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South opens state play tonight

Methodical Sunset first up for Panthers

South Medford High boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy figures he's matching up against the best coach in the state.

Sunset coach Ken Harris, who won a state championship in 1987, is expected to have a multitude of game plans and options for South tonight in the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Game time is 7 p.m.

As usual, Murphy has done his homework in preparing for the state tournament. He scouted Sunset's 61-56 state playoff win over Canby last Saturday.

The win qualified the Apollos (20-6), the No. — finisher in the Metro League, for the 16-team tournament.

South (22-2), the fourth-ranked team in the state, advanced straight to the tournament after going 16-0 in the Southern Oregon Conference for its third consecutive league title.

The thing about Sunset is that they make very few mistakes, says Murphy. That's a product of their coach. They play with a lot of discipline and control. The first game of the state tournament is always the toughest because you have to adjust to the atmosphere.

That atmosphere could be tougher on South because it isn't playoff-tested like Sunset. The Panthers have had only practice since their regular-season finale Feb. 27.

South will try to overcome Sunset's discipline with its athleticism and an array of scorers capable of breaking open close games.

I'm not sure they (the Apollos) know how athletic we are and how fast we can score, says Murphy.

The Panthers are led by seniors Travis DeManby, a 6-foot-4 wing, who is the Southern Oregon Conference player of the year; 6-3 forward Bryn Ritchie, 5-9 point guard James Wightman and 6-3 forward Adam Decker.

All four players finished in the top 10 in the SOC in scoring. DeManby averaged 17.5 points a game, Wightman 14.1, Decker 13.9 and Ritchie 11.2.

All have state-tournament experience and all have high expectations this time around. South's highest state finish was in 1996, when it went 3-1 and placed third.

Last year, South opened the tournament with a 10-point loss to Bend. Knocked into the consolation round for the only time in the last six years, the uninspired Panthers floundered in two morning games and were eliminated by Crescent Valley in their third game.

We aren't going to let that happen again, says Wightman. Our goal is to get to the final four and take it one game at a time from there. We think we can go win it. That's why we're going.

If South can defeat Sunset, the Panthers would meet the winner of the game between top-rated Churchill and third-rated Barlow at 8:45 p.m. on Thursday.

We know we can beat Churchill, says Wightman. We did it last summer in a tournament. But Churchill could lose to Barlow, if Freddie Jones goes off.

Jones is a 6-5 Barlow senior, who is regarded as the state's premier Class 4A player. He has signed a letter of intent with Oregon. Sunset won two state playoff games, over Cleveland and Canby, by playing with confidence and under control, says Harris.

At least when we play the way the coach wants us to, we play with discipline, says Harris. But we haven't done that all the time.

The Apollos upped their scoring average per game from 43 last season to 60 points this year.

We try to push it more this year, says Harris. We run if something is there. If it isn't, we pull the ball out and go to our half-court offense and play with patience.

But we really don't want to get into a running game with South Medford. We expect them to press us, and we need to be able to handle their defensive pressure.

Sultan Fitas, a 6-2 senior wing, leads the Apollos in scoring with a 13.2 scoring average.

Ryan Eney, a 6-4, 215-pound point guard, has set Sunset records for single-season and career assists.

He's actually a pretty good shooter, but he doesn't shoot much, says Harris. I wish he would shoot more. But his thing is getting the ball to his teammates.

Senior Ian Crawford of Sunset is a 6-1 wing player who can score from outside or take his man inside to score.

He's a physical player and a good shooter, says Harris.

Other starters are 6-2 Brian Peterson, who averages 12 points a game, and 5-11 junior guard Matt Potter, who is a good perimeter shooter and excellent rebounder for his size, Harris says.

We have some speed and better athletic ability than we did last year, says Harris. That's why we push the ball up the floor more.

But we don't have one kid on our team to match up against South's top four athletes.