Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Ashley Bolston stole the show on Friday.
The South Medford senior went for 33 points, 13 steals and six rebounds in the top-ranked Panthers' 83-55 victory over Willamette at South Medford High.
In a marquee matchup featuring two NCAA Division I commits — Bolston to Washington State and Willamette's Lexi Bando to Gonzaga — it was South that starred.
A fiercely aggressive Bolston did much of the damage in the first half, scoring 19 points to push the Panthers (5-1) to a 38-31 halftime advantage.
Her teammates got in on the act in a major way in the second half against the Wolverines (3-1), who are the defending 5A state champions and the top-ranked squad in their classification.
South junior Andee Ritter, who turned in 17 of her 24 points after intermission, canned four second-half 3-pointers. Meanwhile, junior Keyari Sleezer chipped in 15 points and sophomore Julissa Tago 10 points and eight rebounds on the night for the Panthers, who flipped a one-possession contest early in the third quarter into a rout.
With her team up by just three points, Tago knocked down a jumper. Ritter then capitalized on a turnover with a successful drive and, seconds later, Sleezer buried a short shot after an immediate steal.
Willamette, suddenly trailing by nine, called a timeout.
The break didn't work.
South led 60-45 heading into the final period and owned a 20-point advantage with 6:33 to go. The Panthers held a 31-point edge with a couple minutes left.
From start to finish, the Wolverines had their hands full with Bolston, who left her fingerprints all over the triumph. Most of her points came after she drove hard to the rim (she went 10-of-14 from the free-throw line).
And, quite often, the buckets were a result of some thievery. Bolston jumped in passing lanes, tangled up opponents and, sometimes, just took the ball right out of their hands.
"It took me a while to get going, and then Ashley got a couple of steals that got us back," Ritter said. "We just went into the flow and got some good possessions."
Bolston didn't want any of the credit afterward.
"As a team, everyone picked each other up," she said. "I think it was just the team that kept me going. Everybody was motivating each other."
Bando had 19 points and Sami Osborne 16 for Willamette, which struggled mightily against the Panthers' full-court press. South had a season-high 20 steals as it blitzed the Wolverines throughout.
The Panthers adjusted their defense slightly early as Willamette captured a 9-7 edge.
The road team would never lead again.
South will carry its momentum to Washington D.C. to next play in the Title IX Holiday Tournament. The Panthers will face Maryland's Riverdale Baptist (ranked seventh nationally by MaxPreps) on Dec. 27.
"We knew it was going to be competitive game," South head coach Tom Cole said. "I felt like our kids rose to the challenge and played their best game of the season."
WILLAMETTE (55) — Herring 0, Munkres 0, Hillestad 5, Lincoln Bates 0, Bando 19, Kast 11, Osborne 16, Gambill 0, Baumgartner 4. Totals: 19 13-21 55.
SOUTH MEDFORD (83) — Williams 1, Tago 10, Johnson 0, Ritter 24, Bolston 33, Orndoff 0, Sleezer 15, Lemons 0, Falls 0, Washington 0. Totals: 32 13-23 83.
Willamette 16 15 14 10 — 55
South Medford 20 18 22 23 — 83
3-point goals — Willamette 4 (Osborne 3, Hillestad 1), South Medford 6 (Sleezer 1, Ritter 4, Bolston 1). Fouled out — Baumgartner.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/dljcards or facebook.com/danjonesmt