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Panthers fall on wrong side of history

History will probably not be kind to South Medford High School, there’s really no way around that now until another school produces greater misfortune.

The Panthers have been blessed with state champions or runners-up in about half of the individual or team sports offered by the Oregon School Activities Association, but with the good can also come the bad.

When South Medford’s No. 3-seeded football team suffered a shocking last-minute loss to 30th-seeded Newberg in last Friday’s opening round of the Class 6A state playoffs, it also set off a flurry of questions on whether that was the biggest upset since power rankings began being used at the 6A level.

The simple answer is no, although Panther fans likely won’t want to be reminded of what stands as the biggest upset in the short time since rankings were strictly used for the playoffs. In the 2014 girls soccer season, South Medford’s No. 2-seeded squad lost 1-0 to 31st-seeded Forest Grove in the 6A first round.

This also for a school that became the first in any sport to lose at the 6A level to a team ranked last in the power rankings, which South Medford did in 2013 when its 10th-seeded baseball team dropped a 3-2 play-in contest to David Douglas. The Scots entered that game last among the state’s 42 6A programs in the power rankings having won only three of its 25 games.

In all fairness, South Medford does boast its own underdog success story thanks to the efforts of its 2014 softball team. The 30th-seeded Panthers accomplished exactly what Newberg’s football team did last week when they upset No. 3 seed Tualatin 5-1 in 11 innings en route to a stunning playoff run that went all the way to the state semifinals.

Still, in the history of playoff shockers, most of them have been confined to sports where a handful of key players, solid strategy and a little good fortune are all you really need to advance. Baseball, softball and boys and girls soccer have been considerably more apt to feature upsets than the likes of football.

And that is why so many people were left scratching their head when the news of Newberg’s upset broke last Friday night.

To the credit of those on the South Medford sideline, however, they couldn’t have handled the situation with more class than they showed after the defeat cut short such a promising season.

“You have to tip your hat to them,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler. “When we had some opportunities offensively, I’ve got to tell you they played very resilient on defense. They didn’t let us make a lot of big plays and didn’t let us get in the flow in the running game and they played very physical.”

“We battled,” added Singler, “Life has a lot of obstacles and not everything comes up snake eyes. You have to keep battling through adversity. This is a tough one for these kids to learn but you can’t take anything for granted. You have to work for everything you earn in life, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s in your job or whether it’s on the athletic field, you just have to keep battling because that’s the only way to get ahead in life. It’s a hard lesson but it’s the lesson we have to learn and we have to move forward from this.”

The Panthers entered the contest somewhat banged up — notably with SWC defensive player of the year and co-offensive player of the year Jaylin Parnell slowed by a hip flexor — and essentially lost the services of playmaking junior Kaleb Franklin three minutes into the second half with a leg injury until he returned for one final play on South’s final drive, drawing a pass interference penalty on a deep throw by quarterback Robbie Patterson.

Still, there was no talk of injuries after the game and really no lack of effort throughout the contest, which was decided when Anthony Adams hauled in a fourth-and-20 pass and raced 90 yards for the go-ahead score with 39 seconds left in the 26-23 upset.

The talk in the locker room revolved more around an inability to don the pads for another week for a team that had bonded together to gain the school’s second Southwest Conference title in 10 years.

“There’s a lot of things we can learn from this game,” Patterson said in an emotional locker room setting. “It’s definitely going to motivate us in the offseason but I just wish I could’ve gone out there and won it for the seniors that aren’t going to get another offseason and another opportunity to go back out there.”

AMONG OTHER RECENT UPSETS, Hillsboro’s 29th-seeded baseball team beat No. 4 seed West Salem 5-1 in the first round of the 2014 6A playoffs and advanced as far as the semifinal round.

It also wasn’t a straight Nos. 1-32 seeding system in 2012 6A boys soccer — the setup involved four No. 1 seeds facing four No. 8 seeds bracketed by overall power ranking — but the top two teams in the rankings that year lost in the opening round. Top-ranked Grants lost 1-0 to Aloha, which was ranked 41st, and second-ranked North Medford lost 3-1 to Beaverton, which was ranked 35th.

In 2012 6A baseball, one of the No. 1 seeds (Lake Oswego) lost 1-0 to one of the No. 8 seeds (Century) but the OSAA site was not operating Monday night to determine overall power ranking of each. The same went for 2012 6A softball, where No. 1 seed Redmond lost 5-4 to McMinnville.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry