South Medford makes history with first girls title

PORTLAND — With several hundred South Medford fans in attendance for Saturday’s Class 6A girls basketball state championship, the atmosphere was perfect.

The No. 1-ranked Panthers’ ability to storm out of the gates against sixth-ranked Westview on a 9-2 run and limit Wildcats star Jaime Nared to no field goals in her first seven attempts was also perfect.

Most importantly, when all was said and done at the Rose Garden, the Panthers were perfect.

South Medford capped the best high school season in state history at the largest classification and claimed the first-ever girls championship for the Rogue Valley — at any level — with a dominant 61-46 victory over Westview in which the Panthers led from start to finish.

“I don’t think you can sum it up in words, it’s a feeling that I can’t describe,” South Medford senior Tess Picknell said of earning the state title. “It’s an amazing, wonderful, fantastic feeling. It’s a perfect way to end a season, a perfect way to end a high school career. We just made history.”

The Panthers became only the third team in Oregon history to wrap up a season with a 30-0 record and is the only one to do it beyond the Class 3A level. Burns (3A champion in 2006) and Pine Eagle (1A champion in 2005) also went 30-0.

Junior point guard Yaremi Mejia led the way with 16 points, but the Panthers received another balanced effort as three players scored in double figures, five had at least four rebounds and six notched at least one assist.

Picknell, a 6-foot-5 senior signed to play at Stanford, totaled 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, while sophomore Ashley Bolston had 11 points, five assists, five rebounds and two blocks. Junior guard Kylie Towry added seven points, three assists and two steals, and freshman Andee Ritter contributed seven points, four rebounds and four steals.

Picknell and Towry were named to the all-tournament first team, and Ritter was a second-team selection.

“They came with it this year,” South Medford head coach Tom Cole said of the turnaround from his team going 0-2 at last year’s state tourney. “It’s a different group of kids and you don’t get one place without being in the other. I think it was part of the journey we had to go through, to have that recognition that to be at this level, this is what it’s going to take.”

Although it was only the fifth appearance by the Panthers at the final tournament site, South Medford played with a flair that not only earned them the program’s first-ever state trophy, it also won over a lot of fans — and you can count Westview head coach Lindsay Strothers among them.

“They’re good, they’re good,” said Strothers, who led St. Mary’s Academy to large-school titles in 1985 and ’86. “I’ve seen some good teams and they’re good.”

With a flurry of defensive activity, solid rebounding and fastbreaking precision, the Panthers were able to open an 18-4, first-quarter lead on the Wildcats, who they had already beaten 87-55 and 85-70 earlier this season. South Medford had an impressive six assists on its first seven field goals.

“We knew what was coming because we played them before so we just tried to stay together as a team and work on our defense,” said Bolston.

Bolston, who has grown to 6-foot tall during the season, was chief among that defensive effort, drawing the duty to try to slow fellow sophomore Nared, who stands 6-1 and is one of the nation’s top Class of 2014 recruits.

“She’s a good offensive player,” said Bolston. “I just had to try to keep the ball out of her hands. She can really work off the dribble so you’ve got to be quick on her.”

Bolston did her best to stay in front of Nared, then often received help from Picknell, Luisa Tago or Andee Ritter as they rotated over to try and slow Westview’s top player.

“Ashley really limited her in the first half, as well as in the second half,” said Cole. “(Nared) finally got to a place to where she was stepping back and pulling 3s out of desperation because she wasn’t able to get the kind of drives that she’s typically been successful with.”

Nared finished 2-for-17 from the field for eight points but was able to pull down 14 rebounds. Toni Doroha had 12 points and Sarah Curl added 10 points and 12 rebounds to pace Westview, which was limited to 17-for-65 shooting (26 percent) by the Panthers’ swarming defense.

If there ever were nerves considering the magnitude of the game, the Panthers certainly didn’t show it at the outset of Saturday’s championship. Six different players scored to help South Medford take a 20-6 lead minutes into the second quarter.

“It’s interesting, in the three games that we played up here, this was by far the best start,” said Cole. “We started off with an incredible rhythm, shots were falling and we were transitioning well.”

A few foul calls here and there seemed to disrupt that rhythm, however, and Westview (20-8) crashed the boards hard to gain second-chance opportunities. The Wildcats used a 10-2 run to close out the second quarter, highlighted by a late 3 from Curl after Picknell picked up her third foul, and cut their deficit to only 30-25 heading into the break.

After the intermission, however, the Panthers returned with the smaller lineup they used while Picknell was out for a few weeks with an injured ankle and immediately pushed their lead up to eight points and kept such a distance for the rest of the contest.

“The challenge was to get out on their shooters and the challenge was to keep Tess off the boards and we came out struggling,” said Strothers. “We got our second wind in the second quarter and made a run at it and then I think we got a little tired and made some defensive errors and broke down. And once you get down to a good team at that point of the game, it’s kind of hard to battle back.”

That was most certainly true on a night when each Panther echoed the sentiment that they were not going to be denied. With dominant wins already over the other top five 6A schools in the state and 5A champion Springfield, South Medford was not about to lose out on its chance at history.

“We told them all along at the beginning of this run that we put ourselves in a place to make history, not only for our community but the state of Oregon since there’s never been a team that’s been 30-0 at the highest level of basketball,” said Cole. “That’s a pretty hefty thing to try to accomplish and, despite some rough patches here and there, including in tonight’s game, these kids’ character prevailed.”

“They’re just tough and they play with a grit and a determination,” added the fifth-year coach. “Even when there are some things that don’t go well for them, they find ways to pick each other up and tonight was a great example of it. They were who we thought they could be, and they’re champions now.”

WESTVIEW (46) — Doroha 3-10 4-5 12, Curl 4-13 1-2 10, Nared 2-17 4-4 8, Parry 4-13 0-0 8, Lindley 3-7 0-2 6, Bentz 1-4 0-0 2, Mahuna 0-0 0-0 0, Vandentop 0-1 0-0 0, Uhl 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-65 9-13 46.

SOUTH MEDFORD (61) — Mejia 5-11 4-4 16, Bolston 3-5 5-6 11, Picknell 5-6 0-5 10, Ritter 1-6 4-6 7, Towry 2-8 3-3 7, Tago 2-6 0-1 4, Sprang 0-0 4-4 4, Morris 1-2 0-0 2, Sleezer 0-0 0-0 0, Vargas 0-0 0-2 0. Totals: 19-44 20-31 61.

Westview 6 19 11 10 — 46
South Medford 18 12 14 17 — 61

3-point goals — Westview 3-15 (Doroha 2-4, Curl 1-3, Parry 0-4, Nared 0-4), South Medford 3-10 (Mejia 2-2, Ritter 1-3, Towry 0-3, Bolston 0-2). Fouled out — Curl. Rebounds — Westview 42 (Nared 14), South Medford 40 (Picknell 13). Assists — Westview 7 (Parry 3), South Medford 13 (Bolston 5). Total fouls — Westview 21, South Medford 12.

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