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Surge by Red Bluff turns back Panthers in Abby’s tilt

For a team that’s a work in progress, South Medford showed Wednesday that an emphasis in work will be needed in order for the Panthers to gain any form of progress heading into the conference season in January.

Playing for the first time in a week, South Medford jumped out to a 20-12 advantage over visiting Red Bluff in the opening round of the 28th annual Abby’s Holiday Classic but a lackluster second-half left the young Panthers scratching their heads in what ultimately turned into a 74-63 setback at South Medford High.

“We played OK to start the game,” said second-year Panthers head coach James Wightman, “but with these guys there’s not the experience to push that lead from eight to 12 points. We keep on saying that you’ve got to learn how to extend a lead and it seems like we get up eight and then it’s four and then it’s tied.”

Essentially playing with five guards on the floor at all times, Red Bluff (7-6) was able to break down the Panther defense time and again in the second half on the offensive end and force enough turnovers defensively to create easy opportunities on the opposite end.

The Warriors outscored South Medford 43-28 in the second half — and that included eight straight points over the final two minutes by senior Jesse Higgins with the game essentially out of reach. The 6-foot-9 Higgins finished with a game-high 23 points and seven rebounds.

“We started to pick up the ball pressure a little bit and then defense created offense for us,” said Red Bluff head coach Pablo Vazquez. “That’s what I continue to tell the boys can happen so it was good for them to see it actually happening. Now maybe they’ll believe me.”

With the loss, South Medford (3-6) dropped into the consolation side of the bracket and will play Eagle Point at 3:45 p.m. today at North Medford High. The Eagles lost 77-67 to McKay in another first-round tilt Wednesday, and were on the wrong end of a 79-59 setback against South Medford three weeks ago.

“They’re not going to quit,” said Wightman of the Eagles. “Eagle Point played a team that’s helter skelter and multiple times they were down big to McKay to start the game and then got up by maybe six points. We’ll just see how we’re going to come out. Our goal was to play at 7:15 tomorrow night and that’s not going to happen now. It’s too bad but when you don’t come out in the second half, that’s what happens.”

It wasn’t the loss that concerned Wightman after the game as much as the manner in which it came to be for his Panthers.

“I just thought (Red Bluff) played with more of the passion and heart and desire than we did,” he said. “It’s too bad because when we go bad, it goes bad quickly.”

Higgins scored 14 of his points in a first half that saw South Medford seemingly take control behind steady effort from senior Robbie Patterson, who finished with 12 points and three assists, and 3-pointers each from sophomore Sherman Hunter, junior Trent DeBoer and junior Thomas Fealey.

But a 6-0 run in the final two minutes allowed Red Bluff to pull within 35-31 at the break and, after a back-and-forth start to the second half, the Spartans used a 9-0 run to take their first lead since midway through the first quarter.

A 3-pointer to close the third quarter by Valentin Ramirez, who scored 17 points overall, put Red Bluff ahead 54-50 entering the final frame and then the Spartans fueled their bid to the semifinal round with a 12-2 surge to open the fourth built on Panther turnovers.

“We weren’t guarding anybody and all of a sudden we’re not getting back on defense and then we had that spurt of us all of a sudden turning the ball over and we just can’t have that,” said Wightman.

Red Bluff’s lead ballooned to 66-52 before Patterson connected on a 3-pointer with 4:15 to play. South Medford trimmed its deficit to nine points with 1:12 remaining but defensive lapses led to a pair of easy layups that kept the Panthers at bay.

“We can’t give up 70 points,” added Wightman. “We scored enough to win.”

DeBoer finished with seven points and Hunter had five points and three assists for South Medford, while senior Caleb English added six points and three rebounds, senior Nick Randleman had four points, three rebounds and four assists, junior Payton Owens had three points, four rebounds and three assists and senior Ty Boster added four rebounds.

Derek Gorden scored all 12 of his points in the first half for Red Bluff, while fellow senior Jarron Barrow tallied all 17 of his points in the second half and junior James Harris had all nine of his points in the final half. Senior Brayden Hutchens also had nine points for the Spartans.

“They definitely deserved it, we worked hard,” Vazquez said of the win. “It was a team effort and hopefully we can come together and play the same way tomorrow night.”

RED BLUFF (74): Hebert 2, Bey 0, Hutchens 9, Ramirez 17, Sarmanto 4, Harris 9, Barrow 17, Gorden 12, Woods 4. Totals: 31 6-5 74.

SOUTH MEDFORD (63): Hunter 5, DeBoer 7, Patterson 12, P. Owens 3, T. Boster 0, Losinski 0, Fealey 3, English 6, Randleman 4, Higgins 23. Totals: 26 6-10 63.

Red Bluff;12;19;23;20;—;74

South Medford;20;15;15;13;—;63

3-point goals — Red Bluff 6 (Hutchens 1, Ramirez 2, Gorden 2, Sarmanto 1), South Medford 5 (Hunter 1, DeBoer 1, Patterson 1, P. Owens 1, Fealey 1).

MCKAY 77, EAGLE POINT 67: Eagle Point was unable to stop McKay’s Andre Tovar, who scored 17 of his 35 points in the third quarter in the opening round of the Abby’s Holiday Classic at South Medford High.

Zakk Scott registered 16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks for the Eagles (1-7), who face South Medford today at 3:45 p.m. at North Medford High.

The Eagles also received 15 points and eight boards from sophomore Quinton Gelbrich and eight points and eight rebounds from Hayden Neyt.

Levi Scott dished out 10 assists for Eagle Point, which trailed 18-5 to open the game but rallied within 34-28 by halftime and took the lead in the third quarter.

Khyler Beach added 17 points and Israel Garza had 14 for McKay (5-3), which plays Red Bluff at 7:15 tonight at North Medford High.

MCKAY (77): Tovar 35, Rios 3, Ceja 0, Trumbley 2, Tipkins 2, Beach 17, Garza 14, Bangs 3, Beaty 1. Totals: 31 9-20 77.

EAGLE POINT (67): Z. Scott 16, Adams 6, Judd 9, L. Scott 0, Neyt 8, Shaffer 0, Hoppes 7, Chaparro 2, Masloski 2, Vance 0, Gelbrich 15, Gorman 2. Totals: 28 7-19 67.

McKay;18;16;20;23;—;77

Eagle Point;15;13;19;20;—;67

3-point goals — McKay 6 (Tovar 4, Rios 1, Beach 1), Eagle Point 4 (Z. Scott 1, Hoppes 1, Gelbrich 2). Fouled out — Adams. Technical foul — Garza.

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

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South Medford's Trent DeBoer runs into traffic trying to get to the rim during the fourth quarter against Red Bluff on Wednesday. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]
South Medford's Jesse Higgins goes up for a basket during the second quarter during Abby's Holiday Classic action. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]