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Pesky Panthers fall short against No. 1 Pioneers

PORTLAND - Matched up with No. 1-ranked Oregon City in the first round of the OSAA-U.S. Bank girls basketball state tournament, South Medford didn't back down.

But the Panthers couldn't pull off the upset either.

Fueled by a 14-3 run, South was within 53-43 of the mighty Pioneers with — minutes, 55 seconds remaining Tuesday night at the Chiles Center

But Oregon City (22-3 overall) responded like the defending state champion it is, mounting a 12-0 charge to wrap up the 68-50 victory.

The Panthers (16-10) meet Churchill in consolation action at 10:30 this morning.

Senior point guard Whitney Grant scored a game-high 19 points in defeat for South, but she also committed six of the Panthers' 25 turnovers - the key statistic in an otherwise surprisingly even game.

"I'm pleased with our effort," South head coach Andrea Jaime said. "We came out and played as hard as we could. We had a couple key spells where we couldn't score. And we turned the ball over a bunch."

The Panthers' only leads were 4-2 and 8-7 early in the first quarter, but they stayed within reach of the explosive Pioneers most of the game by exchanging runs with Oregon City.

Grant's lone 3-pointer of the night ended a 5-0 South spurt late in the first to make it 14-13 in OC's favor. The Pioneers, however, put together a 6-1 charge exclamated by senior guard Lynnette Grondin's length-of-the-court drive and layup as time expired to take a 20-14 lead through one.

OC rattled off the first eight points of the second quarter as the Panthers struggled to find any offense. Junior post Kirsten Gillingham's bucket with 1:45 to play in the half marked South's first points of the period.

After a 3-pointer from Pioneers senior wing Melissa McBride - OC's leading scorer with 13 points for the game - the Panthers ended the half on an 8-3 burst punctuated by Gillingham's layup off a steal and feed from junior guard Natasha Wright.

OC immediately extended its 34-22 halftime edge in the third quarter, following a free throw from South junior center Beth Mueller with eight unanswered points to make it 42-23.

the time McBride drilled her third and final — seconds into the fourth quarter, the Pioneers boasted a comfortable 50-29 advantage.

But the Panthers wouldn't quit, beginning their 14-3 sprint with a pair of Gillingham free throws and finishing it with a rare four-point possession. Wright dropped a transition jumper as Grant was fouled under the hoop, and South's only senior converted both free throws. Wright had eight of her 10 points during the Panthers' burst.

Consecutive baskets from sophomore wing Kristgen Forristall turned the tide back in OC's favor, and the Pioneers pushed their lead to a high of 65-43 on junior forward Amy Ferguson's pair of free throws with 2:11 remaining.

"They didn't quit," OC co-coach Brad Smith said of South. "I knew they were really scrappy. ... They have three really good guards, and two good post players to go with them."

In the end, the Pioneers' depth may have overwhelmed the Panthers, as nine OC players logged at least 10 minutes compared to just the starting five for South.

The Panthers say they'll take confidence into their game this morning, knowing they gave the Pioneers quit a shot.

"We definitely have confidence," said Mueller, who grabbed seven of South's 42 rebounds - to 39 for OC. "We played with them, and we didn't back down."

Gillingham, who tallied 10 points to join Grant and Wright as Panthers in double figures, said South played to win and had that opportunity.

"We felt really good," said Gillingham, who also snatched seven rebounds to tie with Mueller for the team high. "We played well the whole game, I thought. They just got little runs that we didn't answer to, but I think we all felt that we could beat them."

SOUTH MEDFORD (50) - Wright 10, W. Grant 19, Gillingham 10, Mueller 2, Singler 3, Carlton 0, Ingram 0, Corbin 2, Silva 0, Brennan 4, K. Grant 0. Totals 19-53 11-16 50.

OREGON CITY (68) - McBride 13, Wodarski 12, Forristall 12, Grondin 6, Gonnerman 7, Hollands 2, Goold 0, Martin 5, Ferguson 2, Gehring 4, Reini 5, Green 0. Totals 27-69 10-14 68.

South Medford...............................14 8 7 21 - 50

Oregon City.................................20 14 13 21 - 68

3-point goals - South Medford 1-4 (Grant 1), Oregon City 4-12 (McBride 3, Martin 1).

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail