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South claims playoff opener

Drew Fleming / Mail Tribune

So composed was the South Medford girls basketball team Thursday night, the uninformed spectator would have never guessed the Panthers' season hung in the balance.

Wielding a level-headed efficiency in its own gym, South disposed of Silverton, 52-39, to step to within one win of a berth in the Class 4A state tournament.

The Panthers - 15-9 overall and the Southern Oregon Conference's No. — seed - travel to Lake Oswego on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. showdown with Lakeridge, the Three Rivers League's No. 2 seed. Former Ashland head coach Heather Roberts is in her first year directing Lakeridge.

From the opening tip Thursday night, South played with a poise and cool confidence, seemingly certain the outcome would be in its favor.

Sure enough, the Panthers never trailed, breaking an early 3-3 tie with an 8-2 run and building the lead to as many as nine points in the first half and 16 in the second.

"The girls seem to be able to do that; that's just the demeanor of this team," fifth-year South head coach Andrea Jaime said of her squad's unwavering composure. "They don't get too rattled too easily."

Three Panthers scored in double figures, and the five starters accounted for 51 of the 52 points.

Junior guard Natasha Wright tallied eight of her 13 points in the first half, and junior post Kirsten Gillingham struck for seven of her 13 in the second to accompany a game-high nine rebounds.

Freshman wing Katie Singler scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished five assists.

Senior point guard Whitney Grant, a first-team all-SOC selection, started 1-for-8 from the field but stroked seven straight points during an 11-0 third-quarter run. She finished with nine points.

Junior center Beth Mueller, the tallest player on the court at 6-foot-3, blocked five shots to tie the single-season South record. Mueller, who added six points and four rebounds, has 70 swats this season, the same total Shae Olson recorded for the 1994-95 Panthers.

After defeating Westview, 41-36, in first-round action on Tuesday, the Foxes (19-8 and the Pac-9's No. — seed) struggled offensively all game, shooting 10-for-42 from the field - 23.8 percent.

Meanwhile, South, which was 22-for-55 from the floor for 40 percent, cleaned up many of its misses with offensive rebounds and putbacks.

The Panthers finished with 14 offensive boards among their 39 total rebounds, easily topping Silverton's eight offensive and 23 overall.

"It was definitely the rebounding," said Foxes third-year head coach Eddie Willig, whose tallest players were a pair of 5-11 posts. "I don't know if size was a factor at all. We've played against big girls all year. The fact of the matter was we just didn't seem to block out real well tonight."

Silverton was led by 16 points from senior wing Courtney Bothum, who tallied five or her total during a 10-2 second-quarter streak that pulled the Foxes to within 18-17.

But Wright, cool as can be, was right there to knock down consecutive jump shots to finish off a 6-0 South run and help the Panthers to a 24-18 halftime edge.

"My teammates were getting me the ball when I was open," said Wright, who shot 4-for-5 in the first half, 6-for-11 overall and added five assists and four rebounds. "All since last night I was feeling up for the game."

Jaime said the 5-5 Wright's shooting stroke was as smooth as she's seen it.

"Tasha Wright really came out and played really well tonight," Jaime said. "She hasn't shot the ball like that all season. I'm real proud of that."

With one more step to go to make it to Portland's Chiles Center for the 16-team tournament next week, Grant said there shouldn't be too many surprises in store from Lakeridge (20-4), ranked eighth in the coaches' poll, on Saturday.

"We know all about (Roberts') game," said South's lone senior and sole captain, who, as a three-year starter, faced off against Roberts during the coach's five-year reign at Ashland. "Hopefully, they're running it the same as she did down here."

SILVERTON (39) - Bothum 16, Sandau 3, J. Dahl 4, Steers 0, Overfield 0, Milliron 2, Delaney 4, C. Dahl 0, Funrue 0, Pfeifer 0, Lewis 9, Stadeli 1. Totals 10-42 18-24 39.

SOUTH MEDFORD (52) - Singler 10, Gillingham 13, Mueller 6, Wright 13, Grant 9, Brennan 1, Ingram 0, Silva 0. Totals 22-55 6-11 52.

Silverton .......................................... 7 11 10 11 - 39South Medford ............................... 14 10 17 11 - 52

3-point goals - Silverton — (Bothum 1), South Medford 2 (Wright 1, Grant 1). Fouled out - Mueller.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail tpyle@mailtribune.com

South's Whitney Grant (15) drives to the basket against Silverton's Mary Steers.