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Rising up

For all the joy that winning the program’s first conference title in 18 years brought to the North Medford boys basketball team, the Black Tornado realized that its biggest quest is still out there for the taking this week.

On Tuesday, seventh-ranked North Medford took the next step in its journey by using key surges in scoring by a handful of players and a concerted effort on defense to turn back Oregon City, 59-46, in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

North Medford junior Kaison Faust scored 18 points and senior Brad Allen added 13, and the team got a nice boost from seniors Joey Hunter (11 points, five rebounds) and Tre Holmes (nine points, eight rebounds, five assists) to keep the Pioneers at bay.

“I’m just there for whatever the team needs,” said Holmes of his key all-around efforts. “If they need me to rebound I’ll rebound or if they need me to lock down on defense I will. I like to get it to Kaison and Brad most of the time because they’re our go-to guys but then I know at the same time all of us around them can score too. You’ve just got to wait for your moment and once you get it you go for it, and that’s what we did tonight.”

The Black Tornado (20-5) next will play host to McNary (19-6) at 6 p.m. Friday for the rights to advance to the 6A state tournament at the Chiles Center in Portland. North Medford beat McNary 63-56 in the same exact scenario to reach the state tourney in 2015. The 10th-seeded Celtics cruised past Wilson, 77-65, in other first-round action Tuesday.

“We are playing well and it’s exciting to be at home,” said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn, whose team has won four straight and 17 of its last 18 games. “We get great crowds and obviously play pretty good here but it will be a chore whoever it is Friday because I know both those teams are very good.”

The Black Tornado and Oregon City (13-12) proved to be pretty familiar with the other after meeting on Dec. 28 in the semifinals of the Abby’s Holiday Classic at South Medford High. North Medford stormed to an early lead in that game en route to a 66-50, and the visiting Pioneers had visions of a different style of play this time around against the Southwest Conference champions.

Playing at a very deliberate pace Tuesday, the game was tied 4-4 midway through the first quarter before Hunter scored six straight points on the strength of his drives and finishes off steals by senior Wyatt Baptiste and Faust.

“The start is so huge when teams show that they’re going to be like that,” said Plankenhorn. “We stayed super solid defensively and then we went down on offense and Joey was very aggressive early kind of following our game plan.”

The key stretch of the game, however, came in the opening minutes of the third quarter after Oregon City senior Chris Figert drilled a 3-pointer to cut his team’s deficit to 31-27. North Medford put the ball in Holmes’ hands and he found Faust down low for a succession of three easy baskets, including a three-point play, to rebuild the Tornado’s advantage to 38-27.

“We kind of realized what was working and we just kept going back to it,” said Holmes of his entry passes to Faust. “They weren’t adjusting very quickly so we just kept going for it. The lob was open every single time and if I just lob it up to him I know he’ll go get it wherever it is.”

An ensuing rebound basket by Allen helped cap a 9-0 run that was aided by a host of missed shots by the Pioneers, who finished 17-for-50 (34 percent) from the field overall and 6-for-22 from 3-point range (27 percent).

Figert paced Oregon City with 22 points, while Teron Bradford had eight points and seven rebounds and Tanner Smith added nine points and six rebounds.

“It’s just unfortunate that it happened,” said Oregon City head coach Aaron Newkirk of the drought. “We just had a cold spell in that third quarter where they got that separation and you’re just playing from behind after that and it’s just difficult.”

Holmes also hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter for a 43-29 edge after Oregon City opted to double-team Allen in the post and, despite the Pioneers’ efforts, North Medford was able to maintain at least an eight-point edge from there on out.

“Every time they made a run we found a way to get a basket,” said Plankenhorn, “even if we were a little sloppy before that.”

Much of the sloppiness from each side had more to do with the teams being familiar with the other and well-scouted.

“The one thing that we’re disappointed about is the transition points,” said Newkirk. “That was the one thing that we always do a good job of and that really was the difference. We did a better job defending the interior this time but the transition points just killed us.”

“You just have to give them so much credit,” he added. “On defense they did everything that teams have done to hurt us all year, doubling Teron and Chris every time they caught the ball, it’s just a credit to Scott, he did a tremendous job.”

Baptiste added three points, four rebounds and three assists for the Black Tornado, which shot 22-for-36 from the field (61 percent).

OREGON CITY (46): Figert 22, Smith 9, Bradford 8, Fowler 3, Dennis-Lee 2, Vetter 1, Quinsey 1, Sim 0, Wootan 0, Thompson 0, Sheldon 0, Talley 0. Totals: 17-50 6-15 46.

NORTH MEDFORD (59): Faust 18, Allen 13, Hunter 11, Holmes 9, Baptiste 3, Banuelos 3, Rumrey 2, Ireland 0, O’Connor 0, Barry 0. Totals: 22-36 12-20 59.

Oregon City;11;13;5;17;—;46

North Medford;15;16;9;19;—;59

3-point goals — Oregon City 6-22 (Figert 3, Bradford 1, Fowler 1, Smith 1), North Medford 3-8 (Allen 1, Banuelos 1, Holmes 1).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

North Medford's Joey Hunter scores during the second quarter against Oregon City at North Medford High Tuesday.
North Medford's Brad Allen rises for a shot over Tanner Smith during the fourth quarter at North Medford High on Tuesday. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]