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South girls bounce back, shut out Grants Pass

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Panthers beat Cavers in SWC opener for first win of the season

Following a blowout loss to Bend last weekend, the message from South Medford head coach Dave Potter was clear for what his team needed to do as they got back on the practice field.

“Play composed soccer with understanding the positioning of each player,” Potter recalled. “Whether you’re playing forward, you’re playing the middle of the park or you’re playing the back, you all have to be connected and you can’t be thinking about going forward, forward, forward.”

In their first chance to practice what Potter has been trying to preach, the Panthers looked the part of a team that had put their trip to Bend in the rear view.

Benefiting from a big advantage in possession, South Medford beat Grants Pass 2-0 in the Southwest Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon, giving the Panthers both their first win of the season as well as an overall morale boost following a tough start to the season.

“It worked out pretty well and I’m pleased with the girls and what they put out here today,” Potter said. “The key is that they transferred (what was worked on at practice) to the field. It’s not as easy to do as you may think, but they did it.”

The team that was on the field Saturday was a stark contrast to the one that lost 7-0 to Bend seven days earlier and had allowed nine goals through its first two games of the season. The Panthers hadn’t scored a goal of their own entering Saturday’s SWC opener, with their only tally this season coming on an own goal in a 2-1 loss to Beaverton.

South Medford (1-2, 1-0 SWC), which lost to Grants Pass on penalty kicks in the Southern Oregon Conference tournament title game this past spring, saw plenty of the ball early on and was able to set a tone in quick order.

The result was plenty of scoring chances for the Panthers, who outshot the Cavers (0-2, 0-1) by a 9-2 margin in the opening half and 16-5 for the game.

“Going off of last game, we just kept our heads up and worked really hard in practice this week,” South Medford senior Drew Hampson said. “We were able to take what we worked on in practice into our game and I’m really proud of our team. I feel like we brought the positivity that we kept from last weekend’s disappointing game into this game and showed it off on the field.”

The Panthers took the lead in the 10th minute on their third corner kick within a two-minute span. Senior winger Bella Bottero sent in a low cross that found a wide open Alexandra Maukonen, who finished the chance with the outside of her right foot.

“We want to get ricochets here and there, focus on getting people on the end of it,” South Medford senior Isabelle Cruz said of the Panthers’ plan on corner kicks. “Getting ahead early on was nice. It gave us something to sit back on and play more defensive, and then have the opportunities to attack.”

The Panthers nearly doubled their lead midway through the first half when sophomore forward Brooke Fairbanks controlled a throw-in from a teammate and went on a long run down the left wing. Fairbanks was able to get around a defender and sent a shot to the back post, but it went just inches wide.

South did, however, get the 2-0 lead it so desired 11 minutes into the second half thanks to some nice combination play from its forward line.

In quick fashion, Bottero passed it to Fairbanks, who then sent a through ball to freshman Mali Malaythong as she was making a run into the box. Malaythong took a touch to control the ball and then saw her shot hit off the left upright before rolling across the goal line.

“It just went bing, bing, bing,” Potter said of his team’s passing on the goal. “To score inside the 18 with all of those bodies in there … there’s nine or 10 opposition players in there, and to score in that position it has to go off a player or off a foot, to a body to another body. They did it.”

Added Cruz: “It’s nice having the faster forwards and having the other midfielders. It feels like we’re in control of the game, so we’re able to just work it.”

Grants Pass’ best chance to cut South’s lead came in the 62nd minute when a long looping shot was sent in, but Panthers goalkeeper Eve Lynx used every bit of her outstretched right arm to get enough of a touch on the ball to tip it off the crossbar.

That deflection, one of three saves by Lynx, kept the first shutout intact for a South team that recorded seven shutouts in 11 games during the 2021 spring season.

“It was really big for us,” Hampson said of getting the shutout. “A lot of our defense graduated last year, so we have a pretty young defense. But it’s coming together really, really well.”

Grants Pass used a pair of goalkeepers, with senior Riley McMurtrey making four first-half saves and sophomore AbbiGail Michael recording two saves in the second half.

Grants Pass central backs Mia Thompson and Kenzie Kleiner — who are both freshman — also had strong games at the back as they handled the pressure that South threw their way.

“It was good — especially with Grants Pass being as skilled as they are, as well-coached as they are and as aggressive as they are,” Potter said of his team’s defensive performance. “We kept them off the scoreboard, that’s one thing, but we kept their shot count very, very low. It wasn’t until the end of the game when the girls tried to push forward a little too fast that we gave it away and they countered on us.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

South Medford's Mali Malaythong, center, celebrates her goal with Addison Bellm, right, and Brooke Fairbanks, left, in the second half of Saturday’s game against Grants Pass at South Medford High School. PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
South Medford's Alexandra Maukonen, center, scores the Panthers’ first goal in the opening half of Saturday’s game against Grants Pass at South Medford High School. PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
South Medford freshman Mali Malaythong scores the Panthers’ second goal in the second half of Saturday’s game against Grants Pass at South Medford High School. PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
South Medford senior Bella Bottero attempts to score during the second half of Saturday’s game against Grants Pass at South Medford High School. PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
South Medford sophomore Brooke Fairbanks dribbles past Grants Pass defenders Kenzie Kliener (12) and Mia Thompson (16) during Saturday’s game against Grants Pass at South Medford High School. PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR