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North avoids upset, tops Liberty

Even though the local girls were playing at home, North Medford girls basketball fans likely didn’t recognize their own team for the first half of Tuesday’s opening round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Facing an upset-minded Liberty squad that was young and fearless, the fifth-seeded Black Tornado struggled through the opening 16 minutes and found itself in danger of seeing a promising season fade away before North had a chance to stretch its playoff legs.

That’s when Southwest Conference co-player of the year Megan Fossen stepped up and took control for North Medford, scoring 10 of her 18 points in a third quarter that saw her team erase a 22-18 halftime deficit and pave the way for an eventual 46-40 win over the visiting Falcons from Hillsboro.

“We just looked like we were kind of lost in the first half and that was strange for us,” said Black Tornado head coach Tim Karrick. “It was just a weird atmosphere to start the game like that.”

One thing is for sure, added the coach, his team can’t afford another wayward start with Central Catholic coming to town for Friday’s second round. The 21st-seeded Rams (15-10) upset No. 12 Grant 52-50 in other Tuesday action, and will be looking to avenge a 44-36 setback against the Black Tornado suffered on Dec. 27.

“It was pretty much we survived and advanced,” Karrick said of his team’s playoff opener. “No matter who we play Friday we’re going to have to play better for sure. We’re going to have to be more in tune with what’s going on and what we need to do.”

A great deal of credit for creating that situation Tuesday had to go to No. 28 Liberty, which used its trapping press to put North (17-8) on its heels and force nine turnovers in the first half. The Falcons (10-16) also limited the Tornado to a 5-for-17 shooting effort in the first half and came up with enough rebounds and 50-50 balls to shoot 9-for-26 in their own right.

“I’ve got a great group of kids and they go out and play with a lot of heart,” said Liberty head coach Melanie Wagoner, whose starting lineup included three sophomores and two freshmen. “They come to play and that’s all I can ask for.”

North Medford scored on 10 of its 15 possessions in the third quarter and held Liberty scoreless over the final 3½ minutes to build a 38-31 cushion heading into the final frame. Midway through the third quarter, Fossen scored on a driving effort and then was fouled in the act of shooting on North’s next three possessions and knocked down 5 of 6 foul shots.

“Definitely after the half we started to bring up our toughness and just give it back at them,” said Fossen, who also had six rebounds and two blocks. “I just felt a little momentum going (in the third quarter) and I didn’t want to lose my senior year in the first playoff round.”

Added Karrick of that key stretch: “We did a better job of getting the ball to Megan. She had like (four) shots the first half, which is ridiculous for us. She made a couple and then got fouled often and made her free throws and we went on a nice run there in the third quarter.”

The Black Tornado went 0-for-4 from the field in the fourth quarter but kept the scoreboard moving by knocking down 8 of 11 free throws to stave off the Falcons, who closed within 39-37 with just over two minutes to play but couldn’t get over the hump as Jane Ersepke and Rylee Karrick converted from the foul line on the other end.

Overall, North Medford finished 21-for-32 from the free-throw line to offset an 11-for-30 shooting night. Liberty shot 16-for-44 from the field and was 6-for-8 from the foul line.

“This is a tough place to play down here; it’s always tough when you go on the road,” said Wagoner, who coached South Medford for a little shy of two years in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons before resigning late during her second year. “Sometimes if a team’s shooting in the 30s with foul shots, that’s a little hard to work with when you get about eight and they’re shooting over 30.”

Rylee Karrick finished with 10 points to complement Fossen, while Ersepke added six points, Talia Baker had four points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists and Adriane McLemore pulled in six boards for North.

Freshman Taylin Smith scored nine points to pace Liberty, with freshman Livia Knapp joining sophomore Breeze Bartle in adding eight points. Sophomore Clara Robbins had six points, four rebounds, two blocks and three steals for the Falcons, who finished sixth in the Metro League.

“They obviously gave us more than we wanted tonight, they played well,” said Karrick of the Falcons. “They’re so young, they’re going to be good.”

And the plan Friday is for his team to simply be better from start to finish.

“This win helps and makes us feel like we can do it,” said Fossen. “We just need to continue to work hard.”

LIBERTY (40): T. Smith 9, Kahakai Wyatt 4, Knapp 8, Bartle 8, Le 0, Magera 0, Jobe 5, C. Robbins 6, N. Robbins 0. Totals: 16-44 6-8 40.

NORTH MEDFORD (46): Ersepke 6, T. Baker 4, Karrick 10, A. Baker 5, McLemore 3, Graff 0, Fossen 18. Totals: 11-30 21-32 46.

Liberty;13;9;9;9;—;40

North Medford;9;9;20;8;—;46

3-point goals — Liberty 2-9 (Knapp 2), North Medford 3-8 (Karrick 2, A. Baker 1). Fouled out — Kahakai Wyatt.

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

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North Medford senior Megan Fossen goes up for a basket. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]
North Medford sophomore Jane Ersepke finds a way through the Liberty defense during the third quarter of their state playoff game on Tuesday at North Medford High. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]