North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
In a record year of voting for starters in the sixth annual Mail Tribune All-Star Basketball Classic, no one's name popped up on more ballots than Cascade Christian's Alex Miller.
On Saturday night, Miller repaid those who found him worthy with a top-notch effort in leading the Siskiyous to an 81-68 victory over the host Rogues in the Olsrud Gymnasium at Kids Unlimited.
The senior leader for the Challengers dropped in a game-high 17 points behind three 3-pointers and added three rebounds en route to MVP honors in the all-star game that features the top boys in the Rogue Valley from Class 6A to 1A.
The margin of victory was the second-most in event history, trailing only last year's 102-82 win by the Siskiyous in an all-star game that had been decided by a combined 15 points over the first four years.
"I was just coming out here trying to have fun and that's what we accomplished tonight," said the 6-foot Miller, who was the lead vote-getter among the boys with 3,775 votes. "Coming out here playing a great game of basketball with a lot of old friends was fun."
A record 22,472 ballots were cast to select starters for the boys and girls games, with all proceeds from the event going to support Kids Unlimited. Since the MT All-Star Classic began in 2008, more than $25,000 has been raised to support the local organization develop resources for kids of poverty to play basketball.
"It's always good to see a bunch of people come out to support something like this," said Phoenix junior Tyson Morris, who finished with 12 points, four assists and three rebounds for the black-clad Siskiyous. "It's also very cool to get to play with a bunch of players from higher levels like 6A with the North and South guys, so it was a pretty good experience for me."
While winning the MVP trophy was a nice gesture, Miller said the best part was knowing that his team won out over Cascade Christian teammate David Sellers, who was the leading vote-getter for the Rogues with 3,401 votes. Sellers, a 6-7 junior, finished with a double-double after notching 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"It is immense," Miller said of the magnitude of Saturday's outcome. "It was so great to beat him. He would've never let me hear the end of it if it was the other way."
The game appeared to be destined for another fantastic finish as the teams played to a 21-all tie through one quarter and the Rogues took a slim 39-36 lead into halftime on the heels of a 3-pointer by Grants Pass senior Dylan Strempel, who finished with eight points.
The third quarter, however, belonged almost entirely to the Siskiyous, who heeded the instructions of their coach — Oregon Tech assistant coach Justin Parnell — and took their play up a notch to start the second half.
"It stops becoming about you and it starts becoming about the team, which is kind of weird for an all-star game," Miller said of the Siskiyous' inspired third-quarter play. "Coach (Parnell) was just like, 'Put it away right now,' and that's what we were able to do."
The Siskiyous opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run that eventually surged to 20-4 before the Rogues finally clawed back to make their deficit 59-50 heading to the fourth. Miller had seven points in that span, with four points coming from Crater junior Connor Lane to go with baskets by Morris, Illinois Valley senior Mack Epple, North Valley senior JJ Chirnside and Eagle Point junior Cesar Chavez.
"It was weird because I hadn't shot a basketball in a while so it felt good to come out here and play well," added Miller, who was 7-for-10 from the field.
The Siskiyous kept the pressure on in the fourth quarter, matching anything the Rogues could throw at them to secure the victory. While there's no standard set on which school's athletes play on certain teams — and often teammates are pitted against each other — Saturday's win marked the fourth straight for the Siskiyous after the Rogues won the first two boys games.
Ashland sophomore Gabe Stanley paced the Rogues with 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Crater senior Cody Dismukes had 10 points and three rebounds and was part of the highlight moment for the boys game. After the Siskiyous failed to score on their first possession of the second quarter, North Medford junior Julian Gray hooked up with Dismukes for a crowd-friendly alley-oop dunk.
"I just kinda heard him at the last second and I know Cody can jump out of the building so I just threw it up there and he caught it," said Gray, who finished with seven points, three rebounds and three assists. "In practice (Thursday) I threw one to (South Medford senior Jesse Mondry) and I didn't get that one today but I threw it up there for Cody and it was showtime."
Dismukes said there was nothing scripted about the big moment, just two basketball players being on the same page.
"We just kinda made eye contact when he was about at halfcourt and he led me perfect," said Dismukes. "It was a perfect pass and a good finish. It was awesome to be able to do that here, I loved that feeling."
"I'm not hanging my head about the score or anything," added the 6-3 wing. "We were just out here to have fun and put a show on for the crowd."
Overall, the Siskiyous simply proved to be too effective against the Rogues despite unusually aggressive defensive play for an all-star game by both squads. In what may have been a first for the MT All-Star Classic, North Valley senior Kevin Brazille actually drew a first-quarter charge for the Rogues against St. Mary's junior Kade Benton, who joined Brazille in scoring seven points.
The Siskiyous were a crisp 36-for-70 from the field (51 percent) compared to 31-for-87 (36 percent) by the Rogues.
For the Siskiyous, Epple had 10 points while Lane finished with nine points and 10 rebounds and Chirnside had seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Chavez managed six points and six assists, South Medford senior Adrian Garcia had four points and five rebounds, North Medford sophomore Tristen Holmes had seven points and Butte Falls junior Evan Givens added two points, four rebounds and two assists.
The Rogues, who were coached by SOU assistant Chris Schmerbach, got six points and four rebounds from Rogue River senior Shawn Donahue while Mondry had four points and four rebounds and Hidden Valley senior Alan Rojas added two points, three rebounds and two assists.
SISKIYOUS (81) — Alex Miller 17, Tyson Morris 12, Mack Epple 10, Connor Lane 9, Kade Benton 7, JJ Chirnside 7, Tristen Holmes 7, Cesar Chavez 6, Adrian Garcia 4, Evan Givens 2, Micah Neufeld 0. Totals: 36-70 1-5 81.
ROGUES (68) — Gabe Stanley 14, Cody Dismukes 10, David Sellers 10, Dylan Strempel 8, Kevin Brazille 7, Julian Gray 7, Shawn Donahue 6, Jesse Mondry 4, Alan Rojas 2, Boston Ehlers 0. Totals: 31-87 0-0 68.
Siskiyous 21 15 23 22 — 81
Rogues 21 18 11 18 — 68
3-point goals — Siskiyous 8-16 (Alex Miller 3, Tyson Morris 2, Kade Benton 1, JJ Chirnside 1, Tristen Holmes 1), Rogues 6-25 (Gabe Stanley 2, Dylan Strempel 2, Kevin Brazille 1, Julian Gray 1).