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Panthers, Pioneers in primetime clash

EUGENE — After years of coming up just short of advancing to the state tournament, Oregon City boys basketball coach Mike Doherty said his players were bent on not letting that happen again this time around.

The Pioneers have experienced as much bad luck as any team possibly could over the past few years, losing play-in games to the tournament last year to eventual champion South Medford and the year before against semifinalist Jesuit.

Armed with a No. 1 ranking and one of the best one-two punches in the state in 6-foot-3 senior guard Brad Tinsley and 6-9 senior post Sam Schafer, Oregon City has taken down all comers this state has to offer en route to its first berth in the state tournament since 2004.

"They've made the progress we've hoped for," Doherty said. "What everybody wants is a chance to get to the final eight, and these kids got that for themselves. They've done a good job."

The Pioneers (26-1) have won 16 straight games since suffering their lone loss of the season to Archbishop Mitty of California in the championship game of the Les Schwab Invitational. They will be in search of a second win this season over fourth-ranked South Medford (22-4) when the teams meet at 8:15 tonight in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

"There's no question about it, they're the best team in the state and have earned that position," South Medford coach Dennis Murphy says of Oregon City.

Tonight's game may have lost a little luster when South Medford senior Michael Harthun went down last Saturday with an ankle injury, but that doesn't mean each team won't be going full force after the opening tip.

"We'll go battle," says Murphy. "Our kids will surely show up and compete with them and play as hard and smart as we can and try to be in position to win it in the end."

For his part, Doherty isn't taking anything for granted when it comes to Harthun's availability for the state tournament.

"We expect him to be there and be full speed," the coach said. "That's what I understand is going to happen. I don't think there's any question about it, he's a tough kid."

Doherty has his fair share of tough kids as well, especially in Tinsley. Along with Harthun, Sunset's Garrett Sim and Grant's Paul McCoy, Tinsley is considered one of the top college recruits in the state. Tinsley and McCoy originally signed with Pepperdine University, but each has been released from their commitment after the school fired its head coach. Sim has already signed with California-Berkeley, while Harthun has signed to play at Washington State.

"There's no question Tinsley's one of the top three or four players in his class," says Murphy. "When you have those kind of players, it really does separate you from other people."

Tinsley is just as adept at knocking down the 3-pointer as he is driving the lane for a layin. He also has shown a tremendous passing ability and, like Harthun, has a history of stepping up in big games.

"He's just been steadily improving and maturing," Doherty said of Tinsley. "I've been with him four years in high school and it's just been a steady upward trend; no dramatic leaps ahead and no slipping behind at all. He's a more mature player, a more confident player and I think it's going to continue with him. I think the best is yet to come for Brad."

And with Schafer as a safety net, the sky's the limit for Tinsley.

"Obviously Tinsley's tough and shoots it well whether coming off screens or when he posts you up," says Murphy, "but when you have a 6-9 presence like Schafer, that changes things."

Each certainly played a big role in leading Oregon City to a 64-58 victory the first time it met up with South Medford this season. Tinsley tossed in 24 points and Schafer added 14 points and 15 rebounds as the Pioneers built an 18-point lead and then withstood a late Panther rally.

While that game can only serve to boost the Pioneers' confidence, neither coach believes it has much impact on what will transpire tonight. Both teams have evolved since that Dec. 28 encounter, especially a South team that withstood the early-season loss of two starters to earn its seventh straight conference championship.

"We're a much different team now," Murphy said. "I think kids have definitely settled into their roles and understand their roles much better now."

Tinsley's 24 points per game leads the state, but he gets plenty of help as Schafer averages around 13 points and 6-4 senior wing Kamal Smith averages 12. Tinsley and Schafer were both first-team all-conference selections after leading the Pioneers to their first Three Rivers League title since 2004, while Smith was a second-team pick. Senior Bryce Kinney, a 6-2 wing, and junior Ryan Huntting, a 5-10 guard, were honorable mention selections for an Oregon City team that boasts seven seniors.

"There's no question we've had more people ready to step up this year," says Doherty. "I think last year, even though it was a good season for us, it was still building for us toward this season."

If Harthun is unable to play tonight, the Panthers will rely on the same things that helped them slip by Wilson in the second round of the state playoffs: teamwork, hustle and, most importantly, defensive intensity.

"I don't think you can just all of a sudden sell the farm," says Murphy. "We've got to do what we've done all season that got us here."

Senior Zach Haveman provided good leadership and ballhandling in Harthun's absence last Saturday after moving from shooting guard to point guard, and will be asked to do more of the same this week in Eugene.

"To his credit, he has stepped up and done anything and everything we've asked him to do this season, and done it well," says Murphy of the 5-9 senior. "I think he's shooting the ball with lots of confidence and we need that."

The Panthers will also rely heavily on 6-6 junior E.J. Singler, who is averaging 20.5 points and 10.9 rebounds entering the state tourney. Singler hit the game-winning shot against Wilson last Saturday, but will have to use caution in not trying to do too much in Eugene.

"I think E.J. surely can step up to the challenge," says Murphy, "but we can't and won't make it a one-man show. I think he's got great faith in his teammates to surely step up like he's going to."

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