With an average age of 14 years old on his girls basketball team, South Medford head coach Tom Cole knew as much as anyone that his program’s eye-popping conference winning streak was in jeopardy of ending this season.
And so it came to be Friday night, but certainly not without a fight to the end by the young Panthers.
Visiting Sheldon outscored South Medford 8-1 — all from the free-throw line — over the final 85 seconds to do what no team has been able to do against the Panthers in eight years by pinning a 52-46 loss on the Southwest Conference stalwarts.
South Medford had won 92 straight conference games entering Friday’s game, with the Panthers’ last league loss coming Feb. 17, 2010 against North Medford.
“I never expected, ever, a streak like that,” said Cole, in his 11th year at South Medford. “I mean, who plays for a streak? I would’ve traded a streak for any number of lost injuries over the years that I feel like cost us state championships, so the streak to me was just luck. That doesn’t bother me. Honestly tonight, I was proud of how hard we played.”
With one junior in Ula Chamberlin, one sophomore in Bella Pedrojetti and seven freshmen on the Panther roster, South Medford may feature the youngest lineup in Class 6A history, but the girls proved they’re certainly no pushover against a Sheldon squad picked as the preseason SWC favorites.
“I’m definitely happy with how these girls played because I know it’s a big jump for them,” said Chamberlin, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and three steals. “They don’t play with juniors when they were in eighth grade. It’s a tough thing for them but they’re learning and I’m excited to see what they do after this.”
“We just made stupid mistakes,” Chamberlin added of the rare off night overall. “I think the game was so tight that we just missed easy layups and made some turnovers we don’t usually make. We were 8-for-16 from the free-throw line, if we would’ve just made those or some easy connections it wouldn’t have been a loss.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the “what-if” battle was a losing cause against Sheldon (11-3, 3-0 SWC), ranked sixth in the 6A coaches poll. South Medford (8-7, 2-1) is ranked 10th.
“Absolutely it is a big win for us this year,” said Sheldon head coach Brian Brancato. “You’ve got to play hard to beat South Medford, and they fought until the end. I’m proud of our kids because there was a lot of pressure to win here. For them not to fold at the end and make plays was great.”
Sheldon jumped to a 12-3 lead in the first quarter but South Medford regrouped behind the play of Pedrojetti, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds, and freshmen Kaili Chamberlin (seven points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Shakia Perry (six points, nine rebounds).
It wasn’t a thing of beauty for either team, with Sheldon’s 32-percent shooting success just a hair ahead of South Medford (30 percent) and both teams proving turnover-prone thanks to dedicated defense.
Kaili Chamberlin’s spinning basket with four minutes to play gave South Medford a 43-42 advantage, but Sheldon’s Kami Walk got free on an inbounds pass to reclaim the lead for her squad one minute later. The Panthers appeared to have regained the lead with two minutes to go but Pedrojetti’s driving basket was negated by a charging call.
Undaunted, Perry blocked a shot on the defensive end and recorded a putback basket with 1:25 left to give South Medford a 45-44 lead before a steady trip to the foul line by the Irish. Two free throws by sophomore Aly Mirabile were followed by a Panther turnover and then South sent Makayla Scurlock to the line and she converted both ends of a one-and-one opportunity.
A free throw by Ula Chamberlin was sandwiched by 3-point misses by the Panthers and Sheldon continued to convert from the foul line to put the game away and send the Irish players into a celebratory frenzy.
“We’ve come down here before and been close, and we’ve been close at our place,” said Brancato, “and each time the team that deserved to win won, and that was South Medford. But I think that our kids deserved to win tonight.”
Senior Macie Reinen scored eight of her team-high 12 points in the third quarter and Mirabile finished with 12 to pace Sheldon, while the junior Walk added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
While South Medford’s players were certainly sad to see the streak come to an end, they also found faith in the knowledge that the best is still to come for their team.
“It means a lot but I don’t think it’s the ending point,” said Ula Chamberlin of the streak coming to an end. “I think we can make our own streak and our own history with this team. We’re really young so we have a lot of time to grow, I’m not too worried about it.”
“Everyone takes a loss at some point in their life,” she added, “we’ve just got to move on from here.”
SHELDON (52): Mirabile 12, Foutz 0, Walk 11, Hanson 9, Scurlock 4, Reinen 12, Neuman 0, Winkler 4. Totals: 16-50 17-22 52.
SOUTH MEDFORD (46): K. Chamberlin 7, Coleman 4, U. Chamberlin 11, Schmerbach 2, Pedrojetti 16, Fish 0, Perry 6, Laupola 0. Totals: 17-57 8-16 46.
3-point goals — Sheldon 3-20 (Reinen 2, Hanson 1), South Medford 4-18 (Pedrojetti 3, K. Chamberlin 1).
JV score — Sheldon 65, South Medford 32.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry