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South roars back to topple KU

The newfound tenacity South Medford demonstrated in its three previous outings went AWOL for much of the first three quarters Friday night.

But when push came to shove, the Panthers had enough feistiness in them to roar back from an eight-point deficit and emerge with a 65-56 Southern Oregon Conference girls basketball win over visiting Klamath Union.

We had to pick things up before it was too late, said senior wing Emily Perttu, who matched teammate Kellie Thomas? game-high 21 points.

The victory gave the Panthers (9-8, 5-3 SOC) a sweep of the Pelicans (10-6, 3-5) for the first time since the 1994-95 season and kept them in a third-place tie with Roseburg, one game behind Ashland.

South trailed 40-32 with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter. But they went on a 21-5 run to close the period and start the fourth, resulting in a 53-35 edge with 5:37 left.

We were real flat in the first and into the third quarter, South Medford coach Andrea Wegner said. But we played with a lot of heart and desire the last 14 minutes.

The Panthers spread the floor with 3:15 to play and the Pelicans had no choice but to foul. South wound up 24 of 37 at the charity stripe, including 9 of 17 in the fourth quarter.

With the outcome still in the balance, the Panthers discovered a new hero in the closing minutes.

There have been plenty of games this season when Beth Mueller hasn't even gotten on the floor, let alone play a key role. But the 6-foot-3 sophomore was up for the task, scoring four points and grabbing seven rebounds in a handful of minutes.

Mueller's free throw gave South a 56-49 edge, but KU's Sarah Davison retaliated with a 3-pointer from the left corner to trim the deficit to four points.

The Panthers were nursing a five-point advantage when Thomas stepped to the line. She made the first of two free throws, but the second rimmed out. Mueller grabbed the carom, dropped it back through the hoop and got fouled. She converted the three-point play with 58 seconds to play, and South was securely in the lead, 61-52.

I just wanted to play hard out there, Mueller said. I just was hoping the ball wouldn't hop out after I got the rebound.

After playing primarily man-to-man through the first half of the season, the Panthers have thrown a little zone defense into the mix.

The Pelicans are one of the SOC's better outside shooting teams and buried five 3-pointers, but only two in the second half.

I thought we went a little cold, said Klamath Union coach Jack Sharp, whose team was 15 of 30 in the first half but wound up 22 of 53 (.415 ).

Any time the momentum switches and you get within a point or get the lead, you relax, said Sharp. If you?re the team that has gotten caught up to, you tense up. We were getting the same 3-point shots we had in the first half, they just weren't dropping for us.

Sam Gilbert, who matched Davison's 17 points to lead the Pelicans, scored nine points in the first quarter as Klamath took a 14-6 advantage.

Karla Zenz scored six of her seven points as the Panthers scored 11 straight points to take a 17-14 advantage. But Heidi Brookshire and Gilbert scored in the final 90 seconds to give KU an 18-17 lead.

Megan Leppert scored seven of her 11 in the second quarter as the Pels extended their lead to 36-30 at the half.

I think they came out with more fire than they did the last time (when South won at Klamath Falls, 63-54), said Perttu, who scored 14 of her points in the second half, including 10 of 13 at the foul line. They shot well, but we were finally able to take advantage when they didn't score.

We realized it was too late and too close.

Thomas finished with eight rebounds, Zenz had six. Whitney Grant had six assists and four steals to go with seven points.

After shooting 12 of 31 in the first half, South warmed up to finish 20 of 44 (.455).

The key was that we passed the ball around, Thomas said. We got the ball into the posts, and if they didn't have a shot, they passed back out. Everything we got was from the post.

— KLAMATH UNION (56) -Gilbert 17, Donahoo 0, Davison 17, Leppert 11, Fagan 0, Sharp 7, Brookshire 4. Totals — 22-53 70-10 56.

— SOUTH MEDFORD (65) -Perttu 21, Wright 3, Grant 7, Hunt 2, Berkey 0, Thomas 21, Mueller 4, Zenz 7. Totals: 20-44 24-37 65.

— Klamath Union....................................18 18 6 14 — — 56 South Medford.................................17 13 18 17 — 65

3-point goals — Klamath Union 5 (Gilbert 2, Davison 1, Leppert 1, Sharp 1) South Medford — (Thomas 1). Fouled out — Fagan, Sharp, Brookshire, Hunt).

JV score — South Medford 55, Klamath Union 42.

Reach reporter at 776-4483, or e-mail gstiles@mailtribune.com