Hunter, South beat Sheldon to clinch SWC title
Donovyn Hunter looked up at the scoreboard after the first quarter came to a close Saturday afternoon and knew something had to change.
The two points to her name just wasn’t going to cut it.
“Obviously I hold myself to a high standard,” Hunter said, “so when I look at the point board and I see it’s at a low point, I think, ‘Hey, I need to turn it up.’”
Come the second quarter, though, it was a different kind of story.
Hunter scored 15 of her game-high 22 points during South Medford’s second-quarter onslaught, as the third-ranked Panthers outscored Sheldon 29-8 in the period en route to a 69-31 win that clinched the outright Southwest Conference title.
“I think it was the adrenaline,” Hunter said of her big second quarter. “Especially with the last game we played, I know that my point differential helped our team, so I knew I can’t be the one to slack or be low-energy. That’s what helped me pick it up.”
There was nothing low-energy about it, with Hunter’s dynamic skill set showcased in just about every way possible.
“It was probably one of the more impressive performances of any South kid,” Panthers coach Tom Cole said of Hunter’s second-quarter showing. “We’ve had a lot of great kids have big quarters over the years, but to do it in that way … not only did she have 15 points, but she had a couple of steals in there and she was shooting at 78%. She’s just a pretty special player.”
The Panthers (21-3, 10-0 SWC) will take an 11-game winning streak into the Class 6A state playoffs, which get underway Wednesday.
South Medford, which won the 6A culminating week tournament this past spring, is expecting to get the No. 3 seed in the 32-team bracket.
“We’re excited and we have the home game advantage, so it should be good,” said South senior Lottie Dillard, who scored nine points.
Saturday’s regular-season finale was a very different kind of game as compared to when the Panthers and Irish met three weeks ago in Eugene.
A 52-49 South win in overtime, the Panthers had to claw their way back into the game after struggling in the second quarter, resulting in an eight-point halftime deficit.
The Panthers never trailed Saturday, holding an 11-7 lead after the opening quarter, with Dillard and Kendall Fealey combining to score nine points in the period.
Hunter, who accounted for the other two points, then got to work.
South’s standout junior guard gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead of the day, 17-7, with a 3-pointer right in front of the Sheldon bench. It was part of a 12-0 run to begin the second quarter, a surge that took all of two minutes of game time saw Hunter net seven points.
Hunter scored six of the Panthers’ next nine points, with all three of her baskets coming in transition, pushing South’s lead to 32-11 with less than three minutes left in the first half.
She fittingly scored the Panthers’ last basket of the second quarter in transition right before the buzzer sounded, giving the Panthers a commanding 40-15 halftime lead.
“The first game we played against Sheldon, our team was capable of a lot more, so I think this game was to prove it to ourselves,” said Hunter, who also had four steals and five rebounds. “Not even, ‘Oh, let’s prove to Sheldon that we’re better than them.’ But it was more about proving to ourselves that we had it in us. The second quarter was, ‘OK, the first quarter we came out strong, let’s come out even stronger.’ Even the second group came in really strong, so I think that really helped.”
Of Sheldon’s 22 turnovers against South, 11 of them came in the second quarter.
“It did a lot,” said Dillard when asked about how much South’s defense played into the big second-quarter run. “With our press, we have somebody coming up and stealing the ball when they try to pass it across. Kim (Ceron) did great when she came in and did that. She did great right off the bat.
“It’s when we’re really at our best because everybody has a key part and it really brings it all out.”
It also, in a way, helped the Panthers slay one of their biggest issues throughout the 2021-22 season.
“Our Achilles all season, in tough games, has been the second quarter,” said Cole. “We have, in the losses or close games that we’ve had, really struggled in the second quarter. It was important for us and this was a turning point because we just hadn’t been consistent in second quarters. It was huge to get confidence going into halftime and it felt like we really benefited from the momentum shift.”
Senior Sierra Logue scored six of her 10 points in the second quarter and finished with nine rebounds and five blocks. Freshman Sara Schmerbach also scored in double figures, scoring all but two of her 11 points in the second half, while junior Tatum Schmerbach had six points and six rebounds.
Ceron, a sophomore who herself earned praise from Cole for her second-quarter performance, had seven points and three rebounds off the bench.
Freshman guard Diamond Wright scored 15 points to lead Sheldon (15-9, 8-2).
“I thought this was one of our best performances, honestly,” said Cole. “What feels best about it is that we’re getting production from every kid and the bench is finding ways to contribute. You’re not going to get equal production from everybody, but that’s what the growth is. We know when you get deep into the playoffs and you have to make different kinds of adjustments based on the teams you’re matching up with, it’s nice to know you can bring in a Kimberly Ceron, who in the second quarter was a big boost.”
Now the Panthers’ attention turns toward the playoffs, with another meeting with Sheldon potentially awaiting them in the second round if the bracket falls a certain way.
“That game helped us with confidence being able to turn it back around,” said Hunter. “Each game is going to be a battle and I don’t think any games will be blowouts, but I think this game helped us confidence-wise to know that we can keep up with the teams.”
SHELDON (31): Line 0, Rhode 0, Miller 3, Lehr 0, Pappas 6, Wright 15, Sprouse 0, Harris 2, Marshall 1, Paliegh 0, Bruegman 4, Kearney 0. Totals: 11 8-13 31.
SOUTH MEDFORD (69): Settle 2, Hunter 22, Dillard 9, S. Schmerbach 11, Ceron 7, Logue 10, West 0, Bullock 0, T. Schmerbach 2, Fealey 6. Totals: 29 7-13 69.
Sheldon 7 8 10 6— 31
South Medford 11 29 18 11— 69
3-point goals — Sheldon 1 (Miller 1), South Medford 4 (Hunter 2, Dillard 1, Ceron 1).
JV result — Sheldon won.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.