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South's streak is over

South's streak is overMike Pollock's 22 points lead a passionate Grants Pass effort to stop the fifth-ranked Panthers' SOC run of 32 straight victories

GRANTS PASS ' A raucous atmosphere and a ready Grants Pass boys basketball team combined to kill South Medford's streak Friday night.

Arriving at Heater-Newman Gym with a school-record 32 consecutive Southern Oregon Conference wins in tow, the fifth-ranked Panthers were done in, 60-47, by a Caveman outfit eager to please an overflow crowd of about 2,000 fervent fans.

It was a playoff atmosphere, and we came out and played hard from the beginning, said Grants Pass junior guard Mike Pollock, who erupted for a game-high 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field.

It was so much fun. Our community is so supportive of us, and everyone in Grants Pass seemed like they were here to support us in the win. It was great.

The outcome keeps the SOC title in doubt until the final day of league play next Thursday, as Grants Pass (18-5, 11-2 SOC) could still catch South (20-2, 12-1 SOC) and force a one-game playoff next Saturday for the No. — seed and an automatic berth in the Class 4A state tournament.

The Cavemen are at North Medford (12-9, 8-5 SOC) Thursday, while the Panthers travel to Roseburg (12-11, 8-5 SOC).

South could have ensured a ticket to Portland's Memorial Coliseum for state ' and a nice layoff from the end of the regular season Thursday to the March 11 start of the tourney ' with a win Friday.

But the Panthers never led after a 5-2 early edge and trailed by close to 10 points most of the night.

We'd never experienced an atmosphere like that before, said South senior post Eric Fischer, one of just three Panthers who had played varsity ball prior to this season. We were just scared out there. You could see it in our players' eyes. They just kind of had a look of fear on their face the whole game.

After junior point guard Ryan Fiegi's 3-pointer gave South that 5-2 early margin, Grants Pass rattled off a 17-5 run to close the opening quarter. Reserve guards Jake Dastrup, a sophomore, and Tom Higgins, a junior, came off the bench to sink two of the Cavemen's three 3s during that surge.

Pollock splashed another — to put GP up 22-10 immediately in the second period.

The Panthers answered with a 7-0 spurt to make it 22-17 with 5 minutes, 13 seconds still to play before halftime. But South didn't score again in the quarter, and junior forward Wes Lathen's hookup with senior center Matt Chamberlain on a pretty, high-low exchange with a minute left capped the Cavemen's 28-17 lead at the break.

Both Fiegi (with 4:39 left) and Fischer (1:33) picked up their third personal fouls in the second period, which helped keep the Panthers from denting their deficit in the only quarter in which GP shot less than 50 percent from the field.

In the third, South reserve junior post Craig Johnson found a rhythm in Fischer's absence, accounting for 12 of the Panthers' 16 points in the period and most of his team-high 19 total for the game.

But the closest South could creep was 30-24, as senior forward Ryan Davidson struck for seven of his 12 points to keep the Cavemen ahead 44-34 entering the fourth.

We did a good job just of maintaining the lead all night, said GP seventh-year head coach Bill Cowell, whose squad is the first in the SOC to beat the Panthers since Roseburg did it, 51-38, on Jan. 30, 2001, in the South gym.

The Panthers implemented their full-court press in the final period but fell behind 51-36 early and got no closer than 51-43, which is what reserve junior wing Caleb Berkey's — made it with 2:51 remaining.

The better team won, said South 15th-year head coach Dennis Murphy, whose squad hung a 56-49 loss on the Cavemen in the teams' first meeting, Jan. 28 in Medford. To me, it appeared the game was much more important to their team than it was to us.

Kory Mahr, GP's 6-foot-6 senior center who is an SOC player-of-the-year candidate, accounted for only nine points but hauled in 11 rebounds, dished four assists, swatted three blocks and swiped three steals.

It was a huge game for us, said Mahr, whose two-handed slam in transition in the last minute of the third and emphatic swat of a Johnson shot early in the fourth were the two most explosive plays of the night.

We finally played up to what we think is our potential.

Fischer finished with nine points and three rebounds for the Panthers, while Fiegi accumulated 11 points and six assists.

The Cavemen shot 48.9 percent (22-for-45) from the field, hit 10 of 18 free throws and grabbed 28 rebounds to South's 41.3 percent (19-for-46), 6 of 11 and 24 boards. GP committed 10 turnovers, while the Panthers had 12.

SOUTH MEDFORD (47) ' Hagert 0, Marshall 5, Fischer 9, Frantz 0, Fiegi 11, Hunter 0, Johnson 19, Roberts 0, Benson 0, Berkey 3. Totals: 19-46 6-11 47.

GRANTS PASS (60) ' Heater 3, Davidson 12, Mahr 9, Pollock 22, Cowell 2, Dastrup 3, Higgins 5, Mace 0, Chamberlain 2, Lathen 2. Totals: 22-45 10-18 60.

South Medford ....................... 10 7 17 13 ' 47

Grants Pass ............................ 19 9 16 16 ' 60

3-point goals ' South Medford — (Marshall 1, Fiegi 1, Berkey 1), Grants Pass 6 (Davidson 2, Pollock 2, Dastrup 1, Higgins 1). Fouled out ' Fischer, Marshall.

JV score ' South Medford 66, Grants Pass 61, OT.

Grants Pass? Kory Mahr, left, drives to the basket against South Medford?s Andy Hagert. Mahr finished with nine points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks to help the Cavemen upset the Panthers.