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The Crater girls basketball team built a 13-1 overall record largely by playing fast on offense and defense.
The Comets decided to abandon speed and slow things down against South Medford on Tuesday, figuring it was their best bet against the top-ranked program.
The plan worked for a little while, but not nearly long enough. The Panthers won the Southern Oregon Hybrid matchup, 72-26. Ashley Bolston went for 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and a block to lead the way for South (10-2), which trailed 4-1 early as Crater (13-2) ate up minutes with several prolonged possessions.
But soon enough, the Panthers' long arms and quick legs started to seriously disrupt the Comets' plan. A cold-shooting South squad built a 22-7 lead by halftime before putting the pedal to the metal in the second half with a swarming full-court press and suffocating half-court defense.
Crater head coach David Heard said the result may have even been uglier had his squad stuck to its usual style.
"The plan was to spread them out and use our quickness and try to get to the basket and shorten the game," he said. "We could have done what we normally do and I think it probably would have been worse than it was. And then they started trapping us and pressing us and we didn't handle the pressure. We had 20 turnovers the first half. So we have 20 turnovers and are only down 15 (and) I felt like we could spread them out and cut it to 10 by the third. And then we just fell apart, emotionally and physically."
South head coach Tom Cole said he had never faced a slow-down strategy like that during his coaching career here.
"I was a bit surprised and we were caught off guard a bit by the strategy to stall it out, to take the air out of the ball," Cole said. "I have thought that Crater had been successful enough with their offense. ... It's the first time we have ever seen anything like that."
South's Andee Ritter had 19 points, six steals and five blocks, Julissa Tago 10 points and six steals and Lauren Orndoff eight points off the bench.
The Panthers, who finished with 27 steals, outscored the Comets 33-7 in the final quarter.
"I didn't have them ready and then it got embarrassing," Heard said. "And that is what I didn't want to happen. I thought we would play better than that so we wouldn't embarrass ourselves and the other thing is I thought we would give them a better game, which (South) needs. They need good games. And we didn't do that. We didn't do anything to help them out tonight."
Cole wasn't the only one surprised by the Comets' strategy.
"Nobody really saw that coming," Bolston said. "Everybody thought they would come out and play us straight up, but I don't know. ... we just tried getting in passing lanes and speeding it up."
Bolston led South with 12 points at halftime, which was a break from some sloppy play. In the second quarter, Crater was held to two points and no field goals and the Panthers connected on 2 of 12 field goals.
The Panthers host North Medford on Friday before hitting the road for some tough nonleague action at the St. Mary's Invitational in Stockton, Calif. South plays a pair of strong California schools, with Salesian High on Saturday and Clovis West on Monday.
Courtney Setzer led the Comets with 11 points.
CRATER (26) — Gavin 0, Ma. Heard 2, Bascom 0, Scott 3, Fahndrich 3, B. Heard 3, Mo. Heard 0, Noles 0, Scott 2, Roberts 0, Setzer 11, Gray 0, Turituri 2. Totals: 9 6-9 26.
SOUTH MEDFORD (72) — Williams 2, Tago 10, Johnson 0, Ritter 19, Bolston 24, Orndoff 8, Sleezer 4, Lemons 0, Falls 5, Washington 0. Totals: 27 14-16 72.
Crater 5 2 12 7 — 26 South Medford 13 9 17 33 — 72
3-point goals — Crater 2 (Scott 1, Fahndrich 1), South Medford 4 (Ritter 2, Tago 2). Technical fouls — Crater coach Heard.
JV score — South Medford 53, Crater 51.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt or facebook.com/danjonesmt