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Panthers pass test

He had raised his voice amid the cacophony from the stands and raised his arms in moments of joy and frustration.

And when the basketball court had finally cleared, South Medford head girls coach Tom Cole raised his hand and extended it toward Crater head coach JT Thomas.

"They brought it," Cole said of the Comets. "We had to earn this one."

The ninth-ranked Panthers overcame an assortment of challenges to gut out a 60-50 victory over Crater at South Medford High on Tuesday.

Ultimately, South had a few more answers in a game riddled with fouls and turnovers and defined by big plays and big runs.

After seeing his squad lose its lead and even its identity during a stretch, Cole found Thomas afterward to offer his praise.

"This was a fight," Cole said. "Crater was right there and they should be in the conversation as one of the best teams, and give our conference a little more credibility at the state level because they are tough."

In her biggest performance of the year, sophomore Luisa Tago scored 16 points, knocked down three of her four 3-point attempts and pulled down six rebounds for South. The Panthers owned an 11-point lead early in the second quarter before watching the Comets turn on a 13-2 run to tie the game at 25 by halftime.

Beth McNichols's transition layin at the buzzer capped Crater's run.

"What went back into that run is it's a lot of will," Thomas said. "It's a big game against a good team. We talked about having to dig down and come out of this thing feeling like we got better regardless of what the outcome was."

After a close third period, South found its moment to pull away for good. Crater missed nine straight shots during a crucial four-minute stretch and the Panthers scored 10 unanswered points to capture their seventh straight victory and stay undefeated in Southern Oregon Hybrid play.

South began to slip in the second quarter, when two of its biggest starters had to exit with three fouls apiece. Without sophomore Kylie Towry and junior Tess Picknell — the conference's top two scorers — the Panthers looked like a different team, Cole said.

"I can't recall another game the entire year where we had two kids out of the starting five with foul trouble that quickly," Cole said. "That really forced us into some chemistry issues. We were a little lost out there. To the credit of the kids, they really stepped up late."

Eight of Tago's points came in the third period, as the Comets wrestled for their first lead since sinking a free throw to start the contest.

"I think we just ended up playing with a lot of urgency," Tago said. "We knew we had to get out."

With her team trailing by five, Crater's Katie Powell kicked off the final eight minutes by burying a 3-pointer. Kelly Ferris's jumper a possession later evened things at 42 with 7:01 left, and Brook Blaisdell's nifty post move past Picknell propelled the Comets to a 43-41 lead.

That's when South turned up the heat. Fueled by a three and fastbreak layup by Towry, a jumper by Yaremi Mejia and a breakaway layin by Tago, the Panthers (12-5, 6-0 SOH) established an eight-point advantage with 3:15 to go. Crater (10-5, 3-3 SOH) missed eight of its last 11 shot attempts to seal its fate.

"Fastbreaking, seeing people break and outletting was key tonight," said Hanna Curtius, who scored all eight of her points in the first quarter.

Picknell finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks and Towry 11 points for South, which defeated Crater 59-43 on Jan. 7. Mejia had eight points, eight assists and seven steals.

For Crater, Powell had 17 points and six offensive rebounds and Ferris added eight points and 15 rebounds. Kasidy Cobb chipped in nine points and seven assists and Blaisdell had eight points and six rebounds.

CRATER (50) — Ashworth 3, Powell 17, Owen 0, Cobb 9, McNichols 2, Britton 2, Blaisdell 8, Young 1, Ferris 8, Lile 0, Scott 0, Guthrie 0, Hampson 0. Totals: 12-47 5-17 50.

SOUTH MEDFORD (60) — Vargas 0, Towry 11, Tago 16, Bolston 6, Curtius 8, Sprang 0, Carrol 0, Majia 8, Brennen 0, Picknell 11. Totals: 14-31 14-24 60.

Crater 10 15 11 14 — 50

South Medford 19 6 16 19 — 60

3-point goals — Crater 7-20 (Powell 3, Cobb 3, Ashworth 1), South Medford 6-15 (Tago 3, Curtius 2, Towry 1).

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail djones@mailtribune.com

South's Tess Picknell goes up for a shot during Tuesday's game against Crater. - Julia Moore