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North, South meet in coed twin bill

Medford basketball fans will be treated to a rare doubleheader tonight when the North and South Medford High boys and girls teams square off in the South gym.

The Black Tornado and Panther boys teams meet at 5:15 p.m. with the girls squads scheduled to tip off at 7.

Such back-to-back contests are common at smaller schools but rare at the Class 4A level, primarily because they create complications involving the junior varsity teams.

Curiously, tonight's twin bill arrives courtesy of wrestling. Because South Medford will play host to the Southern Oregon Conference wrestling tournament on Feb. 9-10, the school lost a Friday hoop date that would have brought together the two cross-town rivals.

So rather than play on a Thursday or a Saturday, school administrators opted for a pair of coed doubleheaders — the one tonight at South and again on Feb. 9 at North.

However it came about, it's a good deal for the fans, North Medford girls coach J.T. Thomas says. Plus, it gives the girls a chance to watch the boys play, and vice versa. Normally they're playing at the same time in two different gyms.

Thomas was an assistant coach for South Medford during the early 1990s, the last time the boys and girls played back-to-back. The girls played first that night, and Thomas remembers the large number of boys fans crowding into the gym as halftime approached.

That was a game South needed to win to get into the playoffs, and the fans really gave our girls a boost, Thomas recalls. It was a neat thing.

Girls basketball wasn't too popular then, and our girls were a little wide-eyed when they looked into the stands.

Tonight, Thomas will sit on the opposite bench, leading a young but rapidly improving Black Tornado squad.

The North girls stand just 1-4 in the SOC and 4-9 overall, but they're coming off a four-point loss to a hot Roseburg team, and most of the setbacks have been by thin margins.

These girls are frustrated because they're not used to losing, but they also know they're getting better each time out and that one of these days we're going to turn the corner, Thomas says.

Thomas is starting two freshmen in the backcourt — point guard Anna Lilly and shooting guard Brittany Hodges — along with sophomore post Kersten Mellbye. Senior wing Kara Hwang and senior post Ashley Nelson, the team's leading scorer at 13 points per game, round out the starting five.

Hodges, one of the top 400-meter runners in the nation, has finally gotten healthy after overcoming a knee ailment and sprains to both ankles.

South Medford is coming off a 53-44 victory at Grants Pass that puts the Panthers (7-7, 3-2 SOC) back into the middle of the playoff race. Senior wing Kellie Thomas erupted for 10 first-period points and 17 on the night to fuel the victory.

The Panther boys, meanwhile, have spent the past two days trying to regain their shooting touch following Tuesday's 49-39 loss to Grants Pass in which they shot a frigid 20 percent from the field (11 of 55).

Our concentration level needs to be higher, says South coach Dennis Murphy, whose team spent its entire practice Wednesday going through shooting drills. If we can make 17 of 21 free throws (which the Panthers did), then there's no reason we can't make open shots during the game.

Picked to finish in a second-place tie with Roseburg, the Panthers are now 1-2 in the SOC and 9-4 overall.

The North boys have had to overcome some woes of their own — — not having their football players for the first two weeks of the season and then losing starting point guard Mike Olson to a broken hand two weeks ago.

But the Tornado (5-7, 2-1 SOC) has remained competitive — — beating Ashland and Klamath Union to start the conference season and leading Roseburg at halftime Tuesday before losing 70-54.

Junior Brian Weeks has taken over at the point, while Ben Anderson (12.3 points per game) and Gabe Burchfiel (11.9) lead North in scoring.

With all of the lineup changes we've had and the fact that we're in effect still in our preseason, everyone is a tough opponent, Tornado coach Gene Quilhaugh says. We haven't blown anyone out this season and I'm not sure we will.

But if we can win enough close games to make the playoffs, I'm fine with that.

Don Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail