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Panthers claw into 6A semis

No. 3-seeded South Medford rallies to deny Benson in state tournament

PORTLAND — South Medford took Benson’s best shot Thursday night, then delivered a few of its own in a frantic back and forth Class 6A girls basketball quarterfinal clash here at the Chiles Center.

After a rough start that saw the third-seeded Panthers go 0-for-15 from the field — and the No. 6 Techsters ride an early emotional wave — South Medford turned it on in the second half and more than countered every punch by Benson for a wild 53-47 victory.

“I just thought collectively they were able to muster enough poise to weather the storm, and Benson is a storm,” said South Medford coach Tom Cole. “That’s a team that brings a quickness and a tenacity on defense that we don’t see very much of, period. I knew this was going to be a tough matchup.”

South Medford’s Donovyn Hunter, Lottie Dillard and Tatum Schmerbach each scored 13 points, and Sierra Logue added eight of her 10 points in a second-half surge that saw the Panthers outscore Benson 32-25.

The Panthers (24-3) trailed 9-3 through one quarter and 22-21 at halftime before regrouping at the break.

“Oh my gosh it was stressful,” Hunter said of Thursday’s chaotic clash. “Obviously it went down to the wire. It was like possession by possession but when we went into halftime, we told each other that it was whoever wanted it the most. With state, it’s put your whole heart into it and let’s see who wins.”

With the win, South Medford returns to the state semifinals and will play No. 7 seed Barlow, which scored an impressive 52-36 win over No. 2 Jesuit in Thursday’s late quarterfinal. The Panthers and Bruins will meet at 8:15 tonight following a 6:30 semifinal between No. 1 Beaverton and No. 5 Clackamas.

“They’re obviously a really good team,” Cole said of Barlow, “and we’re going to have to regroup and be better than we were in the first half tonight.”

The Panthers won the Class 6A/5A culmination tournament a year ago to enter this tournament essentially as reigning champions. A year prior, they saw their title hopes dashed just prior to their semifinal game when COVID caused the rest of the state tourney to be canceled.

Benson (21-4) actually won the last official state title in 2019 and was bent on repaying the Panthers for a 61-49 setback on Jan. 28.

Benson junior Onna Brown single-handedly outscored South in the first period, 9-3, and had all 13 of her points when the Techsters went into halftime up 22-21 on a basket by Olivia Hinck that was initially waved off for a traveling violation but overturned.

Hunter served notice that the second half, however, would be South Medford’s to celebrate with a steal and two consecutive baskets to regain the advantage for the Panthers.

Shortly thereafter, Logue, Dillard and Schmerbach took over.

“Lottie Dillard and Sierra Logue were huge in the third quarter,” said Cole, “and Tatum Schmerbach was steady in rebounding, not turning the ball over and making some really big buckets.”

After Benson had closed within 25-24, Logue scored on a nice assist by Schmerbach and then the senior post blocked a shot that wound up in Schmerbach’s hands for a coast-to-coast layup. Consecutive baskets by Dillard and two more buckets from Logue and, suddenly, South Medford found itself in rhythm up 39-27 heading to the final frame.

“It’s one game and you’re done basically,” Hunter said of the turnaround, “and we want to advance so this one game was like, ‘This could be it for us,’ so we decided to turn it up. We came back from being down for so long in other games so we knew we could do it, and we did.”

Not that the Techsters made it easy. The fourth quarter was played in nail-biting fashion, with South Medford answering every Benson surge by going 12-for-15 from the free-throw line in the final 4 1/2 minutes.

Schmerbach finished with nine rebounds and two blocks, and Logue had five rebounds and five blocks before fouling out with 3:23 to go.

Hunter managed seven rebounds and five steals and Dillard added four steals of her own to limit the Techsters.

Malaya LeSueur had 10 points and three steals and Tait Quinlan added nine points and 10 rebounds for Benson, which played without injured sophomore standout Mahogany Chandler-Roberts. The PIL player of the year rolled her ankle at the end of Wednesday’s practice.

“They were ready to play,” Cole said of the Techsters. “We weren’t perfect but we were good enough to be poised and win a very tough game. It’s hard to get one under your belt, especially that first one here.”

BENSON (21-4)

Onna Brown 4-8 5-6 13, Malaya LeSueur 4-15 2-4 10, Tait Quinlan 3-6 3-5 9, Olivia Hinck 2-7 2-3 7, LuLu Kennybrew 2-2 0-0 4, M. Hashemian-Orr 2-9 0-4 4, Oria Boyd 0-0 0-0 0, Taliya McKelvey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-47 12-22 47.

SOUTH MEDFORD (23-3)

Lottie Dillard 3-10 7-7 13, Tatum Schmerbach 4-5 5-7 13, Donovyn Hunter 5-12 3-7 13, Sierra Logue 4-10 2-4 10, Kendall Fealey 1-6 2-2 4, Sara Schmerbach 0-1 0-0 0, Hadley West 0-0 0-0 0, Kimberly Ceron 0-5 0-0 0, Janaya Bullock 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-49 19-27 53.

Benson913520— 47

South Medford3181814— 53

3-point goals—Benson 1-9 (Olivia Hinck 1-4, Malaya LeSueur 0-3, M. Hashemian-Orr 0-1, Onna Brown 0-1), South Medford 0-8 (Lottie Dillard 0-2, Tatum Schmerbach 0-1, Donovyn Hunter 0-2, Sierra Logue 0-1, Kendall Fealey 0-2). Fouled out—Benson-Onna Brown, M. Hashemian-Orr, South Medford-Sierra Logue. Rebounds—Benson 29 (Tait Quinlan 10), South Medford 37 (Tatum Schmerbach 9). Assists—Benson 2 (Tait Quinlan 1, M. Hashemian-Orr 1), South Medford 4 (Sierra Logue 1, Lottie Dillard 1, Tatum Schmerbach 1, Donovyn Hunter 1). Total fouls—Benson 22, South Medford 19.

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

South Medford's girls basketball team readies for Thursday's Class 6A state quarterfinal against Benson at the Chiles Center in Portland.