PORTLAND — It just takes a little daylight for the South Medford girls basketball team to break a game open and that's exactly what the second-ranked Panthers found to open the second quarter of Thursday's Class 6A state quarterfinals matchup with St. Mary's Academy.
South Medford used a free throw by Ashley Bolston and a 3-pointer from Kylie Towry to take a 15-12 lead into the second quarter, then completely put the Blues in the rearview mirror with a quick 10-0 blitz en route to an eventual 68-38 triumph at the Rose Garden.
"It only took a minute and a half to change the whole game," said St. Mary's Academy head coach Art Rojas. "That second quarter when we turned the ball over a couple times and they scored 10 points in a minute and a half, that changed the whole game. They got on their feet and we were backpedaling the whole rest of the game."
Overall, the Panthers went on a 16-0 run spanning the tail end of the first quarter into the second to separate from St. Mary's, with Kylie Towry scoring nine points in a run built on defensive pressure and steals by Andee Ritter and Yaremi Mejia.
"I loved the energy seeing every girl out there just running hard like that, it's great," said Towry, who led her team with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting. "We had great team chemistry."
The runaway win earned South Medford (23-4) its second straight trip to the state semifinals, where the defending champion Panthers will square off against Tigard (24-4) at 6:30 tonight. The sixth-ranked Tigers led No. 5 Clackamas for most of the game before needing some last-minute free throws to secure a 34-30 victory in a defensive battle.
In Thursday's earlier semifinals, No. 3 Oregon City used a third-quarter surge to beat eighth-ranked Beaverton 70-53 and top-ranked Central Catholic held off No. 4 Westview, 55-50.
"That's to get to the championship and we know that Tigard's going to be coming out hard," said Towry, who also had three steals in 18 minutes. "We've just got to play our game."
That plan worked just fine in the quarterfinals despite a strong opening to the game by St. Mary's (19-8), which led 5-0 and then 10-6 with three minutes to go in the first quarter. Everything went south after that for the Blues, who ultimately were forced into 23 turnovers and converted only 16 of their 54 shot attempts.
"They're a great team," Rojas said of the Panthers. "There's a reason they won the state tournament last year. I think we have a good team, we're just young and we were on our heels."
South Medford kept swarming the court with bodies darting in each direction and players willing to make the extra pass on offense. All 10 Panthers scored in the blowout and South registered 13 assists on 25 baskets.
Ritter was especially effective on defense with five steals to go with good ball pressure and seven points, while Ashley Bolston had eight rebounds, six points, four assists and three steals and Yaremi Mejia added seven rebounds, five points, five assists and three steals.
Luisa Tago also netted seven points, while freshman sister Julissa Tago had nine points and five boards off the bench and reserve post Jasmin Falls added eight points and five rebounds. Keyari Sleezer also had five boards to go with six points and two steals as it didn't matter who the Panthers put on the floor Thursday, they wound up getting productive minutes from everyone.
"They were so team-oriented tonight that I think we were getting steals from almost everyone," said South Medford head coach Tom Cole. "Even the second group that came in off the bench played with the same level of intensity even though the game margin was a little different. I just thought they played unselfish offensively and on defense it was just a lot of help and they were swarming around and they made a lot of good things happen."
St. Mary's standout Nae Torregano led her team with 18 points on 8-for-23 shooting but committed eight of her team's 23 turnovers against the Panther pressure. The Blues also got nine points and seven boards from Martina McCowan, eight rebounds from CeCe Wooten and seven points from Tyschal Blake.
South Medford shot 39 percent from the field (25-for-65) but only 4-for-17 from 3-point range as the NBA arc on the Portland Trail Blazers' home court proved too tempting for the Panthers. South won the rebound battle 46-35 and went 14-for-22 from the foul line thanks to attack efforts to the basket.
ST. MARY'S (19-7)
Torregano 8-23 0-0 18, McCowan 4-13 0-0 9, Blake 3-6 1-2 7, Fuhrer 1-3 0-0 3, Wooten 0-1 1-6 1, Lanz 0-3 0-0 0, Sunderland 0-1 0-0 0, Bilbrew 0-0 0-0 0, McLeod 0-0 0-0 0, Ell 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 0-1 0-0 0, Flynn 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Twohey 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 16-54 2-8 38.
SOUTH MEDFORD (22-4)
Towry 6-8 2-2 15, J. Tago 4-9 0-0 9, Falls 2-5 4-4 8, Ritter 3-11 0-0 7, L. Tago 2-6 2-4 7, Sleezer 3-8 0-0 6, Bolston 2-5 2-6 6, Mejia 1-8 3-4 5, Cox 2-5 0-0 4, Williams 0-0 1-2 1. Totals: 25-65 14-22 68.
St. Mary's 12 10 5 11 — 38
South Medford 15 18 14 21 — 68
3-point goals — St. Mary's 4-15 (Torregano 2-8, McCowan 1-3, Fuhrer 1-3, Davis 0-1), South Medford 4-17 (L. Tago 1-3, Ritter 1-6, Towry, Kylie 1-3, J. Tago 1-2, Bolston 0-3). Rebounds — St. Mary's 35 (Wooten 8), South Medford 46 (Bolston 8). Assists — St. Mary's 7 (McCowan 4), South Medford 13 (Mejia 5). Total fouls — St. Mary's 15, South Medford 10.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry