North Medford boys basketball coach Scott Plankenhorn made a plea to his team to give it their all prior to Friday’s second-round game in the Class 6A state playoffs because such opportunities are not guaranteed.
The Black Tornado, ranked eighth in the 6A coaches poll, did its best to accommodate in a hard-fought contest against visiting McNary, and certainly no one more than senior Tristen Holmes.
Having been along for the ride the last time North Medford made it to the state tournament in 2012, Holmes wasn’t about to let his final opportunity slip away.
The 6-foot-2 guard erupted for 12 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter to spearhead an effort to stave off the ninth-ranked Celtics and secure a 63-56 victory at North Medford High.
“I’ve been waiting for this for three years now so this is crazy,” Holmes said of returning to the state tournament’s final site. “It’s unbelievable.”
“We knew coming into the game it was going to be a really tough battle,” he added, “but we knew that we had the players and we have the team chemistry to beat anybody that we go up against, so we knew that we could get it done.”
Tucker Barry had 11 points and five assists and fellow junior Tyren Wolfe added 11 points and four rebounds off the bench for his fourth straight double-digit effort for the Black Tornado (22-4).
McNary got 16 points and four boards from senior Tregg Peterson, 13 points and six rebounds by junior Harry Cavell and 11 points by senior Devon Dunagan.
McNary (22-4) held a one-point lead at halftime but fell behind in the back-and-forth affair 41-38 at the end of the third quarter when Holmes sliced through the defense for a layup. His three-point play gave North Medford its largest lead at 49-41 in the fourth and his two free throws with 1:44 to go started a string of eight straight free throws by the Tornado to keep McNary at bay.
“We finally found a couple things offensively and then we started making some shots,” said Plankenhorn, “and, after that, I think Tristen just decided, ‘Hey, I’m going to the state tournament.’”
“In the last two games he has really willed us to wins,” added the coach. “Fifty points in two games? He really wanted to go and that’s all you can say. He wasn’t going to finish here playing on his home floor, he was going to finish at the state tournament.”
North Medford’s quarterfinals foe to open the Class 6A state tournament, which moved this year to the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus, will be Central Catholic at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. The second-ranked Rams beat Tualatin, 57-41, in the second round.
“When we didn’t get there with teams we felt like had the capability of doing it, our coaching staff talked about how bad we felt sitting at home,” said Plankenhorn of first-round exits the past two years. “I don’t know if anybody thought that this team could (reach the state tournament) but we did. We had the talk in October where we thought we could get and then what we’d have to do. They’ve done that and maybe even exceeded by a couple.”
The Celtics seemed to be in control during the first 16 minutes with efficient offense and a switching defense that put the Tornado on its heels. Momentum began to swing toward North Medford when Jared Faust and Edmund Polataivao scored on the interior and the Tornado got kickout 3-pointers by Brian Schireman and Barry.
McNary slumped to only 3-for-10 shooting in the third quarter while North went 6-for-11 from the field to pull ahead. Missed free throws also spelled doom for the Celtics, who finished 17-for-27 from the foul line compared to 16-for-21 by the Black Tornado. McNary missed five free throws in the first half that could’ve provided more cushion, and went 1-for-2 from the line on three straight possessions midway through the fourth quarter.
“Normally those are free throws we make,” said McNary head coach Ryan Kirch.
A 9-2 run allowed the Celtics to pull within one point at 53-52 but Holmes was fouled on a drive to the basket and made both free throws.
McNary scrambled for a rebound basket to follow before junior point guard Trent Van Cleave was whistled for a reaching foul as he tried to poke the ball away from behind as Barry dribbled toward the basket. With one minute to go, Barry calmly dropped in both ends of the one-and-one for a 57-54 lead and Peterson’s miss on the other end was followed by a foul on the rebound as Schireman was knocked to the floor. Schireman also made both ends of the one-and-one with 33.1 seconds left.
Cavell’s driving basket cut McNary’s deficit to 59-56 with 22.5 seconds to play but, after a timeout, Peterson fouled Holmes trying to go for a steal on the inbounds. Holmes made both free throws and, after another Peterson miss, Polataivao and Wolfe each made 1 of 2 foul shots to close out the contest.
“We didn’t get a lot of calls that helped us late,” said Kirch. “I thought our kids battled, their kids battled. It came down to a couple possessions here or there. Honestly they probably made a few more free throws at the free-throw line than we did. We had some opportunities that we missed early in the game and their guards did a nice job of making them late and that was probably the difference.”
While it’s an often overlooked part of the game, Holmes had praise for his teammates for being able to step up when it matter most at the free-throw line.
“Free throws are a big difference, making and missing, especially when they’re fouling at the end of the game,” said Holmes, who also had seven rebounds and two assists. “Being able to step up at the end of the game, all three of us, and get baskets really just solidified that we can finish.”
Faust finished with eight points and five rebounds while Schireman and Polataivao each had five points for North Medford.
Van Cleave had seven points, five assists and four rebounds and Matthew Ismay seven points and four rebounds for McNary, the Greater Valley Conference co-champions.
MCNARY (56) — Peterson 16, Cavell 13, Dunagan 11, Van Cleave 7, Ismay 7, Ca. Goff 2, Thomas 0. Totals: 18-37 17-27 56.
NORTH MEDFORD (63) — Holmes 23, Barry 11, Wolfe 11, Faust 8, Schireman 5, Polataivao 5, Dixon 0, Singleton 0, Brothers 0. Totals: 21-41 16-21 63.
3-point goals — McNary 3-11 (Van Cleave 1, Ismay 1, Peterson 1), North Medford 5-9 (Wolfe 2, Holmes 1, Schireman 1, Barry 1). Fouled out — Dunagan.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry