North returns to form
Following a season-high two-game losing streak, things returned to normal for North Medford on Tuesday.
Leading scorer Danny Berger returned to action and scored a game-high 19 points and the sixth-ranked Black Tornado defeated visiting Grants Pass 70-46 on senior night.
The win, coupled with a surprising loss by South Medford, puts North back in the hunt for a Southwest Conference boys basketball crown. The Tornado (17-6, 10-3 SWC) sits just one game back of the Panthers with two games remaining.
"It's pretty big," North coach Scott Plankenhorn said of the win. "It's big at our home on senior night and to bounce back from two losses. We bounced back with a couple decent practices, got another guy back, and played really solid tonight."
And North's health is improving for a stretch run.
Berger played all of one minute during last Friday's loss to Roseburg after suffering from headaches following an injury to his chest sustained in a loss to South Medford one week ago.
He showed no lingering effects in his return on Tuesday, playing nearly the entire way.
"I think Berger, the way he's played this year, I don't know how you can't consider him (for SWC player of the year)," said Grants Pass coach Scott Gottula. "You take him off the floor tonight, this is a dog fight."
The Tornado also played without junior guard Jordan Ellis, North's second-leading scorer. He suffered a left bruised rotator cuff also against South while diving for a loose ball. He said there is minor pain but will likely play Friday against Sheldon, certainly good news for North.
"That will be a nice thing to have back," Plankenhorn said of Ellis. "He's a special player and he does a lot more than just score and that's something we miss — a guy who does a little bit of everything."
Despite Ellis' absence Tuesday, North had little difficulty against Grants Pass (8-15, 4-9 SWC). The Tornado built a 15-point lead in the third quarter after an early 9-0 run. With the Cavemen failing to score for the first 3:45 of the third, North was able to get out on the break in transition.
"We just talked about shoring up the penetration," Plankenhorn said. "When we are able to do that we cause a lot of problems because we are able to get hands on shots and that usually fuels the break."
North led 48-30 heading into the final quarter after outscoring Grants Pass 18-6 in the third.
Berger scored seven in the third, including two of his four 3-pointers, and junior wing/post Josh Pecktol added five of his 15 points.
"That's our M.O.," Gottula said of the third-quarter struggles. "Our biggest hurdle is fighting consistency."
North shot 25 of 50 (50 percent) while Grants Pass was 14 of 47 (29.7 percent). The Cavemen held an early 9-3 lead but the Tornado, playing with an altered lineup to honor the seniors, tied it at 13 after the first quarter.
North was just 1 of 5 from 3-point range in the first but made 2 of 4 in the second and shot 70 percent to build a 30-24 halftime lead, thanks in part to an 11-2 run.
Senior point guard Michael Williams scored four of his seven points in the second quarter to go along with five assists.
Grants Pass was led by senior forward Buddy Saxon's 15 points, six of those coming from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Zach Morgan added 10 for the Cavemen, who are still vying for the fourth and final playoff spot from the SWC. Grants Pass is a half-game back of South Eugene for fourth.
The win completes North's three-game sweep of the Cavemen — the average margin of victory being just over 26 points per game.
But the win was much more than just the 17th of the season for the Tornado.
"It was really a shock when we lost to Roseburg," Pecktol said. "It was a reality check for us. We had to come out tonight and prove that we are still the team to beat and that we're still here to play."
Said Berger: "Those last two games were tough. But we knew we could bounce back. I feel we're back. We've got some guys stepping up and Jordan should be back soon."
GRANTS PASS (46) — Morgan 10, Nickelson 0, Carpenter 2, West 4, Saxon 15, Haggard 0, Wiersma 2, Parker 3, Fields 6, Davidson 4. Totals: 14 16-23 46.
NORTH MEDFORD (70) — McLemore 8, Williams 7, Ramirez 2, Pecktol 15, Berger 19, Barlow 3, Hutley 0, Waldron 0, Budavari-Jasper 6, Maurer 4, Gentry 0, Levos 3, Faust 3. Totals: 25 11-17 70.
Grants Pass 13 11 6 16 — 46
North Medford 13 17 18 22 — 70
3-point goals — Grants Pass 2 (Morgan 2), North Medford 7 (Berger 4, McLemore 1, Barlow 1, Faust 1). Fouled out — West. Technical fouls — North Medford coach.
JV result — North Medford 56, Grants Pass 36.
Reach sports reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail email@example.com