Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Julissa Tago's shooting and her body temperature have one thing in common: both have been hot lately.
The under-the-weather South Medford sophomore scored 23 of her season-high 25 points in the first half as the top-ranked Panthers raced past cross-town rival North Medford, 75-36, in Southern Oregon Hybrid girls basketball action at North Medford High on Tuesday.
Tago, who was contending with lingering cold and flu symptoms, did not miss a field goal or free throw in the opening 16 minutes.
"I don't know, I play better when I'm sick or something," Tago laughed afterward.
Tago and junior Keyari Sleezer's contributions in particular have increased noticeably since fellow starter Andee Ritter suffered a knee injury on Jan. 18. After missing two contests with the original injury, Ritter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee upon her return against Roseburg on Jan. 28. The versatile standout with NCAA Division I offers from Gonzaga and Pepperdine will miss the rest of the year.
Enter Tago, who had been the third or fourth scoring option behind senior Ashley Bolston and Ritter and alongside Sleezer.
Tago had 14 points and eight rebounds in a victory over Clovis West of Fresno, Calif., on Jan. 20 and turned in 21 points, nine rebounds and five steals against Grants Pass on Jan. 21. She chipped in 19 points and 11 boards against Crater last Friday.
"We recognize without having Andee in the game, we are gonna have to find production from other kids," South Medford head coach Tom Cole said. "(Julissa) Tago has surged into a place where she is much more productive offensively over the last few games, which is great."
Senior Ashley Bolston, the SOH's leading scorer, went for 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals and Sleezer had 12 points for the Panthers (16-3, 6-0 SOH), who led 26-10 after the first quarter and 43-17 at halftime.
Junior Krystal Williams added 11 points off the bench, Jasmin Falls grabbed 10 rebounds and Lauren Orndoff — who has taken over Ritter's starting spot — had six points.
Senior Joci Ellis erupted for a career-high 24 points with three steals for North (7-10, 1-6).
Tago was unstoppable in the first half, draining all six of her field-goal attempts (three driving buckets, two jump shots and a 3-pointer) and burying all 10 of her free-throw attempts. She cooled off in the second half, going 1-of-4, but South was in fine shape by then.
"We obviously went into the game putting a lot of our focus on doing our best to make it difficult for Bolston to score," North head coach Tim Karrick said. "And they have Tago and she went off."
She may not have felt great going into the contest, but Tago said her shot was feeling right.
"It felt good in warm-ups and my teammates were finding me in the right places," said Tago, who generated national attention for her play heading into her freshman year at South.
The Panthers shot just two 3s and the Black Tornado tried just three from beyond the arc. South had nine turnovers and North 23.
Ellis, who caught fire in the second half, said she is enjoying her final prep season.
"Every minute is special to me," she said. "You are around these girls for so long and you build that bond with them."
SOUTH MEDFORD (75) — Tago 25, Williams 8, Johnson 2, Bolston 19, Sleezer 12, Orndoff 6, Falls 2, Washington 1, Lemons 0. Totals: 26-56 22-27 75.
NORTH MEDFORD (36) — Ellis 24, Parker 0, Anderson 0, Rivero 0, Martin 0, Thomas 4, Bumgardner 1, Cowan 0, Koistinen 3, Hall 4, Wizner 0, Ross 0, Covington 0. Totals: 10-37 14-23 36.
South Medford 26 17 19 13 — 75
North Medford 10 7 10 9 — 36
3-point goals — South Medford 1-2 (Tago 1), North Medford 2-3 (Ellis 2).
JV result — North Medford won.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt