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Panthers pummel Pacers to open playoffs

The chant could've started 90 seconds into Wednesday's first round game between defending champion South Medford and visiting Lakeridge in the Class 6A girls basketball state playoffs.

It wasn't because of the mismatch in team standing, rather in the way the No. 2-ranked Panthers came out of the gate with crisp, unselfish passing and a stifling defensive mentality.

For all intents and purposes after that short timeframe, it was all over for the Pacers. And no chant from the student section was needed — or applied — to make that clear.

The Panthers (21-4) scored the first 23 points of the game and then tried to settle back but still walked away with a resounding 101-25 victory over Lakeridge at South Medford High.

South Medford will play host to Southridge, a 52-46 winner over Glencoe, in Saturday's second round for the right to advance to the eight-team state tournament in Portland.

Five different South Medford players reached double figures, led by 19 points from senior guard Kylie Towry, and eight of the 10 players to take the floor had at least one assist.

Junior Ashley Bolston added 17 points, six assists, five rebounds, four steals and three blocks, while sophomore Andee Ritter had 16 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. The Panthers also got big games from seniors Luisa Tago (13 points, two assists, two steals) and Yaremi Mejia (10 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and six steals).

"They were excited and I think there's an urgency with the seniors," said South Medford head coach Tom Cole of his team's long-awaited playoff opener. "They recognize that they have one more time that they're going to be in this locker room, ever. ... They came out tonight really focused, and focused not only on playing hard but playing as a team and being bigger than what the individual stats might have been. It was really about who can we get open the quickest."

That was definitely the image early as Ritter drained a 3-pointer following a second-chance granted by Mejia's hustle and an extra pass by Bolston to open the scoring. A pair of steals by Mejia resulted in only one free throw by Luisa Tago, but then Ritter scored off a steal and another Mejia steal went for a layin by Towry through another pass by Bolston to make it 8-0 in 90 seconds.

"We came out with the pressure up top soon so we just could get the game under control soon," said Bolston, who was the Southern Oregon Hybrid player of the year.

The rest was simply more of the same, and too much for Lakeridge to counter on this night. The Pacers (9-17) had their first shot by freshman Natalie Bristol wedge between the rim and the backboard and their next three draw nothing but air while South Medford busily dropped shot after shot for a 23-0 lead.

"Anytime you play a top-ranked team in the state you know you're in for a battle," said Lakeridge head coach Kevin Berry, "but in the Three Rivers League we see this every night so it's nothing new to us."

The Pacers actually secured three wins of 39 points or more this season — the largest coming in a 78-33 win over Franklin — but routinely found themselves overmatched in TRL play against the likes of third-ranked Oregon City and fifth-ranked Clackamas. Wednesday's deficit actually wasn't the largest this season for Lakeridge, which lost 97-19 to Oregon City in their first matchup, and eight of the Pacers' losses have been by 30 points or more.

"It's such a difficult balance, what do you do in a case like that?" said Cole, whose team abandoned its press once up by 20, went strictly to a man-to-man defense and rotated its lineup throughout. "It's hard for the girls to put the stops on when you know in your next game it's not going to be like that, and every game you play after tonight there are no abilities to shift gears. That's the difficult part. You've prepared them all year long, you've challenged them to get better and asked them to play 100 percent and then you ask them to not do that in order to demonstrate good sportsmanship and class."

No matter what the Panthers tried to do, there simply was no slowing them down against the overmatched Pacers until they effectively dribbled off the final two minutes of the clock.

"They're so long and athletic at every position," added Berry. "We might have one or two long athletic players and they have five at every point in the game. There's no chance for us to match up against that."

South Medford led 65-12 by halftime and all but one Panther scored overall, including sophomore Krystal Williams, who was making her varsity debut. The only South Medford player not to reach the scorebook, sophomore MacKenzie Cox, turned her ankle midway through the second quarter and left Cole with nine players — only eight of whom had been on varsity during the season.

Regardless, South Medford converted a steady 44 of its 68 shot attempts (65 percent) while limiting Lakeridge to a 9-for-48 effort from the field (19 percent).

"They were taking good shots and taking them in rhythm," said Cole, "and when they're doing that they really show how diverse they are. I thought tonight was a good representation of that."

With so many fine performances on the night, the most notable may have been turned in by their smallest starter in Mejia. The 5-7 point guard was a beast on the boards, giving her team numerous second-chance opportunities, and just missed a triple-double.

"It seemed like she was on everything," Cole said of Mejia's rebounding. "We laughed about it but that's the epitome of who she is, she is tough. Pound for pound, I don't know of another kid at this sport at this level that is as strong as her and as tough as her for who she is size-wise."

Senior Kira Wall led Lakeridge with eight points while junior Colleen Ellis had six for the Pacers, who to their credit played hard throughout the contest.

Julissa Tago added nine points, while Jasmin Falls had eight points and three boards and Keyari Sleezer added seven points and four boards for South.

LAKERIDGE (25) — Wall 8, Ellis 6, Bristol 5, Mueller 2, Daskalos 2, Dickinson 2, Boe 0, Northfield 0, Irving 0, Dauphinais 0, Danchok 0. Totals: 9-48 2-5 25.

SOUTH MEDFORD (101) — Towry 19, Bolston 17, Ritter 16, L. Tago 13, Mejia 10, J. Tago 9, Falls 8, Sleezer 7, Williams 2, Cox 0. Totals: 44-68 7-11 101.

Lakeridge 2 10 13 0 — 25

South Medford 35 30 23 13 — 101

3-point goals — Lakeridge 5-24 (Wall 2, Ellis 2, Bristol 1), South Medford 6-15 (Towry 2, Ritter 2, Bolston 1, Sleezer 1).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford's Andee Ritter, right, steals the ball from Lakeridge's Kira Wall.