PORTLAND — Still a big factor in South Medford's state quarterfinals win on Wednesday, the general conclusion was that sophomore standout Julissa Tago needed to be more aggressive on the offensive end for the Panthers to reach their third straight Class 6A state championship game.

PORTLAND — Still a big factor in South Medford's state quarterfinals win on Wednesday, the general conclusion was that sophomore standout Julissa Tago needed to be more aggressive on the offensive end for the Panthers to reach their third straight Class 6A state championship game.

That notion was magnified when star senior Ashley Bolston came down ill with a stomach virus and barely could get out of bed leading up to Friday's semifinals at the state tournament.

Undaunted by the added expectations, Tago came out against Beaverton and lit a fire under her team from the onset, sparking the top-ranked Panthers with three 3-pointers and 11 points in the first quarter to help build a 17-12 lead and set the tone for the day.

The 5-foot-9 Tago continued to make an impact, nailing a pair of clutch free throws in a one-and-one situation with 10.7 seconds to go to secure a 45-40 victory for South Medford at the Moda Center.

"She was brilliant today," said South Medford head coach Tom Cole. "She was huge on the boards Wednesday (with 11 rebounds) and did some things to keep us in the game because her presence is important, but today she was offensive-minded, and you could see her get into a rhythm with her jump shot early, which I thought set a real tempo for us."

"Without that momentum building that she was the catalyst behind," added Cole, "it's a different game."

South Medford (26-3) will look to claim its second title in three years at 6:30 tonight against Oregon City, and hopes to erase the bad memories from last year's championship loss to Central Catholic.

"I'm excited," said Tago. "I definitely don't want to feel like I did last year, so hopefully we come out with the same intensity we did in this game and get it done."

Tago finished with 15 points, four rebounds and two steals, while Bolston authored a gutty performance to play all 32 minutes and manage 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.

"You could see she was tired and she was just sluggish and had no first step," said Cole. "She was depleted, as any person would be after throwing up for two straight days. But what I thought she possessed today was a lot of maturity to help everybody else calm down at times."

South Medford built a 29-20 lead by halftime, then used four quick points in the third quarter to go up 33-22. Undaunted, Beaverton came back with a 7-2 run and later closed the quarter on a 6-2 run to trail only 41-35 entering the fourth.

Given Bolston's status, Cole opted to take the air out of the ball and hold it to force Beaverton out of its trapping 2-3 zone defense. South Medford held the ball on the first possession of the fourth quarter for 3 minutes, 11 seconds but came up empty when Keyari Sleezer's floater missed the mark.

The slowdown seemed to have an adverse affect on the Panthers, however, and Beaverton answered with a basket by Alyssa Christiansen to make it 41-37. Between turnovers and holding the ball, South Medford didn't score in the final quarter until a pair of free throws by Bolston with 2:20 to go made it 43-37.

"It almost worked to our favor," Beaverton head coach Jay Ego said of South's clock-absorbing tactics. "Our ability to get some traps and cover the ground with quickness helped close that gap. They were playing not to lose — and they still won — but we were still fighting for it at the end."

Beaverton (21-7) missed four shots when it was a four-point game, then got a fortunate carom off a missed second free throw by Shaunta Jackson. That resulted in a wide-open 3-pointer by Christiansen, but it missed.

"We got good looks, they just didn't go down," said Ego, whose team was 16-for-49 (33 percent) from the field. "That's what it comes down to now. The effort was there. You film below the rim, we looked pretty good, but above it we just didn't knock it into the hole."

Two free throws by Danielle Hartzog allowed Beaverton to trim its deficit to 43-40 with 1:16 to play, then the Beavers got a fortunate over-and-back call on a pass toward Bolston that was tipped and went into the backcourt. With 34.6 seconds left, the Beavers set the stage for a driving attempt at the basket by Lexus Miller-Moylan, but South's Lauren Orndoff matched her stride and Jasmin Falls fought off several Beavers for the rebound.

"The rebound by Jasmin Falls at the end of the game was incredibly important, especially with all the momentum shift that had happened," Cole said. "She was quiet offensively but she did a great job on the boards today (with nine rebounds) and helped neutralize the offensive production of their post (Dagny McConnell)."

Tago followed with her two clutch free throws to propel the Panthers into the finals in unconventional fashion for the up-tempo squad.

"Without Ash being as strong as she was physically today, that second half was a grind," said Cole. "But I was really proud of the way we were able to gut it out because that Beaverton team's a good team."

The Beavers played a style eerily reminiscent of last year's state semifinals, when Tigard frustrated South Medford into a nail-biter with its zone defense and patient offensive approach.

"We ran plays this year and we got really familiar with the zone so that kinda helped us," said Tago. "The zone really didn't bother us."

"We're really an up-paced team, so definitely slowing the ball down kinda got us a little bit," she added, "but we pulled through and we're here (in the championship)."

Orndoff's performance also was highlighted by Cole after the freshman scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds.

"Lauren Orndoff grew up today," said the coach. "Today was a huge game for her. She hit some really big buckets toward the end of the game, and those were tough to come by in the second half."

Getting back to the state finals was also tough to come by, even with lofty expectations for a Panther program that has developed into one of the state's best.

"If it's state championship or bust as your measure of performance, it's gonna make for a lot of miserable seasons," said Cole. "I'm really proud that this group of kids was able to battle through the adversity that they did. Losing Andee Ritter midway in the season was a huge blow to us and we had to redefine who we were. But, to the credit of these kids, they figured it out. We're just fortunate to be able to get another chance, and I couldn't be more proud of them."


Julissa Tago 4-9 4-4 15, Ashley Bolston 3-9 6-8 13, Lauren Orndoff 4-8 0-0 8, Keyari Sleezer 3-13 0-1 7, Jasmin Falls 1-3 0-0 2, Emily Lemons 0-0 0-0 0, Krystal Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-42 10-13 45.


Danielle Hartzog 4-11 3-4 11, Alyssa Christiansen 5-13 0-0 10, Dagny McConnell 3-5 1-2 7, GiGi Stoll 2-15 1-2 7, Shaunta Jackson 1-1 1-2 3, Lexus Miller-Moylan 1-3 0-0 2, Megahn Distifeno 0-0 0-0 0, Brittney Chicom 0-0 0-0 0, Allison Mueller 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-49 6-10 40.

South Medford 17 12 12 4 — 45

Beaverton 12 8 15 5 — 40

3-point goals — South Medford 5-15 (Julissa Tago 3-6, Ashley Bolston 1-2, Keyari Sleezer 1-5, Lauren Orndoff 0-2), Beaverton 2-14 (GiGi Stoll 2-11, Alyssa Christiansen 0-2, Lexus Miller-Moylan 0-1). Fouled out—Dagny McConnell, Allison Mueller. Rebounds—South Medford 36 (Jasmin Falls 9), Beaverton 26 (GiGi Stoll 9). Assists—South Medford 6 (Ashley Bolston 4), Beaverton 6 (Allison Mueller 2, Danielle Hartzog 2). Total fouls — South Medford 8, Beaverton 15.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry