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South faces stiff test in Yarnell's Warriors

Aloha boasts 7-footer and big-game experience heading into third-round tilt

With all due respect to his friends in Medford, Aloha boys basketball coach Ken Yarnell has every interest in snapping South Medford's 40-game home winning streak when the Warriors take the basketball court at 7 tonight.

The former Medford High standout in football and basketball certainly has the team to give the top-ranked Panthers (24-1) a run.

We have nothing but respect for (South coach Dennis Murphy) and the whole South program, says Yarnell, in his 15th year as Aloha's head coach, but in the same regard, we're eager to get the chance to try to knock them off.

The Warriors (19-7) have won seven of their last eight games entering tonight's third-round state-playoff game at South High.

If anyone thinks for one moment that we don't know we've got a tough game on our hands, they're mistaken, says Murphy.

— In its first appearance in the state playoffs since 1996, Aloha already has two road wins under its belt with an 82-66 first-round win at Centennial and a 52-46 triumph at the Pacific-9 champion Canby Cougars on Wednesday.

The school's real excited right now and really proud of our players, says Yarnell, whose Warriors tied Hillsboro for third place in the Metro League but assumed the No. 4 seed on a tiebreaker. We've been competitive before, but we haven't been this good.

This will be our biggest test going on the road to South, there's no question about that, he adds. The kids know that if we play well, we've got a chance.

Joe Wolfinger, a 7-foot, 205-pound center, is averaging 14.5 points and nine rebounds for an Aloha team that has lost three times to fourth-ranked Jesuit ' most recently by one point ' and has two close losses to No. 6 Sunset in its seven defeats.

He's been the difference-maker as our leading rebounder and scorer, Yarnell says of Wolfinger, but we're a pretty balanced team, actually.

Junior Jeremy Reedal, a 6-6 wing, averages 14 points for the Warriors, while 5-9 senior point guard Nick Thierry is averaging 6.5 assists per game and holds the school record in that category.

Nick's really done a good job for us this year, says Yarnell. He's been a kid whose always had a hard time playing under control, but he's really cut down on his turnovers. It will be interesting to see how he responds to South's pressure (tonight).

In truth, Yarnell is most concerned with how his entire team handles the Panthers' defensive intensity.

It's a system he knows all too well, considering his ties to Murphy when both were assistants on the staff of former Aloha coach Barney Holland in the early 1980s ' Murphy with the junior varsity and Yarnell as a freshman coach and later varsity assistant.

We realize you've got to withstand their pressure because they can just overwhelm you, says Yarnell. Dennis' teams play very aggressive, fundamental defense, and they make it easier said than done to score on them. We've got to get off to a good start and not let the crowd get into it.

Senior power forward Alex Pryce, a 6-3 athlete with Division I football aspirations, scored a season-high 31 points in Monday's win over Centennial. Aloha also relies on the play of 6-2 shooting guard Sam Brittle, 5-10 junior Paul Martin, 6-2 wing Andy Douglas and 6-4 wing Rocky Rembert.

Yarnell says his team is more conservative than the Panthers, although Murphy says that shouldn't be confused with the Warriors' effectiveness.

They don't impress you with flashiness, says the 16th-year South coach, but while they're not impressing with flashiness, they're beating you with their toughness.

I have great respect for what Ken's done (at Aloha), adds Murphy. It's fun to compete against the best, and I certainly consider him one of the best.

GRANTS PASS AT SOUTH SALEM ' The last time Grants Pass and South Salem met, the Saxons erased a double-digit deficit to sneak out a 54-52 consolation triumph during last year's state tournament in Portland.

Many of the same faces return for this year's meeting, although the importance is heightened by the fact that the winner advances to the eight-team state tournament and the loser stays home.

It's going to be a good game, says GP head coach Bill Cowell. It's certainly going to take one of our best ' if not the best ' efforts to win it.

Second-ranked South Salem (23-2) went undefeated through the Valley League and carries a 19-game winning streak into tonight's third-round state-playoff affair. The Saxons' only losses came in a season-opening, 52-44 defeat at Thurston and a 72-56 loss to fourth-ranked Jesuit.

Leading the charge again for South Salem is 5-7 point guard Jeremiah Dominguez, who was named player of the year in the Valley League.

The senior ranks fourth in the state at 21.4 points per game, with a high of 40, and is quicker than a hiccup.

Dominguez sets the table for 6-foot shooting guard Steve Taylor and 6-7 post Alex Veit.

We're not going to stop Dominguez, says Cowell, whose team is looking for its fifth straight trip to the state tourney. We've just got to try to limit what he does a little bit and cut down on Taylor's looks and not give Veit too many openings.

The Cavemen, whose main woes last year were scoring late against South Salem, will look to counter with their spread attack.

Maybe more important than guarding Dominguez is we've got to be able to operate offensively, says Cowell. We did a good enough job on him to beat them (last year) but we just could not score.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail