A group of children rushed the basketball court at South Medford High on Friday night.
Their prime target?
The tall girl who reads with them, Ashley Bolston.
Boys and girls from Kids Unlimited grabbed hold of the Panthers' lone senior following top-ranked and top-seeded South Medford's 71-47 victory over Roseburg in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Friday. Bolston led the way with 28 points in her final home game.
With the triumph, the Panthers secured their fourth straight berth into the eight-team state tournament that begins March 12 in Portland. They will face eighth-seeded South Salem in the quarterfinals. The Saxons (22-5) downed West Linn, 62-44, Friday.
The trip to the Moda Center will be a familiar one for the Washington State-bound Bolston, who has concluded every season there since her freshman year. She's played in two state championship contests and won one as a sophomore while accumulating plenty of accolades and honors along the way.
The kids who embraced Bolston may know her best as someone they see at Kids Unlimited, where she and other Panthers often volunteer their time. But what they may come to understand later on is her prep legacy, which will be finalized in the coming days.
"It's exciting," Bolston said. "We know what's ahead of us and we have business to take care of."
The opportunity to compete on the same court as the Portland Trail Blazers is a special one, said sophomore Julissa Tago, who scored 21 points.
"It's just a really amazing experience," she said. "I get butterflies just thinking about it."
Before all that, the Panthers (24-3) had to first beat Roseburg (13-12) for a fourth time this season. The task has never been a particularly overwhelming one — they defeated their Southern Oregon Hybrid rivals by an average margin of 28.7 points in their previous three meetings — but the scenario nevertheless made head coach Tom Cole uncomfortable.
"It's not a matchup I look forward to," Cole said. "Beating a team three times, it's a really tough thing to do. Beating a team four times, statistically, is very, very difficult when the team is as good as they are."
Said Bolston: "All we were hearing in practice is that teams don't beat teams four times in a row, so that is what really pushed us hard."
Their preparation paid off.
With a circus-like student section cheering them on, the Panthers raced out to an 18-8 lead after the first quarter and a 37-25 advantage by halftime.
"Every time we'd create separation, they would make a surge and then we would convert on a big bucket and have some momentum shifts," Cole said of the Indians.
Tago did most of her work in the first half, pouring in 17 points with an array of skillful moves. Bolston picked it up in the second half, turning in 18 of her points in equally impressive fashion in the final two quarters.
Keyari Sleezer added 15 points.
South committed just four turnovers and shot 55 percent from the field, which Cole said is an ideal way to win a game heading into the quarterfinals.
"I thought the kids played with a lot of intensity tonight," he said.
Added Tago: "We just really wanted to get back (to the Moda Center)."
Pele Gianotti had 14 points and Fiona Johnson 13 for Roseburg.
ROSEBURG (47) — Wyscaver 2, Chong 4, Farrington 0, Epps 0, Johnson 13, Stricklin 0, Backen 5, Stotler 9, Gianotti 14, Jackson 0, Weber 0, Bolin 0. Totals: 17 11-15 47.
SOUTH MEDFORD (71) — Williams 0, Tago 21, Metcalf 0, Johnson 0, Bolston 28, Orndoff 2, Sleezer 15, Lemons 3, Falls 2, Washington 0. Totals: 29 10-12 71.
Roseburg 8 17 12 10 — 47
South Medford 18 19 16 18 — 71
3-point goals — Roseburg 2 (Johnson 1, Backen 1), South Medford 3 (Tago 1, Sleezer 1, Bolston 1).
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt