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South a no-show in SWC upset

There were players on the court in Panther uniforms Tuesday night, but the fourth-ranked South Medford boys basketball team essentially didn't show up against Sheldon.

Minus the typical energy and intensity Panther fans have become accustomed, South Medford became easy prey — and the Irish were definitely hungry.

Sheldon opened a 10-1 lead and never trailed the Panthers by more than one point thereafter in securing a 66-62 upset of the Southwest Conference leaders.

"There was nothing to lose on the floor," said Sheldon senior Trevor Clemo, whose team was coming off heartbreaking losses to Grants Pass and South Eugene. "We just went after it."

The loss was the first at home for South Medford since Grants Pass earned a 59-57 triumph on Feb. 8, 2005, save for a forfeited win over Roseburg last season.

More importantly, the Panthers (19-4, 11-2 SWC) missed out on securing at least a share of the SWC title and No. 1 seed to the state playoffs.

"How you can come into a game like that with so very little energy and effort is completely beyond me," said South Medford coach Dennis Murphy. "I just have a belief that if you don't come ready to play then you're going to get beat, and we got beat from the get-go. To Sheldon's credit, they just wanted it more than we did."

Playing with poise and purpose, the Irish (9-13, 6-7 SWC) were efficient from the floor (28-for-56) and always had an answer for the few scoring spurts the Panthers were able to offer up on Tuesday. South Medford took the lead on only three occasions, but immediately lost it on ensuing possessions thanks to Sheldon's effective high-post attack.

"We knew if we attacked them we'd get easy layups," said Clemo, who scored nine of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter. "We got easy layups out of everything. It was fantastic."

South Medford senior Michael Harthun tallied a game-high 28 points on 13-for-25 shooting, while junior E.J. Singler added 22 points after going 10 for 20 from the field. The remaining Panthers totaled 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Harthun and Singler were instrumental in South's lone scoring surges of the game, but they were too little and, ultimately, too late.

"We just came out and weren't ready to play and Sheldon took advantage of that and a lot of credit goes to them," said Harthun. "We didn't play well on the defensive end and we didn't make the shots we needed to make on the offensive end, either."

"That's definitely not South Medford basketball," added the Washington State-bound point guard. "If we bring that effort, then we won't be at Mac Court this year (for the state tournament) and that's our goal. We've got to step up and realize how much it's really worth and how much it means to us, individually and as a team."

The Panthers' biggest push at making things all right in front of their home crowd came in the final four minutes of the third quarter. South outscored Sheldon 14-5 — twice taking one-point leads — but couldn't quite get over the hump.

Mitch Singler, who had eight points and seven rebounds, opened the run on a layin off a hustle tip play by senior Griff Boyd. E.J. Singler followed with an inside basket after a rare defensive stop by the Panthers, and then Harthun took over with eight straight points to give South a 40-39 lead with 1:17 to go in the period.

"It was tough and we weren't getting good shots," said Harthun, who converted 6 of 7 shots in the third quarter. "I thought that I had to start taking a few and if I was hitting them I was going to keep taking them."

After South's full-court defense came up with four straight steals, Harthun was able to sneak around screens by E.J. Singler and score on 18-foot shots as equally as driving layups.

That defensive intensity was short-lived, however, as Tito Garcia answered with a simple turnaround jumper over Harthun with 45 seconds left in the third to snap Sheldon's slump, and Billy Pinz found himself wide open for a period-ending 3-pointer to answer another Harthun jump-shot.

"We didn't defend anybody, and if we don't defend anybody we don't have a chance," said Murphy. "We can't score 100 points."

Sheldon made its 44-42 lead heading into the fourth stand up by effectively trading baskets with the Panthers for the final eight minutes. South's only 3-pointer of the contest (in 11 attempts) was drained by Harthun with 40 seconds to play to trim the Panther deficit to 63-60, and then Clemo left the door open by missing the front end of a one-and-one from the foul line.

In the wildest play of the night, Mitch Singler eventually scored in the paint off a missed 3-pointer by Harthun with 14.4 seconds left to make it 63-62. The play was kept alive by E.J. Singler hustling to throw the ball back in play as it headed toward the South sideline, and Harthun diving to volley the ball to teammate Josh Aguirre.

Sheldon point guard Ben Higgins suffered a left knee injury on the play and had to be carried off the court by a pair of Irish assistant coaches. His status was unavailable as of press time.

The long delay allowed Sheldon to draw up a final press-breaker that allowed Pinz to score on a driving layup despite a foul by Mitch Singler with eight seconds to go. Pinz hit the ensuing free throw for a game-clinching three-point play to cap off his 17-point night.

SHELDON (66) — Clemo 21, Pinz 17, Reynolds 12, White 6, Garcia 6, Higgins 4, Wellman 0, Davis 0, Agerter 0. Totals: 28-56 6-9 66.

SOUTH MEDFORD (62) — Harthun 28, E.J. Singler 22, M. Singler 8, Haveman 2, Aguirre 2, Boyd 0, Walport 0, Kezer 0, Phillips 0. Totals: 29-60 3-5 62.

Sheldon 17 14 13 22 — 66

South Medford 12 12 18 20 — 62

3-point goals — Sheldon 4-9 (Reynolds 2, Pinz 2), South Medford 1-11 (Harthun 1).

JV score — South Medford 68, Sheldon 53.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com