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South starts slow, finishes fast

Things went from magnificent to miserable for the Crater girls basketball team on Tuesday.

The Comets gave top-ranked South Medford a run for its money but couldn't sustain it in a 66-44 loss to the Panthers in Southern Oregon Hybrid action at South Medford High.

South (20-3, 10-0 SOH) didn't feel particularly great about the win.

Crater (16-7, 5-6) pulled off a rare feat by exiting the first quarter with a 13-11 lead. In the opening eight minutes, the Comets were judicious as they knocked down five of their 10 attempts.

Becca Heard, who led Crater with 14 points, swooped to the hoop for a bucket that put her squad ahead 15-11 out of the gates in the second period.

The Panthers were navigating as a ship might through heavy fog. There were fewer turnovers for South to feed off of. The rebounds that the Panthers normally corral bounced Crater's way. The fire South shows at its hottest was but a sleepy flicker.

And then everything changed.

Keyari Sleezer's jumper with 4:55 left in the second quarter gave South a 17-15 edge, and the Panthers would never trail again. They led 33-22 at halftime and 53-30 after the third period.

"I was really pleased with the first quarter and overall I was really pleased with how we played," said Crater head coach David Heard, whose team made just nine first-half turnovers compared to 22 the last time it met South. "We just had three- or four-minute lapses where we just ran and hid and kind of got scared and you can't do that. And (the Panthers) were really good offensively."

To make matters worse for the Comets, the team's top scorer and rebounder Courtney Setzer suffered a "major knee injury" in the fourth quarter and will have an MRI scan today, coach Heard said.

Julissa Tago had 22 points and seven rebounds — including back-to-back 3s to start the fourth — Ashley Bolston turned in 20 points, eight rebounds, six steals and four assists and Jasmin Falls added 10 points for South, which has won nine straight. Sleezer chipped in six points and five boards.

The Panthers had not trailed entering the second quarter against an SOH opponent at home in at least two seasons, South head coach Tom Cole said.

But South's recovery from the deficit was swift once it cleared the fog.

"It was definitely us as players deciding we want this more and we want to win," Falls said. "And obviously the senior leadership of Ashley helping us get together and saying we know we can win this, so let's go."

Said Bolston: "We just had to pick up the defense and close the openings. I don't think we were as aggressive on defense."

Against another team, a poor start like Tuesday's could spell doom, Cole said.

"I was disappointed in our kids, I really was," Cole said. "I didn't think they came out to compete and have the energy I know they are capable of, but I thought they did a good job of turning it around. ... It's a reminder for these kids that we are going to have to play four quarters of basketball."

Setzer finished with 10 points before going down after getting tangled up with South players away from the bucket. She held her left knee in pain before being helped off the court.

"We handled the ball better and in turn that got us good looks, but right now everything is pretty much a downer with losing Courtney," coach Heard said.

CRATER (44) — Ma. Heard 7, Bascom 4, Fahndrich 5, B. Heard 14, Mo. Heard 1, Noles 3, Scott 0, Setzer 10, Gray 0. Totals: 12 18-26 44.

SOUTH MEDFORD (66) — Williams 2, Tago 22, Johnson 2, Bolston 20, Orndoff 3, Sleezer 6, Lemons 1, Falls 10, Washington 0. Totals: 22 18-25 66.

Crater 13 9 8 14 — 44

South Medford 11 22 20 13 — 66

3-point goals — Crater 2 (B. Heard 1, Noles 1), South Medford 4 (Tago 4). Technical foul — Crater coach Heard.

JV score — South Medford 64, Crater 47.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

South Medford's Julissa Tago drives to the basket in the first quarter of Tuesday's game against Crater.