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Second to none

Crater girls cap off second straight undefeated SOC season with rout

Mail Tribune

CENTRAL POINT - It was Amy Denson's final home game in a Crater High uniform, a time when emotions often run the gambit.

Happy. Sad. Excited. Nervous.

Denson was all of those, but her nervousness had nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with her vocal chords.

The all-star senior center treated a near sellout crowd of about 1,500 to the national anthem prior to the game, then went out and scored 31 points to pace the No. 2-ranked Comets to a 78-54 victory over South Medford.

The win wrapped up an unbeaten league season for Crater - its second in as many years - and left the state's No. 2-ranked girls team at 23-1 overall and 14-0 in the Southern Oregon Conference.

The Comets now set their sights on the Class 4A state tournament Feb. 26-March 2 at the Chiles Center in Portland.

"I've been thinking about that (singing the national anthem) all day long," Denson said. "I was so darn nervous I couldn't see straight.

"I'm in the school choir and I agreed to do this a couple weeks ago, but I'm glad it's out of the way."

You can bet South Medford is glad to have Denson out of its way. The 6-foot senior, who is headed to Arizona State on a basketball scholarship, exploded for 14 points in the game's first 5 minutes and 51 seconds before heading to the bench for a breather.

then, the Comets held a 20-6 lead.

halftime, Denson had 24 points and the Comets owned a 40-28 advantage.

South Medford fought back from its early double-digit deficit to twice crawl within three points with 51/2 minutes remaining in the first half, but had no luck containing Denson, who dazzled from the inside, the outside and everywhere in-between.

Denson went 12-for-15 from the field with a pair of 3-point baskets, and added 15 rebounds.

"We didn't box her out very well in the first half," South Medford coach Andrea Jaime said, "and she killed us."

Added Crater coach David Heard: "Amy seemed to be everywhere."

Denson managed just seven points in the second half, but teammate Sarah Pool picked up the slack by scoring 15 of her 19 points after the intermission.

Junior post Kirsten Gillingham led the Panthers with 22 points and nine rebounds, senior guard Whitney Grant chipped in 16 points and junior post Beth Mueller added eight points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.

Prior to last season, no girls team had gone unbeaten in the SOC since Mazama in 1990-1991. Now the Comets have accomplished the feat in back-to-back years, and they are 41-1 in conference play over the last three seasons.

The last team to hand them a league loss was South Medford on Jan. 11, 2000, 59-53.

"No matter what happens at the state tournament, what these girls have done is a great accomplishment," Heard said.

Heard gave his team the day off today, and then it will be back to the practice floor in preparation for the state tourney. The Comets have been the state runner-up the past two years and three of the past four.

"We know what it takes to be successful up there," Denson said. "We'll be totally prepared."

South Medford, meanwhile, is having a notable season of its own. Despite losing four starters off last year's team that advanced to the state tournament, the Panthers wound up third in the SOC with a 10-4 record.

South Medford, 14-9 overall, will host a sub-tournament playoff game on Feb. 21 against either Westview, Southridge, Tualatin or Silverton.

"We're gotten a little better and a little more confident each time out," Jaime said. "And I think we did some things tonight that will help us as we go into the playoffs."

The main thing the Panthers did Tuesday was fight back after falling behind early. They trimmed early deficits of 10-2 and 20-6 to 20-12 by the end of the first period

Then, with Gillingham, Grant and Mueller all making significant contributions, they twice got within three points in the second quarter - the last time at 27-24 when Grant made two free throws with 3:23 to go.

The Panthers were still within 30-26 at the 2:53 mark of the second period when Gillingham scored on an inbounds play, but the Comets went on a 10-2 run to end the half and take a 40-28 advantage.

"I thought they played really well," Heard said of the Panthers. "They played with a lot of intensity and for awhile there in the first half they were outhustling us.

"If they play like that in the playoffs, then I think they've got a legitimate shot at making the (state) tournament."

SOUTH MEDFORD (54) - Gillingham 22, Grant 16, Mueller 8, Singler 4, Wright 4, Brennan 0, Ingram 0, Carlton 0, Magness 0. Totals: 18 16-19 54.

CRATER (78) - Denson 31, Pool 19, Wiersma 8, Robertson 6, Yager 5, Maartense 4, LeBel 3, Anhorn 1, Black 1, Huntley 0, Green 0, Stoner 0. Totals: 27 14-23 78.

South Medford................................... 12 16 16 10 - 54Crater................................................. 20 20 18 20 - 78

3-point goals - South Medford 2 (Grant 2), Crater 8 (Pool 2, Denson 2, Wiersma 2, Yager 1, Maartense 1). Fouled out - Gillingham.

JV score - Crater 54, South Medford 48.

Second to none