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The North Medford's boys basketball team doesn't appear to be lost.

Yet the Black Tornado will try to "find" itself when it hosts the three-day, eight-team Abby's Holiday Classic beginning Monday.

North Medford takes on weather-beaten Battle Ground, Wash., at 7:45 p.m. opening day, the last of four games in its gym.

The Black Tornado has compiled a 5-0 record and recently was chosen a co-favorite to capture the Southwest Conference championship.

It's also the Abby's defending champion, but it won't walk into its own gym like it owns the place as this 20th edition unfolds.

"I don't think we have a swagger yet," says Plankenhorn. "I think we're a solid team if we play to our level, we just have to clean up a few things. We're not overly satisfied because we've got things to work on. We're not peaking early. We're coming in here trying to find ourselves."

The Black Tornado has a Big-Three nucleus of veteran starters that helped it knife through the tournament a year ago, beating Franklin, West Salem and 10th-ranked Clackamas by an average margin of 27 points.

The 85-61 pasting of Clackamas in the championship game brought North Medford its first Abby's title in 13 years. Jordan Ellis had five 3-pointers and 21 points to lead the way.

Franklin of Portland and West Salem join Battle Ground, Red Bluff, Calif., and McNary of Salem as repeat entrants from last year. Also in the field are Hillsboro, coached by former South Medford assistant Greg Edwards, and Lakeridge of Lake Oswego.

The path to the finals doesn't look foreboding for a talented Black Tornado team. If it defeats Battle Ground (1-3), it faces either West Salem (1-4) or Red Bluff. North Medford beat West Salem 62-37 last year, and Red Bluff went 0-3 here.

McNary, with most of its players back from its Central Valley Conference 2008 title team, is a contender to emerge from the other half of the bracket.

The Celtics (2-2) open against a defensive-minded Franklin (2-1) team that seems to be making strides under first-year coach Charles Odenthal, says Plankenhorn, whose team faced the Quakers in summer ball.

Beyond that, there is much uncertainty about the entrants because harsh weather canceled a number of games and substantially reduced their respective bodies of work.

North Medford's first foe, Battle Ground, is a prime example. Located in Clark County, just north of Portland, it played one game and didn't practice for nearly two weeks leading up to Christmas.

"Heck, at this point," says Tigers coach Andy Schoonover, "we'll just be happy to get in the gym. It'll be good to get the rust off, and it'll be interesting to game plan for a special player like Ellis."

In its first Abby's appearance last year, Battle Ground didn't face Ellis and his Black Tornado running mates, Josh Pecktol and Matt Maurer.

But the Tigers were cognizant of what the senior guard, who is averaging 20 points this season, did against other opponents.

"He's really good," says Schoonover.

It remains to be seen if Battle Ground has an answer. It has five sophomores who see significant minutes, and only senior point guard Steven Conner, a returning starter, has prior varsity experience. He averages 14 points and four assists a game.

Sophomore Seth Belknap, a 6-foot-1 wing, averages about nine points, and 6-7 senior Nathaniel Schwab provides size but has only played basketball for 14 months — after growing half a foot from his sophomore to junior year. His strength is defense and rebounding.

Schwab and Co. will have their hands full with Pecktol, who averages 18 points and nine rebounds, and the physical Maurer, who grabbed 13 boards in a win over Crater Tuesday.

The Black Tornado has been terrific in transition, and its defense gets better each time out. Offensive execution, however, is where Plankenhorn wants to see improvement.

"When you call something, you'd like to see it run," he says. "Right now, we're not to that point. We've got to clean that up, and the kids know it. We're not that far off, there are just a couple of things to fix. Once that's done, I think we'll be a tough out for anybody."

The Black Tornado has a deep bench that should come in handy with three games in three days.

"We can play as many guys as we need to and still get quality effort from them," says Plankenhorn. "We can save those minutes for the third game."

The tournament provides a unique experience that, save for the level of competition, resembles the state tournament.

"This will be the only time you actually play three games in a row against three different teams," says Plankenhorn. "You have to be ready every night. You're not going to have time to prepare for the other team. You have to be able to pick things up quickly from film and walk-throughs and be able to make adjustments based on what you see."

All games atNorth Medford High School

MONDAY

Franklin vs. McNary, 2:30 p.m.

Lakeridge vs. Hillsboro, 4:15 p.m.

Red Bluff, Calif., vs. West Salem, 6 p.m.

Battle Ground, Wash., vs. North Medford, 7:45 p.m.

TUESDAY

Game No. 5, 2:30 p.m.

Game No. 6, 4:15 p.m.

Game No. 7, 6 p.m.

Game No. 8, 7:45 p.m.

WEDNESDAY

Game No. 9, 12:45 p.m.

Game No. 10, 2:30 p.m.

Game No. 11, 4:15 p.m.

Game No. 12, 6 p.m.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

North Medford’s Josh Pecktol has been a force on both offense and defense, averaging 18 points and nine rebounds for the Black Tornado. He and his teammates defend their Abby’s Holiday Classic championship next week. - Jamie Lusch