PORTLAND — Down 10 points with less than a minute to go, its quarterfinal chances all but spent, North Medford needed points and needed them fast. But even as urgency turned to desperation, the Black Tornado could only poke and prod along the borders of West Linn’s ironclad interior defense and, after 25 painful seconds, Adriane McLemore’s 10-footer was swatted out of bounds by Makayla Long.
It was that kind of night for the North Medford girls basketball team, which struggled to find open shots and missed the vast majority of the ones they did fire off in a 42-32 loss to West Linn in the quarterfinals of the OSAA Class 6A state tournament Wednesday at the Chiles Center.
“Our girls battle and they’ve done that all year,” North Medford coach Tim Karrick said. “But it was too much to overcome, that kind of shooting. But our girls played with a lot of heart and I’m proud of their effort and how they play. We just couldn’t put the ball in the bucket tonight.”
The loss dropped the fifth-seeded Tornado into the consolation bracket of the eight-team tournament, where it will face eighth-seeded Clackamas today for a spot in the fourth-place game. Top-ranked Southridge beat Clackamas 57-42 in another quarterfinal game.
North, which fell to 18-8, still has a chance to make team history and capture the program’s second state trophy after finishing fifth in 1998. Senior post Megan Fossen, who led the Tornado with 19 points and 14 rebounds, said there’s still plenty motivation left for the Southwest Conference champions.
“I definitely think we’re ready to compete (today),” she said. “We got our jitters out, we know the hoops, we know the spacing and I think we just need to come out and compete.”
No amount of competitive spirit could atone for North Medford’s offensive struggles Wednesday. Facing a West Linn defense anchored by a pair of tall, aggressive 14-year-old freshman posts — 6-foot-3 Aaronette Vonleh and the 6-foot Long — the Tornado was held to 19 points through three quarters and shot 24 percent for the game (13-for-54) only five days after scoring 62 in a playoff win over Central Catholic.
“For us, it’s good to be tall,” West Linn coach Jared Curtiss said.
Vonleh hit 6 of 13 shots, most from point-blank range, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked six shots, and Long had four blocks. Guards Kennedi Byram and Lexie Pritchard added eight points apiece for the Lions (23-3), who were the runners-up of the Three-Rivers League.
Fossen was the only North Medford player to score in double-figures, but Jane Ersepke scored seven points and hit North’s only 3-pointer with 1:58 left in the game, and Rylee Karrick grabbed seven rebounds. Also for North, McLemore had six rebounds and two blocks and Talia Baker four points and two assists.
North Medford held West Linn to 36 percent shooting in the first half and outrebounded the Lions 35-27 for the game, but none of that helped much on the scoreboard for a team that clanked its first 10 3-point attempts and 1 of 14 overall.
“I think we were a little bit nervous,” Rylee Karrick said. “It was pretty difficult. We were just trying to move the ball around and bring (Vonleh) out of the key to open up the block. She was kind of staying put, but they’re a really good team. It is what it is.”
North had to play some gritty defense to stay within striking distance at the half and trailed only 18-13 despite hitting only 5 of 26 shot attempts in the first half. But the offensive turnaround North had hoped for never materialized.
Fossen scored on a short jumper 16 seconds into the third quarter to cut West Linn’s lead to three, and North didn’t score again until Fossen grabbed her own rebound and muscled in the follow attempt with 1:33 to go in the period — the drought included eight missed field goals and three missed free throws.
Even after Fossen’s basket, the Lions led 27-17 and seemed to be coasting.
“The biggest challenge is that when we get the ball inside finding a way to get around (Vonleh) because she blocked a lot of shots,” Fossen said. “When you play a zone and they collapse on the inside, you gotta hit the outside shots, and that was probably the biggest struggle.”
“(Vonleh’s) not quick, but she’s athletic,” Tim Karrick said. “She’s got good hand-eye coordination and she made a lot of plays. Just having her in there, she altered a lot of shots just with her size.”
The Black Tornado briefly cut West Linn’s lead to nine twice in the fourth quarter, with Baker’s jumper at the 5:49 mark providing North Medford’s final glimmer of hope. West Linn answered with a 3-pointer by Brooke Landis, who drilled another press-breaking 3 earlier in the quarter.
Now, the Tornado will look to end its season on a high note. Still up for grabs is the fourth-place trophy, which would represent the highest state finish in Black Tornado history. That and the chance to keep its season going, Tim Karrick said, should provide his team plenty of inspiration.
“You have a chance to play on Saturday in the state tournament, a chance to bring home a trophy,” he said. “And plus they’re kids and they’re playing a game they like. Is it going to be different? Yes. But to not want to play with my buddies and get after it again one last game as a senior. That’s the only game they have guaranteed so I would hope that with our girls, they would be up and ready to play (today).”
Megan Fossen 8-25 3-6 19, Jane Ersepke 2-10 2-2 7, Talia Baker 2-6 0-0 4, Rylee Karrick 1-7 0-0 2, Abby Christiansen 0-0 0-0 0, Ana Baker 0-2 0-0 0, Adriane McLemore 0-4 0-0 0, Julia Graff 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 13-54 5-10 32.
Aaronette Vonleh 6-10 1-2 13, Lexie Pritchard 3-11 1-2 8, Kennedi Byram 2-3 4-5 8, Brooke Landis 2-2 0 1 6, Cami Fulcher 1-1 3-3 5, Makayla Long 1-5 0-0 2, Lizzy Herrick 0-0 0-0 0, Payton Shelstad 0-1 0-0 0, Vanessa Viuhkola 0-0 0-0 0, Audrey Roden 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-34 9-13 42.
3-point goals — North Medford 1-14 (Jane Ersepke 1-6, Talia Baker 0-1, Rylee Karrick 0-4, Megan Fossen 0-3), West Linn 3-8 (Brooke Landis 2-2, Lexie Pritchard 1-3, Makayla Long 0-1, Payton Shelstad 0-1, Kennedi Byram 0-1). Fouled out — North Medford-None, West Linn-None. Rebounds — North Medford 35 (Megan Fossen 14), West Linn 27 (Aaronette Vonleh 9). Assists — North Medford 5 (Talia Baker 2), West Linn 7 (Lexie Pritchard 2, Kennedi Byram 2). Total fouls — North Medford 12, West Linn 8. Technical fouls — North Medford-None, West Linn-None.