Hunter, Panthers pounce for win over South Salem
With how many miles the South Medford girls basketball team has traveled over the first three weeks of the 2021-22 season, one would understand if they were a little weary entering their final game before Christmas.
That’s why Panthers head coach Tom Cole kept things short and sweet during his halftime talk.
“I think the first half, we weren’t in a very good rhythm, so we just talked about how I think we’re a lot better than how we were playing,” Cole said. “Defensively, we were sloppy. We were late in traps, we fouled a lot. Eight of (South Salem’s) points (in the first half) were from free throws out of the bonus, so we just said we have to clean up and be in the right spots.”
Those words were taken to heart.
Behind another big showing from junior guard Donovyn Hunter and strong defensive play coming out of halftime, No. 3-ranked South Medford pulled away from South Salem for a 78-46 victory in the Panthers’ long-awaited home opener on Tuesday afternoon.
“Our team is normally known for picking it up in the second half, so this season with all six seniors gone I knew that I had to sort of take the role and take the lead in terms of getting the energy up whether it’s defense or offense,” Hunter said. “When people pick up on my energy, that’s what picks up my team.”
Coming off a trip to Southern California last week in which she scored 28 against Brea Olinda and then 21 points the next day in a win over Orangewood Academy, Hunter only continued her impressive start to the season against South Salem.
As the Panthers’ offense searched for consistency early, Hunter was the one providing a lot of the scoring.
Hunter scored 16 of her game-high 29 points in the first half, shot 81% from the field and finished with eight steals, helping South Medford (5-1) lead virtually the entire way Tuesday.
Hunter was at the center of the Panthers’ run to get the lead into double digits for the first time, with her basket in transition capping a 10-0 run that put South Medford ahead 24-12 less than 90 seconds into the second quarter.
South Salem (4-2) cut it to a 13-point deficit with 44 seconds to go, but a three-point play by senior forward Sierra Logue right before the half allowed South Medford to take a 40-26 lead into the break.
The third quarter, however, was a different story, and one much more to the Panthers’ liking.
Hunter, Logue — who was in foul trouble for much of the first half — and senior guard Lottie Dillard all scored baskets within the first 45 seconds of the third quarter to force a South Salem timeout. The 16-point halftime lead had ballooned to 22 points, 46-24, in the blink of an eye and the Panthers were playing just as Cole hoped that they would to start the second half.
“If we can get turnovers early, we like to run and be in transition, and pretty soon we opened the third quarter on a six- or eight-point run and felt like we could get in a rhythm after that,” Cole continued. “I think we did.”
Indeed they did.
The Panthers never trailed by less than 20 the rest of the game, with Hunter scoring eight points in the third quarter to help South Medford seal the outcome.
“I know when we were watching film (on South Salem), our main thing was whatever team they were playing they didn’t really experience full-court pressure,” Hunter said. “That was our goal to just kind of come at them. The main thing was to focus on pressuring and then see what they do with it, and when we noticed it was doing well it picked up.”
Despite the foul trouble, Logue nearly finished with a double-double against South Salem with nine points and eight rebounds.
Dillard also scored nine points, while junior guard Tatum Schmerbach added seven points and senior forward Tanesha Coley had six points, five rebounds and four steals.
The Panthers outrebounded the Saxons 27-17 and recorded 22 steals as a team while dishing out 13 assists.
“We have played some different opponents who have offered a different kind of challenge, so we were flat,” Cole said. “And I was trying to get kids minutes to get them as much of an opportunity as possible. I think in the third quarter they just re-established the kind of basketball we want to play and make a meaningful run at things.”
The Saxons, which saw its four-game season-opening win streak snapped Sunday, were led by junior wing Maggie Lapray’s 13 points. Senior guard Halley Barram also scored in double figures with 11 points.
South Medford heads back out on the road again after Christmas, and won’t play at home again until it hosts Corvallis on Jan. 8. The Panthers begin play at the PIL Holiday Classic in Portland next Tuesday against Sherwood.
“It was slow at first and there’s a lot of younger kids and new people on the team, but Tom does a good job in practice pushing us so it’s definitely picked up,” Hunter said of how the Panthers’ season has gone up to this point. “We had our loss before and it’s hard coming from an undefeated season because everybody wants to beat you, but it’s been good.”
SOUTH SALEM (46): Flores 0, Cordero 4, Dalton 3, Ekwar 2, Petersen 4, Barram 11, Bell 6, Paterson 3, Rasmussen 0, Lapray 13. Totals: 14 12-14 46.
SOUTH MEDFORD (78): Settle 0, Hunter 29, Dillard 9, S. Schmerbach 4, Ceron 0, Logue 9, Coley 6, West 0, Bullock 0, T. Schmerbach 7, Fealey 6. Totals: 36 4-7 78.
South Salem12121210— 46
South Medford18222813— 78
3-point goals — South Salem 6 (Cordero 1, Barram 1, Bell 2, Paterson 1, Lapray 1), South Medford 2 (Hunter 1, T. Schmerbach 1). Fouled out — Logue.
JV score — South Medford 61, South Salem 25.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.