It seems like an easy recipe to win a basketball game, take an early lead and then hold it, but obviously that's easier said than done.
It definitely wasn't easy for the South Medford boys basketball team on Tuesday, but that's precisely what the host Panthers were able to do as they led No. 8 North Medford from wire to wire en route to a 57-47 victory.
While all wins in the cross-town rivalry are big, this one proved especially important as it snapped a first-place tie between the Medford schools in the Southern Oregon Hybrid and allowed South Medford to even the season series with North at one game apiece.
"It's a huge win for us to put us first in the league," said Panthers junior Brayden Massey, "and it helps us with that tiebreaker. It's a major win for us."
South Medford (13-6, 6-1 SOH) forged a 6-1 advantage five minutes into the contest and, after North Medford closed to within 8-7, used a 7-2 run early in the second quarter to build a cushion it never relinquished.
The Black Tornado (12-5, 5-2) trimmed its deficit to four points once more in the second quarter and again in the third, but each time the Panthers had an answer to keep North from getting closer than that four-point margin.
"They played better than we did," said Black Tornado head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "We just didn't bring our game today and they took advantage. They got dribble drives to the hoop all day long and got lay-ins ... we didn't make them shoot from the perimeter hardly at all. Then when they did shoot from the perimeter and missed, it seemed like they got a lot of offensive rebounds."
A trademark of North Medford's season has been its ability to put teams away down the stretch and South Medford turned the tables on this night. With his team holding a 47-40 lead after a quick 5-0 run by the Tornado, Massey closed out the contest by going 10-for-10 from the foul line in the final 77 seconds.
"During the game my shot wasn't falling, I felt like I couldn't hit anything," said Massey, "but when they fouled me I was going to the line thinking this is where I've gotta get my points. I've been working on my free throws every day in practice, too, so that was a big help for me."
The junior point guard was a combined 11-for-12 from the free-throw line in the second half to finish with 13 points and tie senior Ben Orndoff with team-high honors. Massey also added four rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Orndoff added five rebounds, three steals and one assist to his 13 points.
Orndoff and Massey were also instrumental in slowing North standout Tristen Holmes, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
"We played awfully well, especially early on defensively," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "We carried that into the second half, too. We've always said that defense is one of our cornerstones in the whole program and they all did a great job."
Massey and Orndoff combined for four steals to spark the 7-2 run in the second quarter, and tight team defense allowed the Panthers to take as much as a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Overall, North Medford was limited to shooting 17-for-46 from the field (37 percent) while South Medford was 19-for-44 (43 percent) from the field and a crisp 19-for-22 from the foul line (86 percent).
In the fourth quarter alone, the Panthers were 12-for-13 from the foul line — spearheaded by Massey — and 4-for-7 from the field.
"We've been doing a lot of talking about trying to finish and that's been something that we've tried to focus on and get better at," said Murphy. "We made some mistakes, no one's going to be perfect, but we surely competed for 32 minutes. I'm very proud of them, and if you're going to do that you're going to win a lot of basketball games."
Boosting the cause for South Medford were 11 points off the bench from senior Brandon Robertson, who answered Tucker Barry's 3-pointer with three free throws of his own after being fouled on a trey in the final second of the third quarter.
South junior Cameron English also added six points, seven rebounds and three blocks, while senior C.J. Keepes had six points and eight rebounds.
"We got a lot of good contributions tonight," added Murphy. "Mark Winans didn't score a lot of points (four) but he really was kind of the glue out there and kept us where we're supposed to be. He made a couple tough shots when he needed to and got the ball to the right guy at the right time."
North Medford got nine points and three steals from junior Edmund Polataivao, including a 3-pointer that made it 47-40 with 1:57 to play, while senior Aaron Browne-Moore added six points and five boards and senior Matt Ecker had five points off the bench.
In the end, though, it was South Medford's ability to keep North at bay throughout that proved pivotal.
"It's high school basketball in Oregon and if you get in a hole late, it's a chore to come back," said Plankenhorn, whose program was trying to position itself for the first season sweep of South since the 1998-99 campaign.
"A good team is gonna space you and then dribble drive and you have to go stretch (your defense) because you can't wait for a shot clock," he added. "I thought they did a good job of taking the lead and getting us down to where they could put us away. They made a million free throws and never gave us a chance to get back."
NORTH MEDFORD (47) — Holmes 16, Polataivao 9, Browne-Moore 6, Ecker 5, Gray 4, Barry 3, Bush 2, Carrasco 2, Wilkins 0, Powers 0. Totals: 17-46 11-15 47.
SOUTH MEDFORD (57) — Orndoff 13, Massey 13, Robertson 11, English 6, Keepes 6, Winans 4, Bradford 4, Carpenter 0, Lupton 0, Lallo 0, Monical 0. Totals: 19-44 19-22 57.
North Medford 5 10 14 18 — 47
South Medford 8 15 14 20 — 57
3-point goals — North Medford 2-10 (Barry 1, Polataivao 1), South Medford 0-6. Fouled out — Barry.
JV score — North Medford 69, South Medford 64.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry