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...
North Medford has enjoyed more than its fair share of late-game magic already this season and tried to conjure up a little more during Saturday's semifinals of the 24th annual Abby's Holiday Classic.
Trailing by 15 points early in the fourth quarter to visiting Southridge, the Black Tornado used a 21-6 surge to square things with three minutes to go in the last of four tournament games at North Medford High.
While the effort was commendable, it all went for naught as the Beaverton-based Skyhawks regrouped and benefitted from some errant looks at the basket by North Medford to eke out a 65-62 triumph.
"We don't stop competing, that's one thing we've got going for us no matter where we're at or who we're playing against," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn.
With the game tied at 59-all, Southridge patiently ran one minute off the clock before A.J. Monterossi found 6-foot-8 post Griff Christiansen for a close-range basket and the Skyhawks' final lead of the game.
Missed 3-point shots by Tucker Barry, Julian Gray and Tristen Holmes ensued before Parker Gaddis stepped up and knocked down both ends of a one-and-one opportunity at the foul line for a 63-59 lead with 52.1 seconds to play.
A turnover by North Medford gave Southridge a chance to extend its lead but Alex Beekman missed the front end of his one-and-one opportunity and, following two more 3-point misses, Aaron Browne-Moore rebounded the ball and converted while being fouled for a three-point play.
After Gaddis again made a pair of free throws to make it 65-62 with 6.6 seconds to go, Holmes dribbled up the court and had a good look at a trey from the top of the key but it glanced off the rim at the buzzer.
"We survived it," said Southridge head coach Phil Vesel of the late flurry of activity. "They do a great job of putting that pressure on and jump passing lanes. ... I've played against Scott's teams numerous times and you can never put them away, they always come running back at you. I was proud of our guys finishing that and knocking down some free throws to get the win."
Southridge (6-3) will play Sheldon at 6 tonight for the tournament title. The Irish beat Westview 72-58 in the other semifinal to set up the first Abby's Holiday Classic championship without a Medford team in it since 2009 — and only fourth in tourney history.
"There's no rest for us," added Vesel. "It's tough to win down here and beat a good North Medford team and now we've got to try to come back and get a good Sheldon game. As far as tournaments go, this has been a great tournament with great teams so we're proud just to be in the championship."
North Medford (6-2) will play Westview in the third-place final at 4:15 p.m. today, while South Medford faces McKay for fourth place at 2:30 p.m. and Crater squares off against Sprague at 12:45 p.m. All four tournament games again will be at North Medford High.
"There's no time to pout because Westview just got beat so they're going to come over here ready to try to bounce back, too," said Plankenhorn. "It's just a great, great tournament this year with so many good teams. It's just been exciting to watch basketball being played at this level. You've just got to bring your best effort every night, but you're not going to win them all."
Christiansen used his considerable size advantage over the Black Tornado — made greater by the absence of sturdy 6-5 post Matt Ecker due to flu symptoms — to net a game-high 19 points and pull down seven rebounds for Southridge.
Monterossi added 12 points and Gaddis had 11 points and five rebounds for the Skyhawks, who trailed 19-10 through one quarter but scored the first 14 points of the second to take control of the contest.
Caught out of rhythm thanks to Southridge's switch to a matchup zone defense, only Browne-Moore and Barry were able to convert baskets for North Medford as it was outscored 22-6 in the second quarter. The Black Tornado committed seven of its 15 turnovers in the second and lost every ounce of momentum gained by a sound first-quarter showing.
"Our matchup (zone) and our man are very good for us and we mix it up," said Vesel. "North has a lot of dribble penetration and can break you down and I thought the zone really threw them out of rhythm in that second quarter. It was an effective defense for us, and then later we got back to our man and got a couple big stops there, too."
Despite trailing by seven points at halftime and 49-36 heading into the fourth quarter, Barry said his team remained confident it could still pull out a victory on Saturday.
"We've always been a second-half team this season," said Barry. "We've been down in these situations before and we all had faith in each other that we could bounce back."
The 6-foot sophomore helped build that confidence with a 3-pointer and another basket following a steal by Gray, then brought the North fans to their feet with another trey that pulled his team within 59-56 with 3:44 to go.
In all, Barry scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter and was the recipient of some fine defensive play by Gray and Holmes, who combined for five steals in the fourth.
"It's a credit to those guys because my teammates were finding me and I started to finally feel it for the first time this season," he said. "We got our defensive pressure up and (the Skyhawks) couldn't really handle it but we just couldn't get it done there at the end."
Gray scored six of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, while Holmes finished with 10 points and his 3-pointer — off a steal and assist by Barry — pulled North Medford even at 59-all with 3:05 to play.
Browne-Moore finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Holmes pulled in five rebounds to go with two blocked shots and Gray had three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"We just weren't very effective against the zone and that's the main thing," said Plankenhorn. "We just weren't very aggressive and we got a little rattled and started just throwing the ball around against a zone defense that was pressuring."
"It's not that we fixed the zone offense," he added of the comeback effort, "we just fixed the defense and got ourselves in transition and started making some shots and that affected what they were doing."
SOUTHRIDGE (65) — Christiansen 19, Monterossi 12, Gaddis 11, El-Mansy 8, Giraldi 6, Reel 5, Beekman 2, Pete 2, Seng 0, Van Allen 0. Totals: 27-52 6-8 65.
NORTH MEDFORD (62) — Barry 15, Browne-Moore 13, Gray 12, Holmes 10, Polataivao 7, Powers 3, Bush 2, Wilkins 0, Carrasco 0. Totals: 24-51 8-11 62.
Southridge 10 22 17 16 — 65
North Medford 19 6 11 26 — 62
3-point goals — Southridge 5-14 (El-Mansy 2, Reel 1, Gaddis 1, Christiansen 1), North Medford 6-19 (Barry 3, Holmes 2, Powers 1).