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North gets upper hand on Ashland

Black Tornado's victory clinches SOC's second seed

ASHLAND ' Marla Morin was great again, but North Medford was better and now needs just one more win to complete a worst-to-state turnaround.

The Black Tornado escaped Mountain Avenue gym with a 48-43 Southern Oregon Conference win Thursday night that clinched for North second place in the final league standings.

Morin, Ashland's star 6-foot-1 senior post, had 27 points and 12 rebounds ' both game-highs ' but her Grizzly teammates added just 16 points.

I was dumb enough to make a prediction (that) we could be playing for the conference title this year, North Medford coach Tim Karrick quipped. We were close, didn't quite do it, but we'll take second.

North (15-9, 10-4 SOC), which finished in a three-way tie for last place a year ago, now needs just one win ' March — against a playoff team to be determined ' to advance to the Class 4A state tournament.

Meanwhile, Ashland (17-7, 10-4), the SOC's third-place team, must win Feb. 27 at home and March — on the road to do the same.

Two days after blistering Crater for 22 points and 15 rebounds, Morin was unstoppable again. But North's Anna Lilly (17 points, six assists, four steals), Kerstin Mellbye (11 points, eight rebounds) and Kailey Bostwick (10 points) combined for 38 points in a more balanced performance.

Lilly (junior wing), Mellbye (senior post) and Bostwick (sophomore point guard) also spearheaded a defensive masterpiece that held the SOC's top offense to 28 percent shooting (15-for-53) from the field.

Ashland did get solid all-around games out of senior post Julia Sobolik (eight boards, four steals) and sophomore guard Hilary Huyett (five assists, four boards), just not much in the way of scoring.

Huyett, who entered the game averaging better than 16 points per outing, was held to four, including a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.

We've just come together as a team and just play together really good, Mellbye said.

Her coach said the win was also the result of hard work.

The girls have believed in each other, putting the effort in in the offseason, really working hard in practice, Karrick said. Things are real simple. We don't do a lot of stuff, we just try to do it good and try to have people beat us at what we do, and I think the big difference has been defensively for us.

We've done a good job of, at times, making it difficult for people to run stuff they want to run and get them out of their comfort zone, which I think is big.

In a battle between Ashland's SOC-best offense and North's No. 2-ranked defense, the latter won hands down.

Ashland, which entered the game averaging 55 points per SOC contest, was held to 13 points in the middle two quarters and 1-for-11 shooting from beyond the arc, where it usually excels.

And North's on-the-ball pressure only increased as the game went on, hounding the Grizzlies into a nightmarish 5-for-29 second-half shooting performance that allowed the Tornado to take an early third-quarter lead and run with it.

Our pressure on the guards, Karrick said of the key to his team's defensive effort. You know, they don't feel comfortable shooting with that kind of pressure on them. And Marla got her points, and she had a great game. But I think for two games now (against Ashland) their guards have not been near their average in scoring. and that has really been the difference.

When North's defensive gem was complete, only Morin tallied more than six points for the home team.

We weren't executing our offense as well as we could have, Sobolik said. The screens weren't there. I don't think we were running it as clean and efficient, but they have a good defense. They 'D' it up.

Lilly's fastbreak layin with 5:10 left in the third gave the Black Tornado a 28-26 lead that they built to 34-28 by the end of the quarter.

They pushed that lead to 38-28 early in the fourth before Ashland started going back in to Morin.

then it was too late.

Morin, who scored just two points in the third on limited opportunities, scored the next seven Grizzly points, but it wasn't enough to get Ashland over the hump.

She cut the lead to as little as four twice ' first with 1:48 to go on a pair of free throws, then with 56 seconds left on a hook shot.

The Tornado answered each time, with sophomore point guard Jennifer Standifer sealing the deal by sinking a pair of free throws to give North a 46-40 lead with 49.2 seconds left.

Fittingly, Ashland's last gasp ended with the rim rattling and the Ashland bench groaning ' this after Huyett's 3-pointer missed with 36 seconds left.

Morin was disappointed with the result but pleased with the effort.

We worked really hard, she said, and we can't be ashamed of working hard.

NORTH MEDFORD (48) ' Bostwick 10, Standifer 2, Westermann 2, Eastwold 4, Mellbye 11, Lilly 17, Reeves 2, Seeley 0. Totals: 17 11-20 48.

ASHLAND (43) ' Hansen 2, Huyett 4, Carlson 2, Sobolik 6, Morin 27, Roupp 2, Hill 0. Totals: 15 12-16 43.

North Medford ........................ 11 13 10 14 ' 48

Ashland ....................................... 15 9 4 15 ' 43

3-point goals ' North Medford — (Lilly 2, Bostwick 1), Ashland — (Huyett).

North Medford?s Mellisa Eastwold, center, steals a pass intended for Ashland?s Julia Sobolik, right, in Thursday?s game. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli