It seemed fitting that a momentum-changing 50-50 ball went to South Medford on Saturday night.
It's been that kind of season for the eighth-ranked Panthers, who weren't really clicking against cross-town rival North Medford but still found a way to come out on top in another boys basketball nail-biter this season.
With the score tied at 52-all and 90 seconds to play, South Medford senior Jesse Mondry stole an inbounds lob pass destined for Julian Gray and fed teammate Mark Winans for a go-ahead layin that started the ball rolling toward a 58-56 triumph in the Panthers' gym.
In all, South Medford outscored the Black Tornado 10-4 down the stretch to secure its fourth win this season over North Medford and a 12th straight triumph overall.
"I really tip my hat to my kids for that, they find a way and really the most important thing is they just don't quit," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy.
"For us to shoot the ball as poorly as we did and remain in the game and then even win it says a lot," added Murphy, whose team shot 43 percent from the field (23-for-53) and made only 10 of 17 foul shots. "It's a good win for us because they're pretty talented."
South Medford (19-4, 10-1 SOH) renewed its series with North Medford (13-9, 4-7) in the Abby's Holiday Classic and gained a 65-64 win in double overtime on Dec. 29. The Panthers then won the next two Southern Oregon Hybrid encounters 65-59 and 62-51 to set the stage for a potential four-game season sweep on Saturday.
"It's never been done to completely sweep a four-game series and it feels great, especially against your cross-town rival," said Mondry, who finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. "We've had some really good games with North Medford, starting with that double overtime game and then just continuing on. This is a great way to end it with them, they played hard and it was a good game throughout."
North Medford took its first lead since the opening quarter on a three-point play by Oshea Bailey with 71/2 minutes to play. The Black Tornado then really seemed to catch fire with a six-point surge by Gray that also included a tip-in by Aaron Browne-Moore off a missed free throw that put North up 52-48 with 4:20 to go.
"My teammates were able to get me the ball and I got three quick, easy layups to get us back in the game," said the 6-foot-1 junior Gray, who totaled 15 points and four rebounds. "As of right then it was clicking, and then we just had a little lull right there."
A turnover by North was followed by a basket from CJ Keepes, who had 11 points and five boards, and then a quick shot attempt was rebounded by Adrian Garcia and turned into a driving basket by Brandon Robertson for the tying basket with 3:24 to go.
Neither team could advance the 52-all contest until that fateful moment with 90 seconds to go when Mondry outleaped Gray for an inbounds pass and turned the tide.
"That's just a huge play in the game, obviously, and turned it around for us and that's how you win," said Murphy. "No question Jesse played as physical and as tough as he's played all year tonight in a game that we needed him to. I would hope that this is the beginning of more things to come. I'm awfully proud of him."
Mondry said he simply had a feeling what was coming when North settled in under its own basket for an inbounds play following a Tornado timeout.
"I felt him leaning on me and we have a similar play so I kinda anticipated the play and ran around him," said the 6-5 Mondry. "I didn't know what was going to happen and when I looked up and had three of my players wide open standing on the other end of the court, that was awesome."
North Medford sophomore Tristen Holmes quickly tried to answer with a circus shot in the lane that missed its mark. Mondry grabbed the rebound, got the ball to Garcia and then watched his fellow senior work as he sliced through the Tornado defense for a layin and a four-point advantage with 43 seconds to go.
"Two plays that they get four points and we get zero, and that was the difference," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "We just didn't finish and play smart a couple possessions when we had the lead and they took advantage."
Gray answered with a pair of free throws but that was negated by two foul shots from Matt Toreson to push South's lead back up to 58-54. Holmes scored a putback on a missed 3-pointer by Brian Bush and then North fouled Mondry with 3.4 seconds left. Mondry missed the front end of the one-and-one attempt and Bailey was able to find Bush in the far corner as the time ticked away but his off-balanced 3-pointer sailed long over the basket.
"It's real tough losing like that, especially four times and they've all been pretty good games," Gray said of the Medford series. "This one we really wanted going into the playoffs to get on a streak."
Holmes finished with 17 points and five rebounds and Bailey had 15 points and four rebounds for the Tornado, which was 23-for-43 from the field and 8-for-9 from the foul line. Browne-Moore also chipped in six points and six rebounds and Landon Sherbourne had four rebounds for North.
Garcia had another strong all-around effort with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Toreson had nine points and Winans chipped in eight.
Neither team managed much success from 3-point range, with South going a frosty 0-for-10 in the first half and 2-for-15 overall. North was 0-for-4 beyond the arc in the first half and 2-for-12 overall.
NORTH MEDFORD (56) — Holmes 17, Gray 15, Bailey 15, Browne-Moore 6, Reyes 3, Sherbourne 0, Bush 0, Knox 0, Klug 0. Totals: 23-43 8-9 56.
SOUTH MEDFORD (58) — Mondry 13, Garcia 11, Keepes 11, Toreson 9, Winans 8, Lallo 2, Robertson 2, Massey 2, Orndoff 0. Totals: 23-53 10-17 58.
North Medford 13 8 15 20 — 56
South Medford 13 12 14 19 — 58
3-point goals — North Medford 2-12 (Holmes 1, Reyes 1), South Medford 2-15 (Keepes 1, Mondry 1). Technical fouls — North Medford coach Plankenhorn.
JV score — North Medford 73, South Medford 64.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry