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North, South battle for SOC lead tonight

At least some of North Medford's walking wounded will hit the floor tonight against two-time defending Southern Oregon Conference boys basketball champion South Medford.

North and South -- both packing 3-0 conference records -- will rumble on North's floor at 7:30 p.m. for sole possession of the SOC lead.

North (8-3) enters the game with its best and most experienced player lost for the season with a knee injury. Senior point guard K.C. Rumrey has a partially torn ligament in his left knee.

In addition, North Medford senior forward Jesse Fowler and junior wing Jeff Zimmer are less than healthy. Fowler has a mild case of mononucleosis and Zimmer is recovering from a severely sprained ankle.

Rumrey's knee, the same one he injured two years ago, will eventually have to be surgically repaired again. Doctors have told him he can play, but risks greater injury if he does. A standout in baseball as well, Rumrey doesn't want to run that risk because he hopes he can play a full season of baseball.

This is all a big-time bummer for me, says Rumrey. I was having a lot of fun playing basketball, and I was really getting into it.

The doctors told me they highly recommended me not playing any more basketball. They said it was too risky on the knee. In baseball, I think I can play because it doesn't require all the quickness and movement all the time.

Rumrey said he will have surgery following the high school baseball season, meaning he won't play American Legion baseball this summer.

North coach Terry Gregg said losing Rumrey is a big blow, especially with the Black Tornado off to an impressive start. North reached the finals of the Smith Barney Holiday Classic in December and a 3-0 outburst to start the SOC season has provided an injection of confidence.

Rumrey was named an all-tournament selection, despite suffering the knee injury and failing to score in the championship game against West Linn. He erupted for 24 points, including 20 in the first half, in a win over Gresham in the semifinals.

K.C. played his best game in his last (full) one, says Gregg. It's too bad. He was our one returning starter from last year to build around, and he was probably playing as well as any player in the league. He was right up there with anybody to be an all-league pick.

South Medford coach Dennis Murphy says losing Rumrey hurts the Black Tornado, but he expects North to rally emotionally without its fallen leader.

K.C. is the real leader of that team, and he's so competitive, he forces the others to play hard, even if they don't want to, says Murphy. Plus, he's their leading scorer, which makes it a huge loss.

But I think the other players will step up and play harder without him. North plays with a lot of confidence at home. And I don't think they will feel any pressure in this game. The pressure is on us.

South Medford fought off Roseburg last Friday to protect its position atop the SOC standings. Roseburg cut a 15-point South Medford lead to one point with 10 seconds left. But the Panthers sealed the win with two free throws by point guard James Wightman.

We played very well against Roseburg for three quarters, says Murphy. I was thinking we would do that in the last quarter, but then the wheel comes off the cart. We quit playing aggressively and the Roseburg kids picked up on that.

The Panthers (9-2) have gotten a boost of late from wing Adam Decker, who scored 15 against Roseburg and earned a spot on the all-tournament team at Smith Barney Holiday Classic after scoring 25 in South's victory over Gresham in the third-place game.

Without Rumrey, the Black Tornado managed to pull out a road victory at Mazama last Friday, relying on its man-to-man defensive pressure and team play.

This is a team that stuck together and stayed the course through challenge after challenge, says Gregg. We keep doing it. Without K.C., we've had to refocus and get things going in a different direction.

Senior Kyle Foreman is expected to start tonight in place of Rumrey for the second consecutive game.

If you were going to pick a player on our team that you'd like to see get a chance, it's Kyle, says Gregg. He's a great kid, and he's hung with it for four years. He kept himself ready in case he got a chance, and now he has it.

He played all right at Mazama, but he can play better. He's going through some things as a starter.

Foreman will probably go through a few more torturous experiences tonight against South Medford's full-court zone trap, which has taken its toll against North Medford teams in recent years.

We need to stay together and play our game, says Gregg. I have confidence Kyle can take care of the ball for us.