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Slow start dooms Panthers in loss to Barlow

Comeback attempt falls short for South Medford in 6A semis

PORTLAND — This time, the hole dug by the South Medford girls basketball team was too deep to overcome.

After struggling to start a second straight game here at the Class 6A state tournament, the third-seeded Panthers once again were able to rally with a finishing flourish — it just wasn’t enough in a 44-42 semifinal loss to No. 7 Barlow late Friday night.

“We started off by making stupid decisions and we showed the crowd South Medford late, and it was too late unfortunately,” said South Medford junior Donovyn Hunter, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“Obviously these losses sting, but all we can do is pick up and focus on tomorrow because we have a game tomorrow,” she added. “We’re not going to end our season on a loss, so that’s really all we can focus on. There were negatives, there were positives, that’s just how basketball is.”

South Medford (24-4) will face No. 5 seed Clackamas (26-3) in today’s third-place final. Tipoff is 6:45 p.m. here at the Chiles Center.

In Friday’s earlier semifinal, top-seeded Beaverton (25-1) put the squeeze on the Cavaliers for a 41-28 victory. Beaverton has held its opponents to less than 30 points in seven of its last eight games.

South Medford fell behind by as many as 17 points in the first half to the Bruins (25-3) before pulling even at 40-all on a driving shot by Hunter after a steal by Sara Schmerbach with about 1 1/2 minutes to play.

After a second straight steal by the freshman Schmerbach, Hunter’s shot in the paint missed the mark as the Panthers looked to take their first lead of the game.

After Barlow had gone six minutes without looking toward the basket on six straight possessions, junior Annie Koenig angled into the Panther defense and was fouled on a shot attempt with 39.5 seconds to go. Koenig, who led her team with 20 points, calmly knocked down both shots for a 42-40 advantage.

South Medford set up senior Lottie Dillard for a potential game-tying effort, but could not convert in traffic or draw a foul call.

Two more free throws by Lindsay Barden upped Barlow’s advantage to 44-40 with 10.9 seconds to go, and Hunter was allowed to score in the waning seconds before the Bruins celebrated a trip to the championship finals.

“It took a little too long to get going, and that really is as much about the outcome as anything that happened in the fourth quarter,” said Panthers coach Tom Cole. “You can’t go to those slow starts and expect that you’re just going to continue to find ways to win in two quarters when the game’s played in four.”

“I’m proud that they didn’t give up and they fought all the way to the last seconds,” he added. “But I also think there’s a strong learning lesson about life and basketball in that you’ve got to seize every moment and you can’t take anything for granted. You’ve just got to take your opportunities when you can get them, you can’t hope that they fall in your lap, you’ve got to seize them, and we didn’t do a good job of that tonight.”

It didn’t help matters that the fourth quarter wound up being a game of keep away for Barlow, which answered a Hunter 3-pointer with one by Koenig and then simply shut it down despite outstanding offensive execution all night.

“I mean, it’s smart strategy for anyone,” said Hunter. “If there’s no shot clock then run us off.”

Cole agreed given the current rules in Oregon.

“It’s the way the rules are so we’ve got to play by them,” he said, “but it was hard to develop momentum. I felt our kids still chipped away at it and did the best that they could to create some turnovers under those circumstances.

“As a basketball fan, I’d like to see it be a little different in terms of the ability to have a game that has a shot clock to it, but I also credit Barlow for executing a really good stall and minimizing our offensive opportunities in that fourth quarter.”

Barlow was 6-for-19 from 3-point range to build a 26-15 halftime lead and 8-for-27 overall. In the second half, the Bruins were 6-for-11 from the field.

“I can’t minimize what they did and no one should,” said Cole of the Bruins. “They were sharp and they were poised and they were really hungry. They made big plays in that first half, over and over, but I also think we hurt ourselves in the first half. We were out of rhythm again and it was kind of a deja vu of last night (a 53-47 comeback win over Benson) again.”

The stall game almost came back to haunt the Bruins thanks in large part to Schmerbach, who finished with five points and four steals, and senior Sierra Logue, who had seven points, six boards and three steals.

“She’s a freshman on this team and she’s nervous as all get-out going into these games and her defensive effort pulls through for our team every time,” Hunter said of Schmerbach’s lift off the bench. “I believe that defense is the thing that wins games and she comes out here, whether she has nerves or not, and she puts her whole life out there. She helped us turn this game around. Unfortunately we lost by two but she helped pick us up.”

Neither team made much headway in the first quarter until Koenig sank a 3-pointer midway through the frame. Koenig went on to knock down two more 3-pointers and junior Kennedie Shuler added another from beyond the arc as Barlow started the game 4-for-9 from 3-point range.

Shuler was steady in finishing the contest with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Conversely, South Medford had six turnovers and was 0-for-6 from the field until sophomore Kim Ceron finally broke the drought with 1:25 to go in the first quarter.

Barlow pushed its largest lead of the game to 17 points on a 3-pointer by Melanie Hiu before Hunter finally broke through with six consecutive points for the Panthers after starting the game 0-for-6 from the field.

Logue’s inside basket and a free throw later allowed the Panthers to trim their deficit to 26-15 at halftime.

South Medford finished the first half with 10 turnovers and was 5-for-22 from the field (22.7%). Overall, the Panthers shot 35.6% (16-for-45) and were only 2-for-10 from beyond the arc.

“To their credit they scraped and made plays and won the third quarter and won the fourth quarter,” said Cole, “but at that point you’re playing from behind so you never get to control the full tempo. As we were able to surge and get those last opportunities to tie the game, it just took a lot of energy.”

BARLOW (25-3)

Annie Koenig 6-11 4-6 20, Kennedie Shuler 4-14 1-2 12, Lindsay Barden 2-4 2-2 6, Melanie Hiu 1-3 0-0 3, Olivia Payne 1-3 1-2 3, Rilyn Quirke 0-1 0-0 0, Haidyn Sobella 0-2 0-0 0, Kylie Ihrig 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-38 8-12 44.

SOUTH MEDFORD (24-4)

Donovyn Hunter 9-21 4-6 24, Sierra Logue 3-9 1-2 7, Sara Schmerbach 2-3 1-1 5, Kimberly Ceron 1-2 0-0 2, Kendall Fealey 1-3 0-0 2, Lottie Dillard 0-5 2-3 2, Janaya Bullock 0-0 0-0 0, Tatum Schmerbach 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 16-45 8-12 42.

Barlow1511117— 44

South Medford5101611— 42

3-point goals—Barlow 8-24 (Annie Koenig 4-8, Kennedie Shuler 3-8, Melanie Hiu 1-3, Haidyn Sobella 0-2, Olivia Payne 0-2, Lindsay Barden 0-1), South Medford 2-10 (Donovyn Hunter 2-6, Sara Schmerbach 0-1, Lottie Dillard 0-2, Tatum Schmerbach 0-1). Fouled out—Barlow-None, South Medford-Sierra Logue. Rebounds—Barlow 25 (Kennedie Shuler 9), South Medford 25 (Donovyn Hunter 11). Assists—Barlow 10 (Kennedie Shuler 4), South Medford 7 (Sierra Logue 2). Total fouls—Barlow 14, South Medford 16.

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 Tribune South Medford's Sara Schmerbach, seen here in a file photo from earlier this season, gave the Panthers a big spark off the bench in Friday’s Class 6A semifinal against Barlow.