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 senior Julian Gray saw something in the Westview defense Saturday night that he liked while watching the visiting Wildcats play in the semifinals of the 24th annual Abby's Holiday Classic.
From the opening tip Sunday, Gray went about testing his theory and that paid off in a big way for the host Black Tornado as it cruised to a 63-47 win over Westview in the third-place final.
Gray hauled in the opening tip from teammate Aaron Browne-Moore and spun his way to a tough shot off the glass to start things off for North Medford and kept up those aggressive tactics to help his team post a 2-1 record in the three-day tourney.
Once all was said and done, the 6-foot-2 Gray had 18 points, six rebounds, three steals, three assists and two blocked shots in an impressive effort that lifted the Black Tornado's spirits one day after suffering a 65-62 loss to Southridge.
"I thought Julian was special today," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "He really did control us and did a lot of good things. Julian got us going and played really great at the start and made a lot of tough shots."
Tornado junior Tristen Holmes added 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to go with five rebounds and three assists and Browne-Moore tallied 10 rebounds and eight points.
For his efforts, Holmes was named to the all-tournament team as North Medford improved to 7-2 overall.
"There were a couple spells but, to me, that was about as solid of basketball we can play for 32 minutes," said Plankenhorn. "For quality, solid basketball I thought our defense and our offense was pretty solid for 32 quality minutes. That's what we've talked about that we haven't gotten yet, and today was probably the closest we've been."
North Medford certainly made a believer of Westview head coach Pat Coons, who was extremely complimentary of the Black Tornado after it gradually pulled away from a first-quarter tie.
"I thought their energy on things like loose balls, offensive boards and flying around on defense was really good," said Coons. "They created a lot of the good plays."
"They're athletic and they play relentless and I didn't feel like our energy matched theirs," added the Westview coach. "I thought that was a big piece, and we have to match that. That's an area we can get better as a whole team."
Gray said energy was something he hoped to bring into Sunday's matchup, as well as an aggressive demeanor on the offensive end. He scored the first three baskets by the Black Tornado against the Wildcats and had at least one bucket in each quarter to remain engaged.
"I was really motivated by (Saturday) night's loss because it was a tough one," Gray said. "Having to come back late like we did (erasing a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit), I didn't want to start that way today so I was just trying to give the team energy early on."
That spilled over to the always active Browne-Moore and Edmund Polataivao, who also had five rebounds, and the rest of a Black Tornado squad eager to move forward.
"Our energy was great today," added Gray. "I think everyone kinda noticed today in the shootaround that if we would've not slipped up in the second quarter of yesterday's game (being outscored 22-6 by the Skyhawks) we could've been in the championship, so we were trying to prove that's where we should've been."
The teams traded baskets through a first quarter that ended deadlocked at 12-all, then North Medford took over in the second quarter behind a quick five points from reserve forward Jack Powers to ultimately take control at 20-12.
When Westview (6-3) mounted a comeback attempt to open the second half, it was Gray who helped right the ship with a basket off a nice pass from Browne-Moore and then Brian Bush drilled a key 3-pointer to answer a trey by Westview's David Coffey.
The tide turned for good moments later when Gray stole the ball and went in for a soaring layup and then added another basket. Michael Wilkins then scored on a putback and Gray blocked a shot to keep the Wildcats at bay. When Holmes split the defense for a tough scoop shot at the end of the third quarter, North Medford's lead stood at 40-32.
The Black Tornado kept up the intensity in the fourth quarter, with Holmes coming alive to clinch the triumph and Browne-Moore scoring on a pair of rebound efforts to keep advancing the score.
"I felt like when we got a stop they would still come up with a big offensive rebound," said Coons. "My compliments to Scott and his kids, they played great."
Alex Carrick and Bryce Johnson each had 12 points to pace Westview, with Carrick adding nine rebounds and Johnson pulling down eight boards. Coffey finished with seven points, five steals, three rebounds and two assists.
"We have a fairly inexperienced team but a team that we've already seen tremendous growth," said Coons, whose team was hampered by 15-for-50 shooting from the field (30 percent). "We will simply focus on growth for this game and for the whole tournament. This tournament's been a great value for that and it's been great being here."
WESTVIEW (47) — Carrick 12, Johnson 12, Kekel 8, Coffey 7, Larsen 3, Kennedy 2, Hill 2, Ralston 1, Venkatesh 0, Dennis 0, Sly 0, Tamblyn 0, England 0. Totals: 15-50 14-18 47.
NORTH MEDFORD (63) — Holmes 20, Gray 18, Browne-Moore 8, Barry 5, Bush 3, Polataivao 2, Powers 5, Wilkins 2, Carrasco 0. Totals: 23-50 13-20 63.
Westview 12 6 14 15 — 47
North Medford 12 12 16 23 — 63
3-point goals — Westview 3-17 (Coffey 1, Larsen 1, Johnson 1), North Medford 4-9 (Holmes 2, Powers 1, Bush 1).