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Pedrojetti is a shooting star for South

As someone who essentially grew up in the South Medford girls basketball program, Bella Pedrojetti knows a thing or two about big games.

She served as ball girl during some of the Panthers’ finest moments, seeing firsthand what it took to play for state championships and rise to the occasion in big games.

And although the state playoffs won’t begin for another few weeks, there’s no denying in the hearts of Pedrojetti and her South Medford teammates that Friday’s matchup at home against Sheldon qualifies as a big game.

The Panthers enter ranked No. 2 in the state at the Class 6A level, the Irish at No. 4.

Both teams share identical 16-3 overall and 4-0 Southwest Conference records but, after Pedrojetti spent a childhood watching her beloved Panthers win one league title after another, it’s Sheldon that enters as the class of the SWC in recent years.

The two-time reigning conference champion has won the last four matchups with South Medford, including a 52-46 win on Jan. 12, 2018, that snapped the Panthers’ 92-game winning streak in conference play.

“It’s huge,” Pedrojetti said of the 7 p.m. clash at South Medford High. “Having them at home first is going to be a crazy game. We’re hoping to get a lot of people to come so we can have a big crowd behind us.”

The Panthers have played only five home games this season, with an average margin of victory of 51 points.

“It’s a big game and it obviously has a lot of bearing on both the rankings as well as our preseason goal of competing for a conference championship again,” said South Medford coach Tom Cole. “It has to go through (Sheldon) as defending conference champions, you’ve got to be able to beat them.”

“There’s no question it’s going to be a good game and it will be competitive in all four quarters,” he added, “and you need those. We haven’t had a home game like that all season. For basketball fans, this is as good of a game as we get here so it’s exciting.”

Big games, however, have been all over the South Medford schedule, and Pedrojetti has played a major role in the Panthers’ winning almost all of them to date.

As South Medford’s lone senior, the 5-foot-10 guard has been a first-team all-tournament selection during elite tournaments in Hawaii, California and Portland. She leads the Panthers and the SWC in scoring at 15.2 points per game, with a high of 30, to go with 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.1 assists.

Knocking down shots at key moments has been a boost to South throughout her career but Pedrojetti’s main strength has been in simply knocking down shots, period.

“I’m just a shooter,” Pedrojetti said of her role. “If you give me the ball, I’m going to shoot it. That’s what I’m out there for.”

The Eastern Washington signee is converting 46 percent of her 3-point attempts (55-for-121) and 51 percent of her shots overall (103-for-202).

Pedrojetti has scored 1,246 points in her career, ranking her fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list — recently passing Lauren Orndoff (1,212) and trailing only Ula Chamberlin (1,874), Kylie Towry (1,825), Julissa Tago (1,646) and Ashley Bolston (1,407).

“I think we’ve had a lot of really good shooters that have come through the program and gone on and actually been great shooters at the next level,” said Cole. “Kylie Towry set all the 3-point shooting records at Willamette and Andee Ritter set all the UC Irvine 3-point marks as well as those in the Big West Conference, and Bella Pedrojetti is just as good as anybody. Her percentages in shooting from 3-point range are the highest of any kid who has ever put on a South Medford jersey. She’s had a quiet but also pretty incredible basketball journey here.”

Pedrojetti’s journey in basketball began in second grade, and it was when she was a fourth-grader that she first was introduced to Cole and became ball girl for some of the best and brightest to have ever played as a Panther.

“I was always looking up to Yaremi Mejia and all those girls,” said Pedrojetti. “It really inspired me to pursue basketball to another level. I just want to be an inspiration, too. I think in the women’s game, (Oregon’s) Sabrina Ionescu has really been one of my role models now and I just want to be something like that for this community, just an inspiration for other girls to want to play basketball.”

With her father Jimmy ever present by her side, dutifully helping her pursuits as a young basketball player, Bella went from a young girl that got into the sport due to her aunt Lisa Hutchins’ past in the sport at North Medford to someone who couldn’t get enough shots up or time on the court.

“Basketball is everything to me,” said the 18-year-old standout. “It’s always kind of been an outlet for me in my life. It just became a passion for me from a young age. I just loved it, and I’ve just continued to love the game.”

Her route to the top of the pyramid has been unlike many beyond Chamberlin. Each was thrust into a leadership role well before their rightful time, and each experienced highs and lows along the way to their senior swan song.

“As a freshman I remember looking up to Lauren Orndoff and Hannah Washington and all those great players and, also with Ula, I remember having to grow up pretty fast as a sophomore. It was pretty hard being a co-captain that early and I learned a lot from all of them. I just feel like I lead more by actions than by words. I feel like I kinda try and just keep everybody together.”

If ever there was a question on how invested Pedrojetti is for her team this season, she unquestionably answered it when she suffered a broken nose in the fourth quarter of her team’s lone loss to an Oregon squad on Jan. 3 at Silverton. A mad dash back home to Medford followed by a lengthy stay in the emergency room followed. A plastic protective mask was found for her, and she was back in uniform on Jan. 4 to help the Panthers win at Churchill.

Pedrojetti ditched the mask after one game and missed only one game following surgery to fix her broken nose.

“It’s not what I expected,” she said of her senior campaign, “but I wouldn’t really have it any other way. It’s made me a better player because I’ve had to overcome a lot, playing with the mask and all that.”

What has helped carry Pedrojetti through it all has also been an unflinching confidence she has in the teammates that she has seen grow and mature at the varsity level since most came along when she was a sophomore.

“I believe that we can beat anybody if we just put our minds to it,” she said. “We’re still maturing in a way but we’ve worked really hard for this season, and this senior year just means a whole lot to me and I’ve definitely worked really hard for it.”

Juniors Kaili Chamberlin (11.7 points, 4.0 rebounds), Toni Coleman (9.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals) and Emma Schmerbach (7.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals) have been catalyst, along with 6-2 sophomore Sierra Logue (7.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks).

“I think we can surprise people because we can score from all positions,” Pedrojetti said. “I just feel like we give a different look than a lot of teams, and I feel like we’re a different team than last year. I think we work better together this year and are more cohesive, and adding Bella Stone (with a team-best 2.6 assists) has helped.”

“I just feel like this season is going to be a special one,” she added. “I really feel that this season is going to be the season. I just believe in my team, I really do.”

Sheldon is led by reigning SWC player of the year Alyssa Mirabile (10.3 points) and fellow seniors Makayla Scurlock (10.8 points) and 6-3 senior transfer from Cottage Grove Reilly Kelty, who is slated to play next year at Portland State. Kelty is averaging nearly 10 points per game in SWC play.

“Win or lose, it gives us a very fair evaluation of where we need to be,” said Cole of the top-tier showdown. “As I try to tell our kids, one game doesn’t define your season but there are certain measuring sticks that give you confidence or give you a place to reorganize and reevaluate, and this is one of those games.”

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

Bella Pedrojetti at Dennis Murphy Court at South Medford High School. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune