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‘We didn’t come here to lose.’ South Medford overcomes adversity, finishes 2-1 on challenging 3-game trip to Portland to face some of 6A’s top girls teams

“To come up here and do pretty well, I think, shows the state that we’re ready.”
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By Dan Brood | Photos by Dan Brood

Adversity.

The South Medford girls basketball team was staring it squarely in the face.

Playing their third game in three days, all on the road, and all against top-notch opponents, the Panthers found themselves facing an eight-point halftime deficit. To make things even more challenging, their best player was sitting on the sideline in street clothes.

Yes, adversity was standing tall and strong.

But the South Medford squad knew just how to battle adversity — with determination.

And the Panthers, with their determination, overcame adversity, and a talented Mountainside club, as they rallied back strong in the second half to get a 45-41 win over the Mavericks in a hard-fought nonleague game played at Mountainside High School.

“It was a pretty big win, especially coming off of last night’s win at Benson,” said South Medford senior forward Sierra Logue, who scored all of her team-high 13 points in the second half. “This was a pretty big game, because now we went 2 for 3 for the weekend. That’s pretty big. We’ve had some tough battles, and lost out on a lot of games due to COVID, so this was definitely a big weekend for us. And to come up here and do pretty well, I think, shows the state that we’re ready.”

“It was pretty big,” said senior guard Lottie Dillard, who scored 10 points in the victory. “We lost to Jesuit, so we knew we had to come back and get a win. It was something we really needed, so I was glad we were able to pull through.”

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“This was a huge win. Going 2-1 is much different than 1-2, and it felt like we very easily could go 1-2,” South Medford coach Tom Cole said. “In the locker room at halftime, being down eight points just didn’t sit well. We didn’t have our best player, but we had to remind them that this has been a team sport all year. And I felt like they really responded.”

The Panthers (12-3), who missed some games earlier in the season, including contests in the Pacific Office Automation Holiday Classic, looked to make up for those contests with their three-games-in-three-days trip to the Portland area. On Thursday, South Medford fell 47-46 at Jesuit, with the Crusaders getting a buzzer-beating game-winning basket. The Panthers bounced back Friday to get a 61-49 win at Benson before capping the road trip with the victory at Mountainside.

“I’m super glad we did this,” Dillard said. “It definitely helps us.”

“Like I told these kids, at the end of the year, if you want to be meaningful, you have to win three in a row on the road,” Cole said. “We need to be able to string together three straight wins. We didn’t get that first one, and we had a lot of regrets about that. The second game was an emotional one. We played really, really well. Then today, not having Donovyn (Hunter), was very awkward.”

Hunter, who helped the Panthers go 13-0 in the revised, shortened 2021 season, had already scored 19 points in Friday’s game at Benson when, in the final minutes of the contest, she suffered an injury to her right knee — the same knee where she sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament before her freshman year, keeping her out of her entire freshman season. As of Saturday, the extent of the injury wasn’t certain.

“It’s unknown. She had a pretty gnarly knee twist,” Cole said. “In the game last night, she had a difficult fall. It’s not feeling good right now. We’re hoping and praying for the best for that young woman. She just worked so incredibly hard to get back to the place she is now. All of our hopes are about her getting better. She’s just a great young woman.”

Meanwhile, Mountainside, which has played a brutal schedule this season, having already faced state title contenders Barlow, Clackamas, Beaverton and Jesuit, moved to 10-7 on the season with the setback.

“It went OK. I think we had some turnovers that we shouldn’t have had, but we were getting some great shots, but they just weren’t falling. There were things that just weren’t going our way, but that’s OK,” said Mountainside senior guard Halle Hageman, who scored a team-high 13 points. “There’s a lot to learn. We’ve had a really hard schedule. Even if we’re losing, it’s still great, because we’re learning something from it. And it helps when we play great teams like (South Medford) or Beaverton or Jesuit, because when we play other great teams, we’ll be prepared.”

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The Mavericks definitely seemed to be prepared early in Saturday’s game.

With senior post Lindsey Wilson sinking five free throws, and with Hageman adding four points, Mountainside held a 9-7 lead at the end of the opening period.

South Medford came back strong in the second quarter. The Panthers went on a 5-0 run, which included a free throw by Dillard, two foul shots by junior Kendall Fealey and a follow-up basket by junior Tatum Schmerbach, to take a 14-11 lead with 4 minutes and 11 seconds before halftime.

But that just seemed to fire up the home team.

Mountainside, getting 3-point baskets from junior Polly Raugust, senior Carly Stone and Hageman in the final 3:41 of the period, rolled to a 26-18 halftime lead.

“We thought that Donovyn was going to be playing, and then we found out that she wasn’t, and we weren’t ready for that,” Dillard said. “But we were able to bounce back.”

The Panthers certainly did — right from the start of the second half.

Logue, who was held scoreless in the first half, scored South Medford’s first five points of the third quarter. Freshman guard Sara Schmerbach added a layup, helping the Panthers trim the lead to 27-25 with 2:56 left in the period.

Stone sank another 3-pointer, coming off an assist from Hageman, to fight off the South Medford rally momentarily. But the Panthers kept battling, finishing the period with baskets by Logue and Dillard, cutting the Mountainside lead to 30-29 going to the fourth quarter.

South Medford kept the intensity up in the final period. Logue scored on a short-range jumper to open the quarter, giving the Panthers a 31-30 advantage — their first lead since the second quarter — with 7:35 left.

Mountainside quickly regained the lead, at 33-31, on Stone’s third 3-pointer of the game, but South Medford wouldn’t be denied.

The Panthers responded with an 8-2 run, which included baskets by Fealey, Logue, Sara Schmerbach and Tatum Schmerbach, to take a 39-35 lead with 3:29 to play.

But Mountainside also showed a persistent side. Hageman scored on a couple of baseline drives, cutting the South Medford lead to 43-41 with 46 seconds remaining. The Mavericks got possession with the chance to tie the score, or take the lead, with 30 seconds to go. But a shot with 12 seconds remaining was off the mark, and Logue grabbed the rebound. Dillard scored on a layup with 3 seconds remaining, capping the 45-41 Panthers victory.

“Our first half, we were missing our starting point guard, Donovyn Hunter, and she’s a great player for our team. So, already going into it we were a little bit nervous, on edge,” Logue said. “And I kind of had an ankle injury yesterday, so I was trying to get myself pumped. In the first half, we were playing kind of frantic, and the nerves were showing. So, going into the second half, we basically were like, ‘OK, it’s time to turn it on. We’re not losing this game. We didn’t come here to lose.’”

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Cole said. “Overall, I thought the kids really responded to the challenge. All in all, they were able to make it work.”

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Logue scored all 13 of her points, and had five of her game-high nine rebounds, in the second half.

“I came out with kind of low energy and high nerves,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. Once it came to halftime, and we were down, I just knew we needed to step it up, and I, in particular, needed to.”

Dillard and Tatum Schmerbach each scored 10 points for the Panthers. Fealey and Sara Schmerbach each scored four. Sophomore Kimberly Ceron had seven rebounds and three blocked shots to go with two points. Sophomore Janaya Bullock also scored two.

South Medford made 18 of 48 shots from the field, with one 3-pointer, and 8 of 12 free throw attempts. The Panthers outrebounded Mountainside 36-19.

More important, they are hoping the win, and the 2-1 trip, helps propel them toward their big goals for the season — especially if, or when, Hunter returns to action.

“Yeah, it was important. I think this win was a statement game, to show everyone who we are,” Logue said. “We’re definitely looking to get a state championship. That’s the goal.”

“This shows that people can step up when they need to, and everyone is confident when they need to be,” Dillard said. “Keep your eyes out for us.”

Hageman turned in a strong all-around performance for Mountainside. In addition to her team-high 13 points, she also had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. But she seemed to take more pleasure in watching her teammates excel.

“I just get really excited for my teammates,” she said. “There were a few times where Carly would hit a great shot, or Lindsey would score, and my teammate, (senior) Shaylee (Gonzalez), had some great steals, and I just get really excited for them.”

Wilson added 10 points for the Mavericks, while also having four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Stone scored nine points, coming on three 3-pointers. Raugust scored five points. Gonzalez had four points to go with four steals.

Mountainside made 13 of 48 shots from the field, with five 3-pointers, and 10 of 14 free throw attempts.

The Mavericks, like South Medford, are looking for big things for the remainder of the season.

“Our goal is to get to (the) Chiles (Center, proposed site of the Class 6A state tournament),” Hageman said. “We want a home game in the playoffs. Playing these great teams will help us get better.”

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