North ends playoff drought
Fifth-ranked North Medford had plenty to be nervous about heading into Wednesday's state-playoff opener against Clackamas, but the Black Tornado certainly didn't show it.
Playing with the poise of a team that had been there and done that — even though history would say differently — North Medford was absolutely dominant as it cruised past the Cavaliers 72-46 in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.
The Black Tornado (19-7) built a 20-10 lead after one quarter of play and then put the game out of reach with a three-minute onslaught in the third quarter that saw North outscore Clackamas 12-0 for an untouchable 16-point lead.
"We definitely came to play tonight," said North Medford junior Josh Pecktol. "We were pretty focused in practice yesterday and everyone was pretty relaxed today and we brought our best game."
Wednesday's victory marked the first in the state playoffs for North Medford since 1995. The Black Tornado will seek to extend its breakthrough season at 6 p.m. Saturday when it plays host to Jesuit, which was a 56-42 winner over Centennial in other first-round action Wednesday.
Saturday's winner advances to the 6A state tournament set March 13-15 in Eugene.
Despite the near-perfect performance on Wednesday, Pecktol said the Tornado hasn't peaked just yet.
"There's a lot left for Saturday," added the 6-foot-2 wing. "Even more we hope."
North Medford hasn't played in the state tournament since 1999, and only once (1989) has the school been able to notch multiple playoff wins since Medford High split into North and South high schools 21 years ago.
But as the Tornado showed all season, history has nothing on this collection of standouts.
Pecktol led his team with 21 points and five rebounds, while Jordan Ellis and Danny Berger each had 14 points to help North Medford earn its second win of the season over a Clackamas team unable to slow the Tornado uprising.
"They're so darn explosive," said Clackamas coach Jeff Bair of North. "We didn't want it to happen, but they put so much pressure on you defensively that they force bad decisions. Once they get out in the open court they're so dangerous, they're as good as any team in the state."
Michael Williams spearheaded the effort for North Medford early, slicing through the Cavalier defense for layups or finding open teammates in the paint or on the wing. The senior point guard had two steals, two assists, two rebounds and four points in the opening frame and set the tempo for the contest with his all-out effort.
"When Mike's playing his game, getting us in up-tempo and sharing the basketball, he's really tough to guard," said North Medford coach Scott Plankenhorn. "The tempo is what we talk about all the time, and we definitely got it going our way tonight thanks to Mike."
Williams finished with eight points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals, and might have posted higher marks had he not picked up quick third and fourth fouls in the third quarter.
Regardless, the damage had mostly been done by the time Williams headed to the sidelines — due in large part to stingy defense and pinpoint shooting from beyond the arc.
Few figured the Tornado could duplicate the long-range prowess (11 for 18 from 3-point range) that led it to an 85-61 victory over Clackamas the last time the teams met on Dec. 28.
And if semantics are your thing, those doubters, technically, would be correct. North was only 8 for 14 on Wednesday from beyond the arc (57 percent), including 6 for 8 in the first half. Berger and Ellis each drained three 3-pointers to lead the way.
"They're so good, you've got to pick your poison," said Bair. "Either you guard against dribble penetration or guard against the 3, and that's why I think they're so versatile. It's a credit to Scott, he does an excellent job."
In contrast, Clackamas made only one of its 10 3-point attempts — and that was on a 25-footer at the buzzer by Spencer Bankofier to close the first half with North leading 34-26.
The Cavaliers (16-8) managed to cut their deficit to 34-30 to open the third quarter, but that's when the Tornado put the game away with a 12-0 run.
Pecktol was the key factor in the surge, scoring seven points in the three-minute span and coming up with two of North's five steals in that time.
"We know we're a running team and that's what we tried to do in the second half," said Pecktol. "We got a couple steals and took off running, and I don't think we ever looked back."
Matt Maurer also had two of his four steals during the run as Clackamas managed to only get two shots up to counter. Maurer also pulled down a game-high six rebounds to help North win the battle on the glass, 25-15.
The Tornado's lead never dipped below 12 points after that and ballooned to as many as 28 points with 2:14 to play.
Eight different North players reached the scoring column and nine grabbed at least one rebound, while Clackamas had only four players score until a basket by Ka'eo Jan in the waning seconds.
Craig Seiler had a game-high 27 points for the Cavaliers but managed only one rebound, while Bankofier had nine points and tied Jake Mauermann with team-high honors in rebounds with four.
CLACKAMAS (46) — Seiler 27, Bankofier 9, Papenfuss 6, Mauermann 2, Jan 2, Earnest 0, Young 0, Rowland 0, Houf 0, Swerzbin 0. Totals: 21-44 3-4 46.
NORTH MEDFORD (72) — Pecktol 21, Ellis 14, Berger 14, Williams 8, Budavari-Jasper 5, Waldron 4, Maurer 3, McLemore 3, Barlow 0, Hutley 0, Levos 0, Faust 0. Totals: 23-46 18-23 72.
Clackamas 10 16 10 10 — 46
North Medford 20 14 19 19 — 72
3-point goals — Clackamas 1-10 (Bankofier 1), North Medford 8-14 (Ellis 3, Berger 3, McLemore 1, Budavari-Jasper 1). Fouled out — Houf.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com