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Classic unfolds at South, North

Abby's Holiday Classic —


— At North Medford High

McNary (2-2) vs. McMinnville (4-2), 6 — p.m.

No. Medford (2-4) vs. No. Bend (1-2), — 7:45 p.m.

— At South Medford High

Crook County (3-3) vs. Glencoe (3-3), 6 — p.m.

Sheldon (1-3) vs. So. Medford (2-4) 7,:45 — p.m. — —

The first-round matchup between South Medford and Sheldon in today's 10th annual Abby's Holiday Classic basketball tournament at South High looks rather drab on paper.

The Panthers, after all, have won just two of their first six games while the Eugene-based Irish have posted an equally unimpressive 1-3 mark.

Don't be fooled.

Both teams have played tough non-league schedules and both figure to fare favorably once they jump into their conference schedules next week.

The turnaround could happen over the next three days in the eight-team event being played at South and North Medford high schools.

South Medford, which was narrowly picked to win the Southern Oregon Conference, has played solid defense most of the season, but poor field goal shooting and free throw inaccuracy has prevented the Panthers from winning more games.

There's not a great basketball player on this team, and so for us to be successful we've got to have more than one or two guys step up, South Medford coach Dennis Murphy says. We've taken some steps to get better, but we've got to get a little tougher mentally if we're going to beat the good teams.

Senior point guard Steve Hilgendorf leads South in scoring at 11 points per game, but he's the only Panther averaging in double figures. Nick Decker, a 6-foot-7 senior post, is averaging just under 10 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.

What Murphy is hoping for is greater scoring out of his wings. Sophomore Ryan Heil and senior Ethan Wallenberg have had their moments, but neither has scored at a consistent pace.

Our perimeter shooting just hasn't been very good, Murphy says. We need bits and pieces from everyone, but what we really need right now is to hit some shots (from the outside).

Two of South Medford's losses came against talented California squads at the Red Bluff Daily News Classic last week, and another came against No. 7-ranked South Eugene.

Murphy was encouraged by the Panthers' effort in a 59-57 loss to St. Mary's High of Albany, Calif., in the third-place game of the Red Bluff tourney. South Medford went on a 16-5 tear in the final period to tie the game, only to lose in the final five seconds.

That was a good team -- if we can match that effort each time out, shoot the ball a little better and play defense for four quarters, we can win a lot of games, Murphy says.

Sheldon, meanwhile, is off to a rocky start under first-year head coach Lane Johnson, but the Irish were picked to finish fourth in the highly regarded Midwestern League.

Senior post Brandon Baker and senior wing Blake Sloneacker have been Sheldon's most consistent players, averaging 11 and 10 points, respectively. But the player to watch for the Irish might be Ben Moen-Arnold, a 6-6 senior wing who was a starter on the 1998 Sheldon squad that finished third at the Class 4A state tournament.

Moen-Arnold was suspended for Sheldon's first three games.

He's a three-year starter and a good player, says Johnson, noting that Moen-Arnold averaged 14 points a game last season. He's got all-league potential.

Sheldon was routed by Crescent Valley of Corvallis in its opening game but since then has suffered a one-point loss to Mountain View and a four-point loss to Roseburg. Its lone win came against Ashland on Dec. 11, when Derek Martell hit a 40-foot shot at the buzzer for a 58-55 victory.

We could easily be 3-1, but we'll live with being 1-3, Johnson says. I'm confident we can win a lot of games.

The South-Sheldon matchup is the second of a doubleheader at South High. The first game matches Crook County and Glencoe of Hillsboro at 6 p.m.

Across town at North High, McNary of Salem meets McMinnville at 6 p.m. and North Medford meets North Bend at 7:45.

North Medford is also searching to find itself under second-year coach Gene Quilhaugh. The Black Tornado has a lot of good athletes but only one experienced player in senior wing Wes Towne, who leads the team in scoring at 10.5 points per game.

I've told the kids several times they haven't shown the townspeople how well they can play basketball, Quilhaugh says. Potentially, we're as good as if not better than last year (when North won the SOC title). The parts are there, but we've got to go out on the court at game time and start showing it.

A pleasant surprise for the Tornado has been 6-5 senior post Jeff Schlichting.

Three months ago, I would not have pegged him to be a starter, but there he is, Quilhaugh says. He's developed a nice inside game.

Quilhaugh hopes the Tornado's relentless pressure defense can cause problems for North Bend, whose only win came against Crater.

The most intriguing first-round matchup is today's 6 o'clock contest at South Medford between Crook County and Glencoe.

Crook County has posted a 7-1 record under second-year coach Gordon Kronberger. The Cowboys of Prineville are led by perhaps the top individual player in the tournament, Jared Abell. The 6-6 senior wing is the No. 2 scorer in the state at 23.6 points per game.

He can attack the basket and hit the 3-pointer -- he's a versatile player, Kronberger says.

The Cowboys have another formidable big man in 6-8 Noah Pinkston, who is the leading rebounder in the state at just under 10 per game.

Glencoe has dropped three of its six games but the Crimson Tide is a perennial visitor to the state playoffs under 10-year coach Terry McClary.

Nick Pitts, a 6-5 senior post, 6-4 junior post Mark Gayman and 6-1 senior shooting guard lead the Crimson Tide, which has advanced to the playoffs six times in the past seven years and advanced to the final 16 on three occasions under McClary.

Another Glencoe player to watch is point guard Josh McInnis, who played on the varsity last season as a freshman and has now taken over the starting role.