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Turning the corner

South Medford junior Ryan Fiegi steps up big as Panthers upend North to open second half of the SOC season

The vaunted balancing act took a spill.

The share-the-wealth campaign went bankrupt.

Ryan Fiegi created his own Jumble, removing from team the letters t and a and making it all about me.

South Medford's 6-foot-4 point guard took the reins and wouldn't let go Tuesday until a 59-44 Southern Oregon Conference boys basketball victory over rival North Medford was well in hand.

He made 11-of-12 field goals, scored 23 points and proved there just might be a new sheriff in town.

This on a team in which the No. 6 scorer ' and it's Fiegi, for goodness sake ' had an average within three points of the team leader.

All for one, one for all.

Until now.

Coach Dennis Murphy recognized the aberration between the third and fourth quarters as the fifth-ranked Panthers (16-1, 7-0 SOC) tried to shake the determined Black Tornado (9-6, 5-3 SOC).

North trailed by seven at the time and would stay as close as 46-40 with less than five minutes to play.

I said, 'You know what, Fieg, you have a big saddle on your shoulders,' said Murphy. He was carrying us.

That wasn't lost on the Tornado, which had a dismal showing its last time out, a 73-42 loss to Grants Pass, and had suffered a similar setback to South in their first meeting, 73-45.

I expected it to be a battle, said Tornado coach Tim Sam, whose team remains in the thick of the playoff race. We hurt the last time we left South Medford's gym. We didn't feel like we were 28 points worse than them. That made us check ourselves.

Defense was stressed.

We wanted to keep all of their players under check, said Sam. Full court, half court, everywhere.

I think we did a pretty good job on four of their guys.

Then Fiegi galloped into picture.

After Andy Hagert scored nine of South's first 14 points, Fiegi binged, tallying 21 of the Panthers' next 30 points on an assortment of medium-range, pull-up jumpers, a 3-pointer, some layups and a free throw.

His jumper from the foul stripe with just over six minutes to play put South in front 44-37 and were his final points.

The breather was well-earned, although he did offer a nice backward pass to a cutting Jeremy Frantz, a layup that helped the Panthers shoot 6-for-6 in the last quarter and stretch the final margin.

I was just feeling it tonight, said Fiegi, who went into the game averaging 7.6 points per game. I don't know how else to explain it. In practice, I've been pushing myself to shoot better, and it carried over to this game.

Fiegi's height, mobility and court sense make him stand out, but never has he taken over a game at this level as he did Tuesday.

The last two or three games, he's really started to play better, said Murphy, who believes he may have witnessed Fiegi's coming out party.

It's a confidence thing. There's no question we put a lot of pressure on him to play well. We keep telling him he can do it, and he certainly demonstrated that tonight.

In particular, Fiegi said, he felt the need to step up in the second quarter.

Neither team had distinguished itself with shooting, ballhandling or rebounding.

The Panthers went ahead 20-13 on a Fiegi layup to start the scoring in the second, but North climbed in South's pockets by scoring the next six points.

We were just being steady, said Fiegi. I felt like, to beat these guys, we couldn't let them hang around. Being the leader that I think I am, I felt that I had to take control.

After Frantz drained a 3-pointer to put South up 25-21, Fiegi stole the ensuing inbound pass and scored again before North knew what hit it, then forced a traveling violation on the next inbound to set up his own trey from the top of the key moments later.

The Panthers' final points of the half came when Fiegi threaded a pass underneath to Craig Johnson, who was fouled and made both free throws as South took a 32-25 halftime edge.

Fiegi, who also had four assists and two steals, was not without a blemish, turning the ball over seven times, including twice late in the game as the contest turned ratty.

Murphy credited the team's defense in the second half as another major factor.

North managed 19 second-half points, including four points over its final 11 possessions.

One area South did not shine in was turnovers. The 18 it accumulated were six over its average in the first half of the league season.

Hagert finished with 11 points for South.

North was paced by Ryan Lucas' 13 points and Beau Hovland's 12.

SOUTH MEDFORD (59) ' Fiegi 23, Roberts 0, Benson 0, Frantz 8, Hagert 11, Hunter 0, Johnson 6, Fischer 6, Marshall 5. Totals: 23-44 10-15 59.

NORTH MEDFORD (44) ' Timmerman 0, Thiesen 0, Deline 2, Hovland 12, Clifton 6, Herrera 0, Strahm 0, Ryan 7, Lucas 13. Totals: 19-52 4-6 44.

South Medford........................18 14 10 17 ' 59

North Medford..........................13 12 10 9 ' 44

3-point goals ' South Medford 3-11 (Frantz 1, Fiegi 1, Hagert 1), North 2-11 (Hovland 2). Technical foul ' Fischer.

JV game ' North Medford 37, South Medford 31.

South Medford junior point guard Ryan Fiegi, left, attempts to shake past the defense of North Medford?s Eric Higgins during the Panthers? 59-44 SOC road triumph. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman