Swarming South charges into finals site
South Medford put its stamp on one season with a resounding, 70-34 victory over Bend in the second round of the Class 6A girls basketball state playoffs Friday.
Now it’s ready to begin a new campaign.
The triumph in the Panthers’ gym sends second-seeded South Medford (24-3) to the finals site for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
It will face Southwest Conference cohort Sheldon in the quarterfinals at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. Sheldon, the seventh seed, downed No. 10 West Salem, 47-29, Friday.
“Our goal was to get there, and we’ve done that,” said Panthers coach Tom Cole, whose team won the SWC for the first time in three years, beating out the runner-up Irish, who had won two straight crowns. “Now the goal is to get up there and make it meaningful. It’s a whole different season.”
South Medford hasn’t won a game at the state tournament since 2016, when it went 1-2, winning in the consolation semifinals. It lost its first two games last year and its first two in 2017. It didn’t advance in 2018.
Bella Pedrojetti, the team’s lone senior, has yet to win on the final weekend in Portland.
She noted how hard the Panthers have worked, dating to the offseason, and how gratifying it is to see improvement and success.
“Going into it,” said Pedrojetti, “we just wanted to be the best version of ourselves.”
“Me seeing it as a senior come full circle is pretty cool,” she added.
As for getting over the hump and advancing through the championship side of the bracket at state?
“I just say we play it game by game,” said Pedrojetti. “Do our thing and anything is possible.”
The Panthers did their thing against 15th-seeded Bend (18-7), a team it had routed in the season opener, 75-48, in a tournament in Eugene.
Using their frenetic defensive pressure and a jailbreak offense to take advantage of steals and defensive rebounds, South Medford roared to a 26-5 lead just seconds into the second period.
Toni Coleman, a junior guard who forms a pesky presence with running mates Bella Stone and Emma Schmerbach, scored South Medford’s first seven points and 11 of her 12 in the first quarter. At 5-foot-4, she led the team with eight rebounds and chipped in three steals.
Oh, and if they kept track, she had far and away more floor burns than anyone.
The defensive pressure and transition game is South Medford’s forte.
“It’s really important,” said Coleman. “We had a good run, and we’re playing fast going into state. That’s the mentality we want to keep having. Try to get those runs early in the game.”
Of their 11 field goals while building the 21-point cushion early in the second quarter, nine were layups and five came off steals.
Bend appeared to be in well over its head.
Then a funny thing happened: The Lava Bears kept coming, and South Medford began missing shots in bunches.
Bend went on a 12-0 run before a Sierra Logue steal led to a pass from Pedrojetti to Schmerbach for a drought-busting basket in the paint and a 29-19 lead.
The Panthers led 33-21 at halftime.
“We have our ups and downs,” said Schmerbach, a reserve who paced South Medford with 18 points — well above her 7.9 average — and added five rebounds, four steals and three assists. “We’re trying to get more consistent. We knew they were a tough team and would battle all the way through.”
Whatever momentum the Panthers lost in the second quarter returned for the third.
Pedrojetti made two of her three 3-pointers and scored eight points in a 15-2 run to open the second half.
“In the third quarter, we came right back and set a tempo,” said Cole. “We played good defense, made shots and got right back into an offensive rhythm. We got everyone involved and I thought some good things happened.”
South Medford harangued Bend into 21 turnovers. The Panthers had 17 steals, including 11 in the first half.
The tone they set with their energy is crucial, said Pedrojetti.
“Just having explosive players like Toni and Emma, they set the tone the whole game for us,” she said.
Kaili Chamberlin recorded 15 points, five rebounds and three steals, and Pedrojetti scored 13.
Kaycee Brown led Bend with 12 points. She scored 10 in the first half before turning an ankle and leaving the game midway through the second quarter. She returned for the second half.
BEND (34): Daniels 4, Kowalski 0, Gardner 3, Jolley 2, Dennis 5, Nye 4, K. Brown 12, Wheeler 2, Berry 0, P. Brown 0, Zahniser 2. Totals: 14 5-11 34.
SOUTH MEDFORD (70): Chamberlin 15, Coleman 12, Dillard 2, E. Schmerbach 18, Petrojetti 13, Logue 6, Coley 0, Dahlin 4, Stone 0, Teague-Perry 0, T. Schmerbach 0, Fealey 0. Totals: 30 7-9 70.
South Medford2491720— 70
3-point goals — Bend 1 (Gardner), South Medford 3 (Petrojetti 3).
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com