Cleveland offered up a challenge seemingly at every turn during Wednesday’s opening round of the Class 6A boys basketball state playoffs at North Medford High.
In every instance, the Black Tornado had an answer.
As it has all season, it helped that ninth-seeded North Medford had senior Kaison Faust in its back pocket for just such an occasion, but some of the biggest plays were provided by several of his teammates to help the Black Tornado pull away for a 70-49 triumph.
“Your superstar has to show up in these kind of games plus a couple others,” said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn, “and we certainly got that tonight.”
Faust, the Southwest Conference player of the year, contributed a game-high 27 points to go with eight rebounds, three steals and two assists to propel the Black Tornado (22-3) into a second-round date Saturday at Jesuit with a bid to the state tournament on the line.
Quinton Rumrey had 12 points and fellow senior Oscar Banuelos added nine points, while junior Jaray Thomas came off the bench for eight points.
“Just knowing that it could possibly be my last home game I had to show out just one more time on this court,” said the 6-foot-2 wing.”I love playing on this court and playing in front of our fans so knowing that I was able to close out my last game here as a Black Tornado with a win feels pretty good.”
The eighth-seeded Crusaders (20-5) romped past South Eugene, 83-54, in other action Wednesday.
“It’s the playoffs, you’re not going to play a bad team,” added Faust in looking ahead to the second round. “But I think we’re ready for it. These next two days are the most crucial practices that we’re ever going to have but knowing that we’re just one win away from going to the Chiles Center, I think that’s going to be the most motivating thing for all of us.”
The Black Tornado is 0-4 in road playoff games under Plankenhorn, and improved to 12-2 at home with Wednesday’s triumph.
“The chore will be there,” added the 12th-year Tornado coach. “We have to find a way to break through for a road victory because we don’t have any playoff-wise.”
After playing in a Portland Interscholastic League that boasts the top two Class 6A teams in Jefferson and Grant — and saw Lincoln and Roosevelt also advance to Round 2 — Cleveland (12-13) definitely showed no fear in facing North Medford on Wednesday. The visiting Warriors traded baskets with the Black Tornado for the better part of the first quarter before a scoreless drought over the final 2½ minutes allowed North Medford to build a 23-17 cushion.
“It was intense,” said North Medford senior Jake O’Connor of Wednesday’s battle. “They brought out a lot of energy so we had to come out with a bang, too.”
While Faust was a key contributor early, it was North Medford’s prowess from 3-point range that helped spread its advantage. With shots beyond the arc from Banuelos, Rumrey and Garrett Parker, the Black Tornado finished 3-for-4 from deep in the first quarter to help open some lanes for Faust, who didn’t need much space to begin with.
“He did a good job of finding his spots and doing what he did all season from what I’d seen,” said Cleveland head coach Dondrale Campbell of Faust. “We just dropped the ball a few times and maybe I made some bad decisions as a coach, but we did what we could and we gave it our all and that’s all I can be thankful for from my guys.”
Cleveland trimmed its deficit to 32-28 at the start of the third quarter but an ensuing 9-0 run that included baskets by Banuelos and Faust and three free throws by Rumrey after being fouled on a 3-point attempt helped right the ship for North.
“That was a huge stretch,” said Plankenhorn. “I didn’t think we were playing terrible, I just thought their (1-3-1) zone had mixed up the game and we weren’t finding what we wanted. Right there in that stretch we kind of found something that worked and then we got a little more aggressive after one basket that led to multiple baskets.”
Faust, who scored 18 points in the second half, put a scare into the North crowd in the fourth quarter after he stole the ball and went in for a dunk but didn’t come up again after falling to the ground. The play put the Black Tornado up 55-44 with 3:27 to play, and after a few minutes, he eventually limped off to the bench.
“It was just a cramp,” said Faust. “I felt it going up and I thought it was going to calm down but once I landed it just took me down. It was painful, I had never had a calf cramp like that before. I tried to get up and it wasn’t doing it for me.”
Cleveland’s Joseph Rodrick quickly scored after the delay to give his team hope of a potential comeback, especially with Faust’s status in question, but then O’Connor came up with a pivotal 3-pointer in his only shot attempt of the game.
“Eli (Spence) got it on the post and they just left me wide open,” said O’Connor, who had 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals. “They were probably looking at film and seeing that I don’t shoot that much so I had to knock down a shot in an important time in the game. Kaison played an excellent game and I just needed to knock down one shot to help make the difference in the game.”
That 3-pointer reignited the home crowd and the Warriors managed only one basket and one free throw thereafter to fall short.
“We were just a little lackadaisical on defense and we gave up too many offensive rebounds,” said Campbell. “We allowed them to get some open shots that we worked on not giving up, and they just played a better game. Good luck to them, they did a great job and they did what they were supposed to do.”
Senior Sethon Moore had 13 points, seven rebounds and two steals to pace Cleveland, with Mohamed Salah adding 12 points and Rodrick finishing with eight as the Warriors were only 22-for-64 from the field and 0-for-14 from 3-point range.
“I thought our defense after the first quarter was pretty good and that helped carry us,” said Plankenhorn. “We went through that second quarter where we went 10 possessions with one basket and they only caught up a few points. That’s the kind of basketball you have to play in the playoffs to win.”
CLEVELAND (49): Salah 12, Hillole 2, Osman 0, Carr 4, Anderson 6, Moore 13, Evens 4, Rodrick 8, Bolger 0, Gillespie 0. Totals: 22-64 5-8 49.
NORTH MEDFORD (70): Wells 4, Sandoval 0, Banuelos 9, Rumrey 12, Thomas 8, O’Connor 3, Parker 3, Faust 27, Spence 4, Angulo 0, Carpenter 0, Orozco-Bernal 0. Totals: 22-46 21-27 70.
3-point goals — Cleveland 0-14, North Medford 5-16 (Rumrey 2, Banuelos 1, O’Connor 1, Parker 1). Fouled out — Anderson, Salah.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry