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There wasn't room for the faint of heart on the North Medford basketball court Friday night as the Black Tornado waged a tense battle with South Medford for first place in the Southern Oregon Hybrid boys standings.
Both programs entered the game unbeaten in SOH play but it was North Medford that came out on top this night, with Tristen Holmes pouring in 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to help the Tornado pull away for a 57-49 victory.
"It didn't take a perfect game but dang close to it," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "They're such a quality team. ... It was a typical North-South slug match where both teams were really taking away everything we try to do so it was just about doing the best we can. We finally got ahead and were able to spread the floor (in the fourth quarter) and execute and make free throws."
The win snapped a four-game losing streak to its cross-town rival for North Medford, which improved to 10-3 overall and 3-0 in SOH play entering Tuesday's game at Roseburg. Tenth-ranked South Medford dropped to 9-6 and 2-1.
"You hate losing to anybody, let alone it's a cross-town rival, so it was nice to get that one taken away," said Plankenhorn. "There's a long way to go still. We've got to refocus in a couple days because we've got to go get Roseburg."
South Medford opened a 9-1 lead in the first quarter but the Black Tornado slowly regrouped, due in large part to a barrage of 3-pointers, and eventually took a 25-24 lead into halftime.
After the Panthers again roared out to a good start in the third quarter, the Black Tornado summoned up another counter attack that ultimately led to North Medford inching away behind a solid closing effort from Holmes and company.
"It was definitely won on the defensive end," said Holmes, who also had nine rebounds, two assists and two steals. "We started off slow and could've let down and let them pull ahead by a lot but we really just decided to dig in as a team and get back into the game."
"The team really helped me out and started to get me going at the end of the first half and then to start the third quarter," added the 6-foot-2 junior guard. "Then I was able to get some free throws there in the fourth quarter to help out."
Aaron Browne-Moore chipped in with nine points and six rebounds for the Black Tornado, including a key baseline jumper and putback basket to help North close the third quarter on a 12-8 run for a 44-39 advantage.
South Medford was able to trim its deficit to 46-42 midway through the fourth quarter before Holmes scored on a nice backcut and assist by Browne-Moore. The Panthers then got unlucky when Mark Winans' block of a Julian Gray floater went right to Browne-Moore for an immediate putback and a 50-42 lead with 21/2 minutes to go.
It was simply that kind of night for the Panthers, who had several shots rim out and could only watch helplessly as loose balls seemed to always find their way into the Tornado's clutches.
"I'm not going to fault my kids' effort, we surely played hard, but you've got to play smart and you've got to be able to make some plays," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "We never made any plays, they got every loose ball. We've got to get better. We've got a ways to go."
South Medford junior point guard Brayden Massey spearheaded his team's effort with 14 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Panthers senior Ben Orndoff added 10 points and six rebounds and Winans had eight points and six assists.
Orndoff drew the tough assignment of shadowing Holmes, the SOH's leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, and held his counterpart scoreless in the first quarter and to five points by halftime.
In the second half, however, Holmes began to heat up with five quick points in the third quarter. He sealed the victory by going a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 72 seconds — scoring 10 of North's 13 fourth-quarter points — and was 7-for-9 overall from the charity stripe.
"We made him work real hard to get them and he couldn't get them early," said Murphy. "We probably got tired because we didn't have anybody but Ben to go guard him. Ben did a great job on him but I think he got tired, and (Holmes) is a good basketball player. A couple different times (in the second half) he made a simple basketball play where if I overplay he backcuts and shoots an easy lay-in."
Both teams finished 19-for-46 from the field (41 percent) but the biggest difference came from beyond the arc, where North Medford converted seven times to the Panthers' four 3-pointers.
Of the Tornado's eight first-half field goals, five were 3-pointers. Tucker Barry came off the bench to drop down three big shots beyond the arc, while Brian Bush and Jack Powers each added one.
"We made a bunch of 3s and hung around after that quick knockdown early," said Plankenhorn. "We got off the canvas and responded well and played pretty solid after that. I think it just loosened us up with Tucker coming in and making some (3-pointers)."
Murphy agreed that Barry's long-range shots, one which ended the first quarter and another that opened the second, served to alter the momentum. Barry's third 3-pointer cut South's lead to 18-17 and further energized the crowd.
"We knew that Tucker could shoot it and we said you can't leave him and we leave him three times in a row and he knocks all three of them down," said Murphy. "If you're not smarter than that you're going to get beat."
Barry finished with nine points, while Bush had eight points and three rebounds and Gray added four points, four rebounds and three steals for North.
Cameron English added six points and three rebounds, while C.J. Keepes pulled down five boards and Hunter Bradford came off the bench for four points and four rebounds for South.
SOUTH MEDFORD (49) — Massey 14, Orndoff 10, Winans 8, English 6, Bradford 4, Carpenter 3, Keepes 2, Contreras 2, Monical 0, Lupton 0. Totals: 19-46 7-9 49.
NORTH MEDFORD (57) — Holmes 22, Browne-Moore 9, Barry 9, Bush 8, Gray 4, Powers 3, Polataivao 2, Ecker 0, Wilkins 0. Totals: 19-46 12-17 57.
South Medford 12 12 15 10 — 49
North Medford 7 18 19 13 — 57
3-point goals — South Medford 4-10 (Massey 2, Carpenter 1, Winans 1), North Medford 7-16 (Barry 3, Bush 2, Powers 1, Holmes 1). Fouled out — Polataivao.
JV score — South Medford 49, North Medford 44.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry