds and Aaron Browne-Moore added an energetic effort with 11 points and seven rebounds but the Black Tornado simply couldn't overcome a slow start and a determined bunch of Panthers.
"They got off to a nice start and we put ourselves in another hole, just like we have in multiple games here lately," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn, whose team trailed 15-9 through one quarter and 34-21 by halftime. "And their defense was solid. Our second half execution on offense was better but still not to the level it needed to be."
South Medford senior Matt Toreson sparked his team right off the bat with nine of his 11 points coming in the first quarter.
Winans picked up where Toreson left off, scoring the first nine points of the second quarter on a pair of 3-pointers and three free-throws after being fouled on another shot beyond the arc.
"He's a shooter," Garcia said of Winans. "If he's wide open, I'm going to give him the ball and he's going to make it. It's as simple as that."
That surge by Winans all but settled the contest as North Medford fell into a 24-9 deficit and struggled to recover from that point on. The second quarter also included three misses on the front end of one-and-one trips to the foul line by North, which finished 4-for-9 from the charity stripe compared to a perfect 14-for-14 by South.
"It seemed like every time we did get momentum going we either missed a layup or a free throw or a good look inside and then didn't get back on defense and get another stop," added Plankenhorn. "Those things happen but we've got to get back and get a stop, and we just didn't seem to have the fight in us to do that on a consistent basis."
South Medford senior Jesse Mondry added 10 points and seven rebounds, while Tristian Lallo and Brandon Robertson each came off the bench to score six points. Lallo also pulled in four boards and CJ Keepes added five rebounds.
Garrett Knox was solid in the post for the Black Tornado despite dealing with an ankle injury, scoring nine points to go with six rebounds and three steals. Senior point guard Oshea Bailey added nine points and Tristen Holmes had seven for North, which committed only seven turnovers.
SOUTH MEDFORD (62) — Winans 16, Toreson 11, Mondry 10, Garcia 9, Lallo 6, Robertson 6, Keepes 2, Carpenter 2, Massey 0, Monical 0. Totals: 22-47 14-14 62.
NORTH MEDFORD (51) — Gray 13, Browne-Moore 11, Bailey 9, Knox 9, Holmes 7, Bush 2, Klug 0, Sherbourne 0, Reyes 0. Totals: 22-57 4-9 51.
South Medford 15 19 12 16 — 62
North Medford 9 12 14 16 — 51
3-point goals — South Medford 4-11 (Winans 3, Toreson 1), North Medford 3-13 (Holmes 2, Bailey 1). Fouled out — Browne-Moore.
JV score — North Medford 58, South Medford 56.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry