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Conference titles were a rarity when Kylie Towry and Yaremi Mejia first stepped into the varsity lineup as freshmen for the South Medford girls basketball program.
Flash forward to Friday night and the No. 2-ranked Panthers weren't even giving a second thought to what they accomplished with their 71-50 triumph over Roseburg in Southern Oregon Hybrid play.
In fact, the Panthers had no idea they had clinched the outright SOH title for a third straight season with their third win over the runner-up Indians. When you're focused on defending your Class 6A state title, I suppose sometimes things can sneak up on you.
"That is nice, we didn't even talk about that," South Medford head coach Tom Cole said after his team's 35th straight conference victory dating back to the 2009-10 season. "It's great to get a third consecutive conference title. Roseburg has given us some good games and I thought we did some things well tonight."
Towry and Mejia were on center stage for most of those highlights, with Towry scoring a game-high 26 points while Mejia added 15 points and six assists in a contest that saw South Medford maintain a double-digit lead from the six-minute mark on.
Junior Ashley Bolston added 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists and senior Luisa Tago added six points and four steals for the Panthers (17-4, 9-0 SOH). South Medford moved five games ahead of second-place Roseburg (15-7, 5-5) and Grants Pass (8-11, 5-5) with only three league games remaining.
"It's very special because we did it as a team and, for the three seniors, to have the experience of doing it three years in a row is even more special for all of us," Mejia said of another league crown.
Mejia provided a steadying influence in the early going with six points to help South take a 9-4 lead midway through the first quarter, but it was Towry who essentially put the game away in the second quarter. The 5-foot-9 guard scored the final basket of the first quarter and tallied the first nine Panther points of the second quarter to build a 26-9 cushion.
"That's what you hope your seniors are able to provide," said Cole. "When Kylie starts hitting 3s and getting good looks, she's as good as any shooter in the state."
The Panthers led 34-13 at halftime but took their foot off the throttle in the third quarter and Roseburg responded by dialing its own attack up a notch to create the possibility of an upset. The Indians connected for six 3-pointers in the third quarter — four by Jaclyn Humphry — to close to within 12 points at 43-31.
"Our effort in the second half was much better," said Roseburg head coach Jeff Thomas. "We come down here and we know they're very good and sometimes we're enamored by that. They're just a basketball team — a very good one at that, don't get me wrong, they're one of the best in the state — but it took us a half to kinda get over that hump and stop being fascinated by how good they are."
Despite Roseburg's red-hot pace from beyond the arc — the Indians were 6-for-7 from long range in the third — South Medford was able to find an answer. Towry responded with a 3-pointer on a nice setup by freshman Julissa Tago, and Mejia dropped in another triple and a pair of free throws to keep the Panthers' lead from being too challenged.
"They have lots of weapons and they do a good job of using them," added Thomas. "They're very good and so you kinda have to pick your poison. We had some decisions coming into tonight of who we were going to try to defend and make some other people score. We did what we wanted to do early but they're just hard to defend."
South went back to some full-court pressure in the fourth quarter and came up with a handful of steals — two by Andee Ritter and one each by Mejia, Bolston and Luisa Tago — that led to baskets on the other end.
"To their credit, they continued to challenge us and make it a game," Cole said of the Indians. "But I thought the girls did a good job of maintaining good composure and turning it back on again."
Roseburg senior Shelby Snook scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half, while Humphry finished with 14 points and Ashley Backen had eight points and six rebounds. The Indians, who again played without junior post Pele Gianotti, also got a boost off the bench from Olyvia Fox, who grabbed nine rebounds to help her team win the battle on the boards.
Even with another SOH title firmly in hand, Cole said the work is far from over as his team looks to wrap up its regular season.
"We still have to focus on keeping some momentum going into the playoffs," he said. "If we don't bring it, good teams rise to the occasion to play the defending state champions and that's a little scary."
ROSEBURG (50) — Snook 20, Humphry 14, Backen 8, F. Johnson 2, K. Chong 2, M. Chong 2, Thrush 2, Griggs 0, Fox 0, Ja. Provencal 0, Je. Provencal 0. Totals: 18-53 8-12 50.
SOUTH MEDFORD (71) — Towry 26, Bolston 16, Mejia 15, L. Tago 6, J. Tago 5, Cox 2, Falls 1, Ritter 0. Totals: 28-64 9-14 71.
Roseburg 4 9 24 13 — 50
South Medford 17 17 17 20 — 71
3-point goals — Roseburg 6-10 (Humphry 4, Snook 1, Backen 1), South Medford 6-14 (Towry 3, L. Tago 1, Bolston 1, Mejia 1).
JV score — South Medford 35, Roseburg 29.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry