A poor start led to a fitful end for North Medford's boys basketball team in the semifinals of the 20th Abby's Holiday Classic on Tuesday.

A poor start led to a fitful end for North Medford's boys basketball team in the semifinals of the 20th Abby's Holiday Classic on Tuesday.

The Black Tornado spent the first three-plus quarters playing from behind, took the lead, then wilted as Churchill of Eugene triumphed, 50-47, at South Medford High.

Churchill will meet West Linn, a 57-56 winner over South Medford, for the tournament championship at 6 tonight at South Medford.

North Medford, winner of the previous two Abby's, plays cross-town rival and tourney co-host South Medford for third place at 4:15 p.m. today at South Medford.

Against Churchill (6-2) The Black Tornado fought into the lead at the start of the fourth quarter and led 47-46 with 11/2 minutes to go. But a backdoor layup and two free throws put the Lancers back in front.

With two seconds remaining, North Medford inbounded but all it could muster was a 35-footer from Matt Maurer that caught only rim.

The loss dropped North Medford to 5-4 and left its coaches and players scratching their heads at the trend of poor starts.

"We played a very poor first half," said coach Scott Plankenhorn. "We were not engaged at all. We were not ready to play. I'm not sure why we've struggled all year with the first quarter, which led to the whole half tonight. Churchill's too good of a team for that."

North Medford had 10 turnovers in the first half to 12 for Churchill, but the Lancers made up for it with repeated close-range baskets, sinking 9 of 15 field goals and leading by as many as 10 points in the second quarter.

"No one seemed to really be playing defense," said junior wing Jared Knox, who had a couple baskets as the Black Tornado fought back in the fourth. "That's where we needed to get a spark. We needed to hit shots, get open and play defense."

Playing behind is bad enough under normal circumstances. But in a tournament, with three games in successive days, the wear and tear is magnified.

"By the time you get to the third and fourth quarter, you're so gassed," said Maurer, adding that it was evident in the Black Tornado's defense in the waning minutes. "By then, they're so used to your pressure and you're gassed, it's layup, layup, layup and the lead's gone."

Churchill began the fourth quarter with a 34-29 edge, but that's when North Medford pushed back, scoring nine straight points to go in front, 38-34.

Kyle Waits made two free throws, Sean Phillips got a steal and a breakaway layup and Knox made a 3-pointer from the right wing and a cherry-pick layup following a rebound and length-of-the-court pass from Maurer.

Waits, who led the Black Tornado with 15 points, made two more free throws for a 40-36 lead with six minutes left, then Churchill rallied, scoring the next six points.

"The turning point for us, which was really positive, was that after North hit a couple shots and took the lead, we just kind of battled through that," said Lancers coach Kelly Born.

Churchill pulled within 47-46, then Maurer tried another long baseball pass that was intercepted. The patient Lancers ran nearly a minute off the clock before a splendid backdoor cut by Casey McFadden led to an easy layup and a 48-47 lead.

After North Medford's Michael Levos missed a 3-pointer from the right corner, Waits fouled Sam Graham.

Shooting a one-and-one, Graham missed the first attempt but Knox was called for a lane violation. Graham made the do-over, then drained the bonus shot for a 50-47 lead with 14 seconds left.

In a frantic few moments, Maurer lost the ball on a Graham steal, but Graham turned it back over when he traveled.

With two seconds left, North Medford set up a play to free Levos, but Churchill would have none of it.

"They did a really good job of making sure nobody came out to any 3-point spot," said Plankenhorn.

Levos fought through, took an inbounds from Maurer at the left wing, then quickly kicked it back to him for an open, albeit very long, shot.

"It was a good play by those guys to at least get a fairly clean look," said Plankenhorn.

Levos scored 12 and Knox 11, and Maurer scrapped for eight steals and seven rebounds.

CHURCHILL (50) — Overman 10, Orduno 0, Graham 6, Jackson 0, Savelich 6, McFadden 11, Johnson 2, Huddleston 4, Janelli 8, Bennion 3. Totals: 19-33 8-8 50.

NORTH MEDFORD (47) — Maurer 5, Mautz 2, Phillips 2, Waits 15, Faust 0, Bradshaw 0, Levos 12, Knox 11, Browne-Moore 0, Osmanski 0, Garfas 0, Gilinski 0. Totals: 16-43 11-14 47.

North Medford 5 11 13 18 — 47

Churchill 8 14 12 16 — 50

3-point goals — Churchill 4 (McFadden 3, Bennion 1), North Medford 4 (Levos 2, Knox 2).

REX PUTNAM 52, WEST SALEM 39 — At South Medford High, Cole Rogers, a junior wing, scored 15 points to pace Rex Putnam (3-6) in the consolation semifinals.

The Kingsmen received 14 points from senior post Max D'Auvergne, and Brandon Sherier chipped in 11.

Rex Putnam will play Red Bluff, Calif., in the fourth-place game at 2:30 p.m. today at South Medford High.

For West Salem, Tae Land-Adams had 11 points.

RED BLUFF, CALIF. 50, REDMOND 47 — At South Medford High, Red Bluff rallied in the fourth quarter to advance to the fourth-place game.

Red Bluff outscored Redmond 17-13 in the final period after trailing by one at the end of three quarters.

Senior post Cody Gappa scored 15 points and Kevin Shoop added 13 for Red Bluff.

Brad Carter and Christian Welsh both scored 10 to lead Redmond, which plays West Salem at 12:30 p.m. today.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com