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Singler wins it for South Medford

Dennis Murphy has had a saying all season for his South Medford boys basketball team: Nobody has to be great, everybody just has to be good.

On Saturday, the fourth-ranked Panthers took his words to heart.

With senior Michael Harthun sidelined by a high ankle sprain suffered 31/2 minutes into the game and junior E.J. Singler on the bench with his third foul only two minutes into the second quarter, the Panthers had to dig deep to find out what they truly have inside.

Turns out they have plenty.

South Medford's role players each stepped up at key times to keep the Panthers in the game long enough for Singler to work some last-second magic in a heart-stopping, 56-54 victory over ninth-ranked Wilson.

Wilson's Mario Gill stepped up to drain a game-tying 3-pointer inside the final 10 seconds, but Singler took the ensuing inbounds pass up court through a host of Trojans for the game-winning layin with one second to spare.

The last-second basket allowed the defending Class 6A champions to earn their seventh straight trip to the state tournament, but all Singler really wanted to talk about afterward was the play of his teammates.

"That's what won the game for us, our role players tonight," said Singler, who led his team with 21 points and six rebounds. "They stepped up big with me and Mike out. They made big plays and just had confidence in themselves. They knew they could play without us, and that's the sign of a good team right there. This win goes to them."

It just as easily could have gone to Wilson (18-8) thanks to the play of Gill, who had 22 points and three big steals, and the inside-outside play of point guard Gage Aker (12 points, five rebounds) and 6-foot-7, 250-pound post Darryl Finley (12 points, six rebounds).

The Trojans led 51-50 with 1:35 to play and put South Medford (22-4) in a position where it needed to either steal the ball or take a quick foul in order to potentially put them on the foul line.

Three straight fouls by Brandon Kezer on inbounds passes put the Trojans closer to a one-and-one situation, but Gill got caught anticipating a foul that never came moments later and Mitch Singler forced a five-second violation to give the ball back to the Panthers.

On the ensuing possession, Singler drove the middle and sent a pass to a cutting Josh Havird on the right wing. But the pass was a little high and Havird did all he could to put a hand on it and deflect the ball back toward the basket. Waiting in the paint was senior Griff Boyd, who collected the ball, pumped once and scored to put South ahead 52-51 with 50 seconds to go.

"There's a little bit of luck in this game, right spot at the right time," Boyd said later. "I was getting blocked all night so I had to throw that pump fake in there. I guess you learn as you go."

After a Wilson timeout, the Trojans drew up an isolation play for Gill, who tried to drive the left side against Singler but came up empty as Boyd jumped the dribbler and poked away the ball for a steal and timeout with 36.9 seconds to go.

"I take a lot of risks and the game plan was to get a steal so I was going for the ball all the way," said Boyd. "I saw he was dribbing a little bit high and I went for it and it was there for me."

The Trojans opted to foul E.J. Singler with 34 seconds left to send the 6-6 junior to the line for a one-and-one opportunity, and he calmly drained both ends to put the Panthers up 54-51.

After another Wilson timeout, Aker was tabbed for the potential game-tying 3-pointer but his shot hit the front rim. The heady senior followed his shot to snare the rebound and then found Gill on the left wing for his dramatic 3-pointer.

As the South Medford High gym reached a fever pitch, E.J. Singler gathered the inbounds pass near the sideline closest to the fans, took a peak at the scoreboard and then dashed off into Panther history.

"I looked up at the clock and I saw five seconds so I knew I was going to take it to the rim," said Singler of the play. "I saw an open lane and so I just went for it and I just threw it off the backboard."

He never saw the ball go in, but the fan reaction told him plenty.

"That was a great sound," he said.

Wilson offered up a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer that missed its mark, and the Panther faithful stormed the court in celebration.

"I'm so proud of my teammates," said Harthun, who made brief appearances inside the final 3:13 but was noticeably limping. "They just played with so much heart. I had all the confidence in the world in them that they would pull it off. I just couldn't be more proud of every one of them."

Although the play of seniors Boyd, Zach Haveman, Cody Walport, Brandon Kezer, Josh Aguirre and Shawn Phillips was pivotal, the most notable effort might have come from the freshest face of all the Panthers. Essentially seeing his first varsity action of the season, the freshman Havird came off the bench to rally South with 11 points, three bounds, two steals and one assist behind tremendous hustle and heady play.

"He stepped up big," said E.J. Singler of Havird. "He has a good heart and he battled out there for us."

Havird spent the season with the junior varsity save for a brief varsity appearance against Roseburg when Harthun sat out to rest his bad back. The 6-1 wing only recently got the news that he had been added for the playoff roster.

"I was just going to take that chance and run with it," he said of the promotion. "I knew I might not have much to do up in Eugene if we got there, but if I showed up tonight I might get a little bit more playing time up there."

With Harthun writhing in pain on the court, Havird just had one thought.

"I was thinking, 'Oh gosh, it's all on E.J.'s shoulders now," said the freshman.

Not hardly.

Havird helped give the Panthers a shot in the arm after 3-pointers by Haveman and Boyd helped right the ship for a South team somewhat taken aback by the loss of Harthun.

Upon insertion into the game, Havird instantly came up with a pair of steals, was fouled taking the ball to the basket and converted 3 of 4 free throws, and then drained a 3-pointer to give South a 31-23 lead with 1:55 to go in the first half.

He continued to play well beyond his years in the second half to stabilize matters on the offensive end, and is probably sore from all the pats on his back received following Saturday's nail-biter.

"I wanted to do it for the seniors, big-time, because it was their last home game," said Havird. "I just wanted to give them everything I had and give them another chance in Eugene."

Mission accomplished — with a little help from his friends.

WILSON (54) — Gill 22, Aker 12, Finley 12, Hayes 6, I. Fendall 2, Ritchie 0, Robertson 0. Totals: 23-40 4-4 54.

SOUTH MEDFORD (56) — E.J. Singler 21, Havird 11, Haveman 6, Harthun 5, Boyd 5, Walport 4, Kezer 2, Phillips 2, M. Singler 0, Aguirre 0, McLaughlin 0. Totals: 20-46 9-12 56.

Wilson 13 14 11 16 — 54

South Medford 17 16 9 14 — 56

3-point goals — Wilson 4-9 (Gill 2, Aker 2), South Medford 7-18 (Haveman 2, Havird 2, Harthun 1, E.J. Singler 1, Boyd 1).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

South Medford's E.J. Singler, center, scores the winning basket against Wilson. - Jamie Lusch