Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
All things considered, the South Medford boys basketball team wasn't in a sharing mood Tuesday night.
With a chance to claim a second straight outright title in Southern Oregon Hybrid play, the eighth-ranked Panthers refused to let that moment slip away against visiting Crater.
The Comets appeared in prime position to delay the Panther party with a solid first-half showing that left South Medford fortunate to take a one-point lead into intermission. The second half, however, was all South Medford as the hosts outscored Crater 27-13 over the final 16 minutes to claim a 50-35 victory.
Under the guidance of head coach Dennis Murphy, the Panthers have now won at least of share of three straight conference titles and 11 of the past 12. Seven of the 11 have been won outright.
"Murph gave us a talk at halftime about how this game is important for our character and how tough we're going to be in the playoffs," said South Medford senior Matt Toreson. "We really wanted to start out really good in the third quarter and so that's what we did."
Junior Mark Winans scored the first seven points out of the break and the Panthers (18-4, 9-1 SOH) got big efforts from seniors Adrian Garcia and Toreson and junior Ben Orndoff to gradually pull away from the Comets (13-10, 5-6).
Orndoff scored on a pair of lay-ins off assists by Garcia, who had four of his eight assists and both his steals in the third quarter. Toreson splashed down five of his 11 points in the frame, while Winans' outburst helped lead him to a team-high 13 points.
"It's really fun when everyone gets involved and gets to score like that," said Toreson. "We're such a balanced team and so deep, it's a great experience to be part of a team like this."
It's that final sentiment that Murphy stressed at halftime.
"I know that people thought I went in and raised hell at halftime but we really didn't," said the 25th-year South coach. "We just went in and talked about the things we've got to do. What we really weren't doing was playing very smart. I think we just personalized it to the point to say, 'Aren't we better than this? Is this the kind of basketball we've played to get to this point?' And they responded well."
Junior CJ Keepes finished with 10 points and three rebounds, Garcia added six points and six rebounds, Orndoff had six points and senior Jesse Mondry contributed four points, four rebounds and two assists in the win.
"I think we defended harder and that got missed shots and we just got out in transition for some easy buckets," Garcia said of the second-half change of momentum.
"We didn't want to have that co-champion, we wanted to have it all," added the point guard. "We won every (SOH) series and we felt we deserved to have it all to ourselves."
Crater had the chance to postpone that thought but simply couldn't quite finish the deal yet again against the Panthers. The Comets shot 34 percent for the game (13-for-38) and suffered through several lengthy scoring droughts.
"I saw some selfishness from our players to tell you the truth," said Crater head coach John Parent. "I'm really disappointed in that fact. We came out at halftime not ready to play and it just boggles my mind why we would do that against a team that's beaten us up and down as long as I've been here and longer than that."
"It's really frustrating but we've got to look at the big picture," added Parent. "We've still got our goals in front of us and a lot of games left that are big games that we need to take care of. It's one game against the conference champion on their home court."
Junior post Connor Lane dropped in 12 points to go with seven rebounds and five blocks to lead his team, while senior Cody Dismukes had all six of his points in the first half. Senior RJ Morgan had four points, three rebounds and three assists before being removed from the game by Parent after running the length of the court to commit an intentional foul on Tristian Lallo with 4:43 to go in the contest.
For the Panthers, who were picked to place behind Roseburg and even with North Medford in the preseason coaches' poll, Tuesday's outcome was extremely satisfying due to its unexpected nature.
"It's a good win for us and I feel awfully happy for our seniors because I don't think a lot of people gave them a chance to win this thing and we just won it outright and by a couple games," said Murphy. "I think that says a lot with the toughness we've shown throughout the season to go on the road and win some big games."
Even with all the hoopla, however, the task remains the same for the Panthers as they look to close out the regular season against North Medford (Saturday) and Grants Pass (next Tuesday). South Medford has won 11 straight games and nine in conference play after dropping the SOH opener at Roseburg.
"We knew it was going to be really tough all season and this title means a lot because we've been working hard and Murph's been really proud of us," said Toreson. "We really wanted this and we showed it, but we've got another tough one against North up next and we just have to play like it's a regular game and we're still battling for a conference title. These state power rankings are kinda weird so we just want to win every game, that has to be our focus from here on out."
CRATER (35) — Lane 12, Dismukes 6, Jaasko 5, Morgan 4, Erskine 3, Stewart 2, Reiter 2, Orozco 1, Martin 0, Marineau 0. Totals: 13-38 7-9 35.
SOUTH MEDFORD (50) — Winans 13, Toreson 11, Keepes 10, Garcia 6, Orndoff 6, Mondry 4, Lallo 0, Robertson 0, Carpenter 0, Massey 0, Monical 0. Totals: 20-43 6-10 50.
Crater 14 8 6 7 — 35
South Medford 12 11 16 11 — 50
3-point goals — Crater 2-9 (Erskine 1, Jaasko 1), South Medford 4-9 (Toreson 2, Mondry 1, Winans 1). Technical fouls — Dismukes.
JV score — South Medford 48, Crater 32.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry