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Top-ranked South back in tourney

The memories sting as much now as the moment they were made.

Just ask Julissa Tago.

The South Medford junior vividly remembers the gut-wrenching feeling of falling short not once but twice in the Class 6A state finals, prep basketball’s most meaningful stage and a platform that the Panthers are deeply familiar with.

That kind of heartache? It lingers, Tago explained.

“I think about the Oregon City championship game a lot just because it was right in our grasp,” she said on Saturday after the top-ranked and top-seeded Panthers cruised past Glencoe, 74-48, in the second round of the playoffs at South Medford High to earn a spot in the eight-school quarterfinals in Portland. “That one hurt the most. It’s kind of on replay a little bit in my head. The scenarios and what to do. It’s a really good lesson to learn going into our other games.”

And so another journey into the Big Dance begins for South, a squad that has plenty of experience — and plenty of motivation — moving forward.

Tago had 28 points, four rebounds and three steals and senior Keyari Sleezer recorded 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks on Saturday for the Panthers (23-4), who will be making their fifth straight appearance in the state tournament.

“I’m honored by that,” South Medford head coach Tom Cole said of the streak.

South will play Southwest Conference opponent Roseburg — which beat West Linn, 43-29, on Friday — at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Chiles Center, which is home to the University of Portland. The 6A tournament had previously been hosted at the Trail Blazers’ Moda Center.

The Panthers will be aiming for their fourth straight appearance in the finals after winning a state title in 2012 in undefeated fashion and losing in title contests in 2013 and 2014.

Jasmin Falls submitted nine points and 11 rebounds and Krystal Williams added five points and three steals for South, which has won 14 straight.

The Panthers got off to a slow start before surging ahead on Saturday. Tago had 10 of her points in the first quarter as South built a 17-5 edge against the 16th-seeded Crimson Tide (16-10).

Tago had 18 points and Falls turned in all nine of hers by halftime, when the Panthers led 35-18.

“I think I have a little more responsibility this year,” Tago said. “I am one of the leaders on the team.”

Sleezer turned it on in the third, knocking down two 3-pointers and a pair of jumpers to boost her squad’s advantage to 25 points entering the final frame.

The reserves were able to get a good taste of playoff action after that.

South, which forced 21 turnovers, is plenty familiar with the Indians. The Panthers beat them 59-41 and 63-51 during the conference season.

“It’s tough to beat a team three times, it really is,” Cole said. “And Roseburg is a team that has gotten better each time we’ve played them. Once you get up there, it’s a whole different ballgame. You’ve got to throw everything out. In my opinion there’s no favorites anymore.”

Added Sleezer: “In a way we are kinda prepared. I think it’s a good thing. We know how they play and we’re ready for them.”

The Panthers wore warm-up T-shirts that read “AND OnE MorE” to honor injured senior Andee Ritter.

Sleezer and her teammates now hope to make their sidelined comrade proud.

“I am super excited,” Sleezer said. “I think we are all really pumped.”

They’re also grateful, Tago said. But …

“We want more,” she added.

GLENCOE (48) — S. Fajer 0, DeBord 0, Immel 4, Hamel 4, Fleskes 2, Hyppolite 7, Lantz 0, Egbo 0, Womack 4, Anderson 5, Griswold 2, Feinauer 8, K. Fajer 2, Clausen 10. Totals: 17 11-17 48.

SOUTH MEDFORD (74) — Williams 5, Tago 28, Foote 1, Johnson 0, Orndoff 3, K. Ritter 0, Sleezer 21, Lemons 2, O’Brien-Long 0, Falls 9, Washington 5. Totals: 25 18-30 74.

Glencoe;5;13;15;15;—;48

South Medford;17;18;23;16;—;74

3-point goals — Glencoe 3 (Immel 1, Feinauer 2), South Medford 6 (Tago 3, Sleezer 3).

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

South Medford's Keyari Sleezer goes up for a shot over Glencoe's Jessica Lantz (15) in the first quarter at South Medford on Saturday. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH
South Medford's Julissa Tago, left, and Glencoe's Kayla Hyppolite fight for a rebound in the second-round playoff game at South Medford High Saturday. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH