North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
North Medford threatened to break free from Grants Pass on several occasions Friday night in Southern Oregon Hybrid boys basketball, but each time the Cavemen were able to reel the Black Tornado back in.
With eighth-ranked North Medford in need of something to break that trend, senior Aaron Browne-Moore stepped up with a key basket and then junior Tristen Holmes again played the role of closer to allow the Black Tornado to walk away with a hard-earned 54-44 home victory over Grants Pass.
Coming out of a timeout with 2 minutes, 45 seconds to play and his team up 43-42, Browne-Moore sealed his defender and scored in the low post to spark a 7-0 run that included a blocked shot to follow by Holmes, who added a tough runner off the glass and then went 3-for-4 from the foul line during the surge.
"At that point it was purely instinct," said Browne-Moore of his late effort in the paint. "Everything worked out and the ball just plopped into my hands with a good pass by (Tucker Barry), of course, and I finished it."
Browne-Moore netted six of his nine points in the second half and added five rebounds for North Medford (12-4), which will look to break a first-place tie with South Medford in Tuesday's cross-town clash. The Black Tornado and Panthers each stand 5-1 in SOH play, while third-place Grants Pass fell to 12-5 overall and 3-4 in SOH play.
"They're sitting third in the conference with a couple losses I don't think they should've had, so they're a really good team," Holmes said of the Cavemen. "They're bigger than us, like everybody else most nights, so it was another battle for us."
Holmes scored nine of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter to go with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block — the latter coming on a drive by J.C. McKinley after Browne-Moore had given North Medford a 45-42 lead. Barry grabbed the loose ball and, after a timeout, the Tornado again turned to Holmes and he delivered a knockout blow with his floater off the glass with 1:45 to play.
"My teammates really trust and work hard to get me the ball," said Holmes of late-game situations, "and they trust I'll make the right decision. It ends up with me getting shots a lot of the time but I've also got to look for my teammates in spots when they're double-teaming or looking to trap me more often. I'm just trying to make the right play at the right time."
In the back-and-forth affair, that ability seemed to swing North Medford's way during most of the pivotal moments on Friday. After Holmes' runner, Grants Pass senior Micah Johnson inadvertently dribbled the ball off his foot on a drive to the basket and then that set off a fouling effort that sent Holmes to the free-throw line on two straight possessions.
"It's luck of the draw really," said GP head coach Jeff Huston. "We have a one-on-one in transition with Micah and he dribbles off his foot, and then they go down and score. It's just the game of basketball and competition, in general, sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't. I felt like for the most part our effort was great, we worked hard and we competed, it's just the ball didn't bounce our way tonight."
Johnson finished with 13 points and nine rebounds to lead the Cavemen, while Kirkland Meadows had nine points and Drake Brennan battled through foul troubles to finish with five points and five boards.
A combination of North Medford's defense and some inability to put the ball in the basket limited Grants Pass to only two field goals in each of the first and second quarters. The Cavemen doubled that effort in the third and fourth quarters, but still finished only 12-for-47 from the field (26 percent). Their saving grace proved to be repeated trips and success at the foul line, where Grants Pass finished 18-for-21.
"We use what our strengths are," Huston said of a determined effort to get the ball in the paint that resulted in numerous fouls, "and if we're not hitting shots, we've got to do something to stay in games and for us that was free throws."
Conversely, North Medford finished 20-for-47 from the field (43 percent) to offset a rough night that saw it commit 16 turnovers to 15 by the Cavemen. Although outsized, the Black Tornado was able to win the battle of the boards, with Edmund Polataivao providing a spark thanks to six boards to go with six points.
Beyond the late-game heroics of Browne-Moore and Holmes, North Medford got a big lift off the bench in the first quarter by Matt Ecker, who was forced in after only 90 seconds of play when Browne-Moore twisted his ankle. Ecker scored a basket in the first and second quarters, supplied good interior defense and came up with a steal after getting his early call to action.
Black Tornado senior Brian Bush also picked a fine time for his only basket of the night when he opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to give his team some cushion at 35-31. Bush also finished with three assists.
"I thought that was a huge hoop off a set play by Brian Bush out of that timeout," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "We executed really well and he got a pretty open step-in 3 after some serious misdirection stuff to Tristen. And Browne-Moore's basket there late came off a set play, too. That's the kind of team you're looking for, guys that can execute out of a timeout. I was really happy with that."
Julian Gray added eight points and Barry had five points for North, which was able to limit GP standout Brian Luther to six points and McKinley to only four.
GRANTS PASS (44) — Johnson 13, Meadows 9, Luther 6, Brennan 5, McKinley 4, Ryan 2, Cotton 2, Brooks 2, Weiss 1, Musser 0. Totals: 12-47 18-21 44.
NORTH MEDFORD (54) — Holmes 19, Browne-Moore 9, Gray 8, Polataivao 6, Barry 5, Ecker 4, Bush 3, Powers 0, Wilkins 0, Carrasco 0. Totals: 20-47 12-19 54.
Grants Pass 9 10 12 13 — 44
North Medford 12 12 8 22 — 54
3-point goals — Grants Pass 2-14 (Luther 1, Meadows 1), North Medford 2-8 (Barry 1, Bush 1).
JV score — North Medford 49, Grants Pass 46.