PORTLAND — It was same song, different verse Thursday morning for seventh-ranked South Medford at the Class 6A boys basketball state tournament at the Rose Garden.
Another third-quarter lull, another fourth-quarter comeback, another close loss to taint the final-eight experience for the Panthers.
With South Medford senior Adrian Garcia leading the charge, the Panthers tried in vain to erase an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit and ultimately fell short for the second time in less than 24 hours, 61-55, to Sunset in the consolation semifinals.
"It was the same thing as yesterday," said Garcia, whose team trailed by 13 in Wednesday's quarterfinals before losing 47-46 to Central Catholic. "The third quarter didn't start out so hot and we tried coming back in the fourth quarter. It just didn't work out again."
South Medford (21-7), the Southern Oregon Hybrid champion, has now gone 0-6 since the state tournament returned to Portland in 2010.
The last Panthers win at the final site came in a 2009 consolation semifinal against Wilson at McArthur Court in Eugene. That was also the last time South Medford earned a trophy, finishing sixth overall.
"We want to believe that we can compete with these people up here and obviously we do," said 25th-year Panthers head coach Dennis Murphy, "but at some point you have to figure out how to get over the hump, from myself to my coaching staff to our kids. This is the third year in a row (South's gone 0-2 at state) and (it leaves) such a bitter taste in your mouth."
Garcia did his best to avoid that with a clutch effort down the stretch, scoring his team's final 11 points in what developed into a thrilling finish. The 6-foot point guard finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting with five steals and four rebounds.
"I tried my best to give our team what I thought it needed to win but it just wasn't enough, I guess," said Garcia.
With South trailing 49-40, Garcia came up with a steal that led to a layup by sophomore Brayden Massey. After two missed free throws by Sunset's Tucker Hutchinson, Massey dropped in a 10-foot jumper in transition.
Later, eight straight points by Garcia — set up by two nice defensive plays by junior Mark Winans — cut Sunset's lead to 53-52 with 1:20 to play. Winans finished with 12 points, four assists and two steals.
The air came out of the comeback moments later, however, as Winans and junior CJ Keepes each missed the front ends of one-and-one attempts from the foul line and Sunset netted all four of its free throws for a 57-52 advantage with 55 seconds left.
Another driving basket by Garcia brought the game within one possession with 27 seconds to play, but Sunset was 4-for-4 from the foul line down the stretch to keep the Panthers at bay. The Apollos (17-11) converted 21 of 31 free throws overall, while South Medford was 16-for-28.
"It just played out like all of it does, just another chapter," said Murphy. "We don't quit, we keep competing and we get it close and you've got a chance. I don't know what else you can do "… I guess make some foul shots would help."
While the comeback was exciting, the Panthers were their worst enemy in creating the situation. They took a 31-30 lead into halftime but struggled from the field in the third quarter, scoring a season-low three points on 1-for-13 shooting to allow Sunset to take a 43-34 lead.
"Our shots just weren't going in," said Winans. "I think we were focused and obviously we wanted to win. I felt like they were right there, they just weren't going in."
It didn't help that senior standout Jesse Mondry was tagged with three fouls at the half and left Murphy with a tough decision to bench him to open the third quarter. Mondry, who carried South Wednesday, had six points at intermission but the Panthers had better balance than the day before.
"I rolled the dice," said Murphy. "I just felt like if I started Jesse, he'd get a quick fourth foul and we just needed him, and so I rolled the dice and said we'll wait four minutes. We did score a bucket right off the bat but we just couldn't get anything going, and maybe that's because he wasn't in the game."
Mondry finished with nine points and three rebounds to wrap up a solid final run at state, while Keepes had five points and six boards and Tristian Lallo added seven rebounds off the bench.
After the game, Murphy couldn't say enough about the determined performance by Garcia, much like Mondry provided one night before. Each played significant minutes in last year's state tourney and it showed in their comfort level on the Portland Trail Blazers' court.
"He really tried to will us to that win," Murphy said of Garcia, who was South's OSAA player of the game. "You look at the performance he has and Jesse has last night in regards to our seniors, they really did a great job up here. Having been here I think they know what it's about. Huge kudos to those guys."
Sunset's Tyler Gutierrez, a 6-8 center, paced his team with 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. McFerrin finished with 15 after going 10-for-12 from the foul line, including 8-for-10 in the final 21/2 minutes, and Jeff Bieber added nine points and seven rebounds.
SOUTH MEDFORD (21-7)
Garcia 7-15 3-8 18, Winans 4-10 3-7 12, Mondry 2-6 4-4 9, Keepes 1-7 3-5 5, Toreson 2-3 0-0 4, Massey 2-3 0-0 4, Orndoff 0-1 2-2 2, Lallo 0-2 1-2 1, Monical 0-0 0-0 0, Robertson 0-3 0-0 0, Carpenter 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-51 16-28 55.
McFerrin 2-4 10-12 15, Gutierrez 6-8 3-5 15, Duitsman 5-6 0-0 13, Bieber 2-2 5-8 9, Harris 1-3 2-2 4, Kerns 1-4 1-2 3, Mead 1-2 0-0 2, Hutchinson 0-1 0-2 0, Pflug 0-0 0-0 0, Willes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-30 21-31 61.
South Medford 14 17 3 21 - 55
Sunset 17 13 13 18 - 61
3-point goals — South Medford 3-13 (Winans 1-4, Mondry 1-2, Garcia 1-3, Robertson 0-2, Keepes 0-2), Sunset 4-11 (Duitsman 3-4, McFerrin 1-3, Harris 0-2, Kerns 0-1, Gutierrez 0-1). Rebounds — South Medford 31 (Lallo 7), Sunset 27 (Bieber 7, Gutierrez 7). Assists — South Medford 9 (Winans 4), Sunset 4 (Willes 2). Total fouls — South Medford 23, Sunset 19. A-648
Reach reporter Kris Henry at541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry