The South Medford girls basketball team took a major hit on Saturday night when junior Andee Ritter suffered a serious knee injury during the Panthers' 70-68 loss to Salesian High of Richmond, Calif., at the prestigious MLK Showcase at St. Mary's High in Stockton, Calif.
Ritter was attempting a shot near the basket about midway through the first quarter when a Salesian player barreled into her, South Medford head coach Tom Cole said.
"She got slide-tackled going up for a shot and the girl took her legs right out from underneath her," Cole said. "It was just a really hard foul. The impact was below the waste line. ... It wasn't intentional, it was just kind of where the bodies ended up."
Ritter, who has received several NCAA Division I offers, was helped off the court and immediately assisted by the on-site medical staff. She will have an MRI scan on Monday.
"It's a tragic loss because she is one of our key leaders and we are all hoping and praying for the best," Cole said.
The injury overshadowed a masterful performance by Washington State-bound senior Ashley Bolston, who erupted for a career-high 38 points with 15 rebounds before fouling out with 30 seconds to go. The 6-foot-2 Bolston, who knocked down nine of her 11 free-throw attempts, had 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Panthers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit.
"Ashley Bolston was phenomenal tonight," Cole said. "She carried us."
Keyari Sleezer's bucket with 11 seconds left pulled South within a point before Salesian converted the front end of a one-and-one. The Panthers had six seconds to take the lead after regaining possession and calling a timeout, but they were greeted with heavy pressure on the inbound play and were unable to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
Ritter had scored five points before the injury. Losing her changed everything, Cole said.
"We were playing very different on the floor (after the injury)," said the coach. "We fell apart emotionally. ... The game sort of became secondary to everyone's worry and the emotional drain from our concern."
The mood in the locker room at halftime was down, Cole said.
"We had a pretty tough locker-room climate," Cole said. "I was rattled, the kids were rattled."
Cole said he was proud of how his team worked back into the contest in the second half.
"We found ourselves in a game," Cole said.
Julissa Tago turned in 11 points for the Panthers, who were 17 of 19 from the free-throw line.
Mariya Moore, Salesian's 5-11 star who is bound for Louisville, finished with 21 points. Salesian (13-5) was coming off a 64-31 win over St. Joseph Notre Dame on the road Friday night, while South beat North Medford, 75-34, that evening before making the drive south the next day.
The Panthers (11-3), who are ranked 38th nationally by USA Today, have today off and play Clovis West, of Fresno, Calif., at 2 p.m. on Monday.
The MLK Showcase includes three teams in the ESPN Top 25 rankings and many NCAA Division I-bound athletes.
SOUTH MEDFORD (68) — Williams 0, Tago 11, Johnson 0, Ritter 5, Bolston 38, Orndoff 6, Sleezer 4, Lemons 0, Falls 4. Totals: 21 17-19 68.
SALESIAN (70) — McNair 8, Mi. Moore 6, Ma. Moore 21, Horton 8, Ampon 4, Lizarraga 0, Correal 9, Crowder 4, Stallworth 10. Totals: 26 13-14 70.
3-point goals — South Medford 4 (Bolston 2, Tago 1, Ritter 1), Salesian 2 (McNair 1, Ma. Moore 1). Fouled out — Bolston.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/danjonesmt