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On to the Rose Garden

She signed autographs, posed for photographs and hugged fans.

And once the celebratory dust had cleared at South Medford High, Yaremi Mejia stopped and looked over at the ladder that stood underneath a bare basketball rim.

Only minutes earlier, the South Medford sophomore guard had climbed up it and trimmed down a share of the net following the eighth-ranked Panthers' 74-60 win over Glencoe in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs Saturday.

The ascension to the top of the ladder — like South's climb during a season of learning, growing and bonding — felt something like heaven, Mejia said.

"I felt like I was going to the sky," she said as tears began to form in her eyes. "It felt like I was reaching for a star."

Mejia recorded 22 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to help push South past Glencoe and into the eight-team 6A state tournament in Portland, where the Panthers will play top-ranked Jesuit at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

"We are very excited to win and going to the Rose Garden, I don't know, we wanted it so bad," said Mejia, who added eight rebounds and four steals. "Then we all said we are all smelling roses, so let's keep going. Let's keep running."

South had not made the state tourney since 2002.

"I can't tell you how proud I am," South head coach Tom Cole said. "These kids have grown up tremendously this year. To watch these kids accomplish what they've accomplished, I am proud for them, for the school and the community they represent."

Struggling to slow Glencoe's Kaylie Van Loo, South concluded a tight first half with a one-point lead. But in the third period, the Panthers limited Van Loo to two points and seized the opportunity when the Crimson Tide's 6-foot-1 starting post Marly Anderson was substituted out of the contest because of foul trouble.

With about 4:40 to go in the third and Anderson on the bench, South starting post Tess Picknell went to work, scoring two key buckets during an 11-6 run by her team to end the quarter. The 6-foot-5 junior registered seven of her 20 points in the third, and finished with nine rebounds and five blocks.

"When (Anderson) went out our plan was to go right to Tess," Cole said. "She did a really good job of getting deep enough in the paint that it was tough to defend her."

Mejia helped protect the Panthers' eight point advantage heading into the fourth quarter by going 9-for-10 at the free-throw line in the final eight minutes. As a team, South finished 16-for-18 at the charity stripe in the fourth and 29-for-35 (83 percent) in the entire foul-filled affair.

"I was feeling it," said Mejia, who took an inadvertent slap to the face late. "I just thought, 'Come and foul me, I'm gonna make them.'"

Glencoe came no closer than eight points in the fourth as the Panthers knocked down free throw after free throw.

"They've got good pieces," Glencoe head coach Matt Humphreys said. "They've got good outside shooting and a big girl who can score on the low block."

Cole said he was pleased with his team's game management during the emotional and physical conclusion.

"It's a maturity issue," Cole said. "There were times a year ago when we didn't have the kind of discipline to understand clock management. Tonight, they did a great job of controlling the tempo and managing the game."

Kylie Towry had 15 points and five rebounds for South Medford (21-5), which has now won 16 straight games. Hanna Curtius added nine points and four assists.

"We definitely built a lot of momentum and we won," Picknell said.

Van Loo finished with 27 points, five steals and four rebounds for the Crimson Tide (21-6), which had a five-game winning streak snapped.

The Panthers' next opponent — Jesuit — won the Metro League. The Crusaders (24-1) beat Barlow 70-27 in their second-round game on Saturday.

"We are ready for it and happy we got here," said freshman Ashley Bolston, who had six points, five rebounds and three assists. "It's a good feeling."

GLENCOE (60) — Lyle 0, Van Loo 27, Davis 2, Hamel 7, Harlow 0, Anderson 8, Feinauer 0, Gillespie 14, Fleskes 2. Totals: 24-55 10-16 60.

SOUTH MEDFORD (74) — Vargas 0, Towry 15, Tago 2, Bolston 6, Curtius 9, Mejia 22, Brennan 0, Picknell 20. Totals: 21-47 29-35 74.

Glencoe 16 16 11 17 — 60

South Medford 20 13 18 23 — 74

3-point goals — Glencoe 2-10 (Hamel 1, Gillespie 1), South Medford 3-13 (Towry 3). Fouled out — Gillespie.

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

South Medford's Ashley Bolston (11) fights for a loose ball with Glencoe's Alyssa Gillespie during Saturday's game. - Jamie Lusch