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North-GP fracas offers lesson in maintaining control

There's no denying that Friday's incident between North Medford and Grants Pass in girls basketball was shocking and unfortunate. Seeing girls exchange punches in the heat of competition is about as rare as it comes.

At this point, though, what's most vital for each team involved is learning from the emotional outburst and not letting it define what they're about.

"Obviously it's going to be topic of conversation for a while but we've never seen or done anything like that before," North Medford girls basketball coach Kailey Bostwick said Monday.

Tension had been brewing for a while during the physical Southern Oregon Hybrid contest in Grants Pass when Black Tornado sophomore McKensey Peters and Cavers senior Courtney Smith became tangled and went to the floor in the third quarter.

It's unclear whether words were exchanged after that — and there was no evidence of hair pulling — but some pushing gave way to Peters landing a punch against GP senior Maricela Aguilera, who retaliated with a punch of her own.

Peters and Aguilera were each ejected for throwing punches, and North Medford senior Alyssa Maurer was an automatic ejection for leaving the bench during the quickly escalating fracas.

"Obviously it was an unfortunate situation for both parties," said GP coach Scott Wakefield on Monday.

To be clear, no one involved can claim innocence. Whether provoked from earlier plays or in the heat of the moment, everyone is responsible for their actions. From those on hand, it was apparent that frustrations from what had been a scrappy game helped sparked the chaos.

"It was just so much frustration built up by our players and their players," said Bostwick. "It was inexcusable. I talked to (Peters) after the game and she was like, 'I can't even believe I did that; I don't know what came over me.'"

In Aguilera's case, Wakefield noted she hadn't had a single infraction — be it team rules or those established by the Oregon School Activities Association — in his two years as coach.

"I wish Aguilera would've walked away," said Wakefield, noting he's watched the game film at least 20 times. "She got caught up in a dumb decision. Had she walked away it would've been cut and dry, but she didn't and here we are. I believe my girls are going to learn from this and be better for this. Unfortunately we had to learn the lesson this way."

In Maurer's case, Bostwick said maintaining her composure and position on the bench would've kept her free from punishment. Maurer never made it to the fracas but, per OSAA rules, players who leave the bench during any altercation must be ejected.

As it is, OSAA ejection policies dictate that players removed from a game must sit out the next game. Any further penalties are determined by the player's school administration.

"It's something we'll handle privately within the school," said North Medford athletic director Tim Sam. "(Grants Pass AD Clay Rounsaville) and I will meet and talk and make sure we're on the same page and then the schools will make decisions about any other discipline that they think is necessary."

Peters and Maurer will not be in uniform for tonight's clash against cross-town rival South Medford in the Tornado gym, with Becca Allen and Kendell Erb taking their places. North and South are tied atop the SOH standings at 3-0, and Peters ranks third in SOH scoring at 14.1 points per game while Maurer ranks ninth (10.2 ppg).

Bostwick said it's possible Peters will face an extended suspension. Since the North Medford camera wasn't working for last Friday's game, Bostwick and Sam were without film of the game over the weekend. Wakefield offered up his game film, but Sam wasn't able to pick it up until around 5 p.m. Monday.

"One thing I've really been trying to stress to my girls this season is it's not just basketball, it's life lessons," said Bostwick. "You can't do something like that in real life, can't do that ever. It's an emotional game but you just can't do what happened, and there's a consequence for everything. I'm happy (Peters and Maurer) got ejected and have to sit out the next game and that it's a really big game because now they can really see the consequences for their actions."

As for the Panthers, head coach Tom Cole said none of the ramifications have factored into his planning for the big game.

"It's a shame that an incident like that happens but for us, it hasn't changed what our hopes are for a game plan and what we need to focus on as a team to be better," said Cole. "Most of those preparations really weren't based around what North may or may not have, but some of the things we weren't doing well over the last week."

Bostwick said her team will look to build on the promising finish it had in Grants Pass without Peters and Maurer, when North rallied in the fourth quarter for a 49-45 victory.

"I think that gives them some confidence," she said. "If we come together and show some adversity, we can do anything. I think they're excited about the challenge and eager to show that's not who we are (in reference to the punches)."

Although Smith was not penalized last Friday, Wakefield said he has chosen to suspend her for tonight's game against Roseburg for "acting in an inappropriate manner" after he directed her to the bench following the incident. Smith ranks seventh in the SOH at 11.3 points per game.

"I hold my program to a high standard," he said. "Our team motto is it's not about me, it's about her. All of those actions (by Aguilera and Smith) weren't living up to our motto because, whether we got pulled into it or whatever, we let the emotion of the situation dictate the outcome of that game."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry