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Panthers pull away

Two good quarters did the job for the second-ranked South Medford girls basketball team on Friday.

A few weeks from now — in the heat of state competition — two quarters may be two too short.

The unsettling thought was not lost on South head coach Tom Cole, who asked for and got more from his crew after it seemed to move in a fog at times in the first half against North Medford. The defending Class 6A state champion Panthers turned a sloppily built 13-point lead at intermission into a 30-point advantage with an oven-hot performance in the third quarter, and South went on to win 70-41 in Southern Oregon Hybrid action at North Medford High.

The Panthers, who own an eight-game winning streak, host Grants Pass next Tuesday. The first round of the state playoffs are Feb. 27 and the 6A tournament starts March 7.

South (19-4, 11-0 SOH) led 21-7 after the first quarter but slowed down in the second period on Friday. And after its sizzling third quarter (the Panthers went on a 23-6 run), it finished off the final eight minutes with only four field goals and 11 misses.

"You want to be sharp," Cole said of the final stretch of the regular season. "We just have to constantly remind ourselves of the things that create success for us. Clearly when we are playing aggressive defensive, getting into passing lanes and exerting energy, those things create success for us."

The Panthers did just that to open the third period, deploying a suffocating full-court trap that kept the Black Tornado off the scoreboard for the first three minutes and contributed to many of North's 11 turnovers in the defining frame.

Right off the bat in the second half, South's Julissa Tago knocked down a smooth jumper and followed that up by scoring in transition. Andee Ritter then stole the ball on the Black Tornado's ensuing possession and fed Yaremi Mejia, who converted a layup. After a few missed shots by both sides, Ritter knocked down a deep 3 and, just like that, South led by 22.

"I was just trying to get in my rhythm early and trying to get good shots for my team and look for open teammates," said Tago, who came off the bench to score 10 points. "In the beginning of the third quarter we did a good job of it."

After Ritter's trey, Joci Ellis answered at the other end with a basket before the Panthers went on a back-breaking run: Kylie Towry dropped in a triple and then stole the ball and scored again, Tago powered to the rim for a bucket and then Keyari Sleezer scored to give South a 29-point edge.

"When we came out after the half we came out really hard," said Sleezer, who finished with nine points and four steals. "The last three minutes before the half were good, but we definitely came out stronger in the second half."

Towry finished with 13 points, Mejia had nine points, four assists and four steals and Ritter chipped in nine points for the Panthers, who earned the series sweep after beating North 68-27 on Jan. 12 and 79-46 on Jan. 29.

Jasmin Falls added seven points and five rebounds and Ashley Bolston seven points for South, which finished with 15 steals while forcing 18 turnovers.

Luisa Tago tallied four points, five rebounds and three assists.

"If we are getting those turnovers then we are getting fastbreak layups," Bolston said.

The Panthers benefited from the deep ball, knocking down six of their eight 3s in the first half to atone for some of their defensive lethargy.

"I thought (the Panthers) were going through the motions in certain defensive formats and the most critical element of it is their energy," Cole said of the first half. "To the kids credit I think they recognized a sense of urgency that this game could go two ways. We could continue to play and go through the motions or we could exert ourselves."

McKensey Peters had 15 points and Ellis 10 for North (14-7, 5-6), which has a key game with Roseburg coming up next Tuesday. The Black Tornado can finish tied with the Indians for second place in the SOH with a victory.

SOUTH MEDFORD (70) — Towry 13, L. Tago 4, Ritter 9, Bolston 7, J. Tago 10, Sleezer 9, Falls 7, Mejia 9, Cox 2. Totals: 26 10-23 70.

NORTH MEDFORD (41) — Ellis 10, Hogue 2, Martin 0, Thomas 0, Peters 15, Koistinen 2, O'Connor 6, Williamson 0, Becker 6. Totals: 15 10-15 41.

South Medford 21 15 23 11 — 70

North Medford 7 16 6 12 — 41

3-point goals — South Medford 8 (Towry 3, Ritter 3, Bolston 1, Mejia 1), North Medford 1 (Peters 1). Technical foul — North Medford head coach Karrick.

JV result — South Medford won.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

South Medfordís Kylie Towry, center, shoots through North Medford defenders Jocilynn Ellis, left, and Maryssa Becker during Fridayís game at North Medford High. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore