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Pesky Panthers prevail in playoff opener

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No. 3-seeded South Medford clamps down defensively on Tigard

When you limit your opponent to two field goals in each of the first two quarters, odds are you’re going to win that basketball game.

Third-seeded South Medford put the clamps on visiting Tigard from the outset of Wednesday’s opening-round game in the Class 6A girls basketball state playoffs and, in turn, the Panthers were certainly rewarded for their efforts.

South Medford produced 20 steals, forced 20 turnovers and generally left little doubt early on in whether it would move closer to a berth in the state tournament during a 71-33 romp over the Tigers.

The Panthers (22-3) limited No. 30 seed Tigard to 4-for-22 shooting to build a 41-13 edge by halftime, and the Tigers (10-15) wound up shooting 26% for the game (12-for-46) against South’s pesky defenders.

“Defense wins games, everyone knows that,” said South Medford junior guard Donovyn Hunter, “so I think our main focus — especially in practices — is to harp on our defense because if you come out here and play hard on defense, then the game is in our control. Our focus on the defensive end has been really important, which is leading to the scores being like this at the end of the games.”

Wednesday marked the 21st straight home playoff victory for South Medford under head coach Tom Cole’s direction, and was also the team’s seventh straight win by 27 points or more. In all, the Panthers’ average margin of victory during that stretch has been by 37 points.

One of those wins came over Southwest Conference rival Sheldon, which also will serve as South Medford’s second round opponent Saturday. The 14th-seeded Irish (16-9) held on for a 34-30 home win over No. 19 Tualatin on Wednesday and most definitely have the Panthers’ full attention despite a 69-31 rout in the second meeting between the teams last Saturday.

“I’m pretty confident in the kids that while they appreciate the win from last week,” said Cole, “they know who Sheldon is, too — just like Sheldon knows who we are. It doesn’t matter what the last outcome was, I’m still remembering that we squeaked by in an overtime win (52-49) at their place (Feb. 5), so we can’t take that for granted.”

Also not to be taken for granted Wednesday was the strong all-around play of South’s Lottie Dillard, who shared team-high scoring honors with fellow senior Sierra Logue at 16 points while also pulling in 11 rebounds to go with two steals.

“Lottie’s been a spark for us all year,” said Cole. “She’s been a catalyst to a lot of stuff and quietly been a leader all season long. She may not be leading us in statistics, but if you look at the balance of what she does, both offensively and defensively, she’s a major asset to what we do.”

Logue also tallied 10 rebounds with two blocks and Hunter, the SWC’s player of the year, posted 14 points, six steals, five rebounds and two assists.

Tigard’s 6-foot-4 post Sarah Lamet scored 15 points and junior guard Hailey Shimojima added 10 to lead Tigard.

The Panthers nearly had five players reach double figures in scoring, with juniors Tatum Schmerbach (nine points, five rebounds, two steals) and Kendall Fealey (eight points, three steals, three rebounds) each falling one basket shy.

“We have a pretty well-rounded team to where if one person is off, the next person steps up,” said Hunter of South’s balance. “It kind of just rotates, but the scoring stays consistent for us.”

With such familiarity between South and Sheldon, the more contributions, the better come Saturday.

“It’s tough to beat a team three times,” noted Hunter, “but I think our team is peaking right now and we’re continuing to grow, so I think it’s only up from here.”

Along with two wins this season, the Panthers beat Sheldon 63-31 in the 6A/5A culminating week championship last spring, as well as 56-47 in the state quarterfinals in 2020 before the tournament was halted due to COVID-19.

South has won six straight against the Irish since a 59-47 loss on Feb. 22, 2019, that allowed Sheldon to clinch a SWC title.

As a cautionary tale, however, Cole reminded his squad of the 2014-15 campaign when his Panthers were the No. 1 seed at state and faced another league foe in the quarterfinals. Despite South posting comfortable wins of 18 and 12 points in two league wins over Roseburg, the Indians were able to pull off a stunning 52-51 upset in the state tournament.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” said Cole. “The other games don’t matter. You’ve got to come ready to play.”

TIGARD (33): Kal. Kisor 0, Deisner 6, Kay. Kisor 0, Smith 2, Moore 0, Follett 0, Carmon 0, Shimojima 10, Lamet 15, Caulfield 0, Mohamoud 0, Brandon 0, Fauth 0, Boehringer 0. Totals: 12-46 6-8 33.

SOUTH MEDFORD (71): Settle 0, Hunter 14, Dillard 16, S. Schmerbach 2, Ceron 4, Logue 16, West 0, Bullock 2, T. Schmerbach 9, Fealey 8. Totals: 30-68 10-14 71.

Tigard67182— 33

South Medford22192010— 71

3-point goals — Tigard 3-10 (Shimojima 2, Deisner 1), South Medford 1 (T. Schmerbach 1).

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Lottie Dillard and Tigard's Alyssa Moore fight for the loose ball during the first quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Sierra Logue shoots for two points during the third quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Donovyn Hunter shoots for two points during the second quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Keana Settle breaks up a pass during the second quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Lottie Dillard drives to the basket for two points during the third quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Donovyn Hunter drives to the basket during the first quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Kimberly Ceron shoots for two points during the third quarter.