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Panthers didn't get chance to revel in win

South Medford High girls basketball coach Andrea Jaime calls Saturday night's 64-59 triple overtime victory over Lakeridge the biggest win of her career.

Who would argue?

After all, the victory propelled the Panthers into the Class 4A state tournament for the second straight year, and it marked the first time in school history the team has notched a playoff win on the road.

Almost anyone who follows girls hoops in Oregon would have made South Medford a double-digit underdog against a Lakeridge team that went into the game with a 20-4 record, the No. 7 state ranking and the home-court advantage.

"To win on the road in the playoffs against a great team, and to show the composure that we did in a triple-overtime game - yes, this has to be my biggest win at South," Jaime says.

And yet it was as bittersweet as it gets. That's because the father of Lakeridge coach Heather Roberts, 61-year-old Justice Seely, collapsed and died of a heart attack in the stands near the end of the first overtime.

With Roberts at his side, Seely was given CPR and rushed to a nearby hospital but never regained consciousness.

Jaime and Roberts are no strangers to one another. Until Roberts left Ashland High to take over the program at Lakeridge this season, the pair were the only female coaches in the Southern Oregon Conference from 1997-2001.

They exchanged e-mails as recently as last week.

"It was really tough to go back out there and finish the game," Jaime says.

Jim Mueller, whose daughter, Beth, scored seven points in the third overtime to push the Panthers over the top, says it was an experience he'll never forget.

"Our girls never really got to enjoy the moment because they all felt so badly about what happened," he says. "It was clear that neither our players nor our coaching staff really wanted to keep playing."

But after consulting with the Oregon School Activities Association, the state's governing body of high school sports, the game was resumed after a 55-minute delay.

Jaime plans on calling Roberts in the next day or two.

"I know she's in the grieving process and I want to respect that," Jaime says. "But I'm definitely going to call her.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she shows up at the (state) tournament at some point. "

South Medford now has the dubious task of meeting No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Oregon City in a first-round game at 8:45 tonight at the Chiles Center in Portland.

The Panthers will be an even bigger underdog this time, but Jaime says her team won't be intimidated.

"Oregon City and Lakeridge are similar in some ways - it's just that Oregon City is a lot deeper," Jaime says. "We know we have to get back on defense and keep turnovers to a minimum.

"We're going in with the attitude that we've got a shot. As one of our parents said, no one thought the New England Patriots had a prayer (of winning the Super Bowl), either.

"Weird things happen in sports."

South Medford beating Oregon City would be more akin to the United States hockey team knocking off the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But the Panthers have the one element any heavy underdog needs to have a fighting chance - a standout point guard.

Whitney Grant showed her grit by hitting several big shots in the victory over Lake Oswego, including a tying layup near the end of the first overtime and a crucial 3-point basket in the second extra session.

Grant finished with 24 points, and is now within 35 points of Panthers career scoring leader Kellie Thomas. A three-year starter, Grant already owns the school records for assists and steals.

"The bigger the game, the bigger the moment, the better Whitney plays," Jaime says. "The other night you could see it in her eyes that she wasn't willing to accept defeat."

THREE LOCAL OFFICIALS

are heading to state basketball tournaments over the next couple weeks.

Chris Hillis will work the Class 4A girls tournament beginning today at the Chiles Center in Portland, Ken Millsap will call the boys 4A tourney at Memorial Coliseum in Portland beginning March 5 and Gary Hudnall will toot his whistle at the 3A girls extravaganza at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, which also runs March 5-9.

NORTH MEDFORD HIGH

football standout Alan Borelli has been selected to play in the Oregon Bowl, the state's all-star football game for graduating seniors in the Class 4A ranks.

The contest, formerly known as the Shrine game, matches the top players from the Portland area against the rest of the state and is set for June 29 at PGE Park in Portland.

Former Black Tornado star Kevin Foreman led the South squad to a 32-30 victory last season.