Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Alexia Hall snatched the basketball with the speed of a cheetah, zoomed down court and scooped in a silky smooth layup.
The late bucket by the North Medford junior put the Black Tornado girls basketball team ahead for good in a wild 38-34 victory over South Eugene in a Class 6A state play-in contest at North Medford High Friday.
North (11-13) will next travel to play an opponent to be determined in the first round of the 6A playoffs Tuesday.
Hall's steal and lay-in gave the Black Tornado a 35-33 edge with 2:23 to go in the contest, which saw nearly 50 combined turnovers and 66 missed field-goal attempts.
"I know (North head coach Tim Karrick) said we should play up, so I just figured we might as well go for it," said Hall, who finished with seven points.
North's Sydney Thomas also helped out big when it mattered most, knocking down a pair of free throws to even the game at 33 with 3:05 remaining and canning two more after Hall's bucket.
Molly Henshaw's jumper gave South Eugene (5-20) a five-point lead with 5:45 left, but the Axemen went 0-for-8 from the field with a handful of turnovers and one free-throw make after that.
"That has been our trouble all year," South Eugene head coach Steve Eastburn said. "We can't score. That is obviously not going to win you very many ballgames. No matter how well you defend, you are just not gonna defend enough to overcome not being able to score."
Joci Ellis had nine points, Savannah Bumgardner eight points and four steals, Thomas eight points and three steals and Sarah Koistinen six points and 12 rebounds for the Black Tornado, which finished fourth out of five teams in the Southern Oregon Hybrid.
"It's pretty intense," Hall said. "We were excited for this moment and we just love playing together. So we're excited to see how far we can go."
Suffice it to say, controlling the ball was a challenge for both teams on Friday. But it was North that survived the sea of missed shots and the storm of turnovers.
Ellis led the charge with five points as the Black Tornado jumped out to a 16-4 advantage after the first quarter. Hall finished out the period with an acrobatic behind-the-backboard layup.
Things took a turn for the worse for North in the second quarter, when it managed just three points.
The Black Tornado owned a 19-12 lead at halftime.
The Axemen took their first lead of the game with 29 seconds to go in the third quarter on Hannah Nordstrand's basket. South Eugene outscored North, 19-7, in the frame.
"Tonight I really liked how we came out and played with that focus and intensity on both ends of the ball (in the first quarter)," Karrick said. "We did a great job of playing defense and controlling the boards early. ... I don't know if we relaxed a little bit or what. We just didn't control the boards or take care of the ball in the second quarter like we needed to."
But Karrick said he was pleased with his team's effort down the stretch.
"I'm proud of the way the girls finished," he said. "We've been in a lot of close games and that experience helped us tonight."
South Eugene edged North, 29-27, in the first round of the playoffs last winter, but the Black Tornado got revenge with a 36-33 victory against the Axemen at the Nike Interstate Shootout earlier this winter.
"Of course when a team beats you, you want to make sure it doesn't happen again," Ellis said. "Especially on your home court."
Katie Evans turned in 13 points for South Eugene, which finished in last place in the District 2.
SOUTH EUGENE (34) — Nordstrand 6, Bineham 0, Pierce 0, Strgar 0, Marsh 2, Moran 3, Mo. Henshaw 5, Evans 13, Stolp 3, Me. Henshaw 2, McAninch 0. Totals: 12-47 8-14 34.
NORTH MEDFORD (38) — Ellis 9, Anderson 0, Martin 0, Thomas 8, Bumgardner 8, Cowan 0, Koistinen 6, Hall 7. Totals: 13-44 10-22 38.
South Eugene 4 8 19 3 — 34
North Medford 16 3 7 12 — 38
3-point goals — South Eugene 2-9 (Moran 1, Mo. Henshaw 1), North Medford 2-9 (Ellis 2). Fouled out — M. Henshaw. Technical foul — Koistinen.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt