North hosts another strong tourney field

Looking to gain momentum before entering conference play, eight boys basketball teams from around the Northwest convene in Medford today for the 2007 Abby's Holiday Classic at North Medford High School.

This year's field includes McNary, Aloha, Clackamas, West Salem, Franklin and North Medford High Schools as well as Battle Ground (Wash.) and Red Bluff (Calif.) High Schools.

"There are some teams that can play basketball, so you've got to bring it every night," North Medford coach Scott Plankenhorn said. "It's a fun tournament. The teams are excited to come down and appreciate the way Medford treats them."

North Medford, after going 1-2 at the Lakeridge Tournament in Lake Oswego, returns home to take on Franklin, of the Portland Interscholastic League, in the nightcap at 7:45 p.m.

After winning its first game of the season, Franklin dropped its next five, including games to Aloha and Clackamas. Nate Keilholtz leads Franklin in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game through five games. In five losses this season, Franklin has surrendered an average of 70.6 points per game.

North is coming off a 65-59 loss to Tualatin in the Lakeridge Tournament and is led by junior guard Jordan Ellis (12.2 points per game), 6-foot-3 junior wing/post Josh Pecktoll (14 ppg.) and 6-6 senior guard Danny Berger (16.3 ppg).

"He (Berger) is scoring a little more than we expected," Plankenhorn said. "He was starting to come around last year. The guys have all come around. But we still have strides to take. We haven't played our best basketball.

"Hopefully we win it (the tournament) for once. We want to represent the city and take the title home and get ourselves ready for a tough league."

If the Black Tornado advances, it will face the winner of West Salem and Battle Ground. West Salem (2-4), out of the Central Valley Conference, is making its third trip to Medford in four years. The Titans enter the tournament hoping to get a few of their top players back into basketball shape after competing on West Salem's football squad, which reached the semifinals.

Senior 6-3 wing/post and three-sport athlete Jordan Bishop, a track standout and all-league performer in football and basketball, has only played three games this season, as has 6-5 senior post Chase Sexton, a three-year starter.

"We're so far behind because of football," West Salem coach Scott Cross said. "We need to get these kids into basketball shape. We're at least 15 practices behind other teams. We're looking forward to getting away and having a little time together as a team and get ready for our conference."

Battle Ground (4-4), making its first appearance in the tournament, is led by Erik Conrath. The 6-8 senior post is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds and is backed up by senior guard Kyle Kromminga, who averages 15 points per game. Battle Ground lost nine seniors from last year's squad.

"We are going through the growing pains of how fast varsity basketball is," second-year coach Andy Schoonover said.

In the upper-half of the bracket, McNary (5-2) takes on Aloha (3-6) and Red Bluff (5-5) takes on Clackamas (5-1) in the first round. McNary, out of Keizer, has had a different leading scorer in six of its seven games and is led by Tristan Zielinski's 8.1 points per game. Alex Robinson is close behind at 7.8 points per game and Jeff Walker averages 7.7.

Aloha's top threat is 6-9 senior post Michael Boswell. He is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds this season and has drawn interest from multiple schools at the next level, including Weber State.

"He's very skilled and can play inside and outside and is pretty good face up," Aloha coach Tom Bendt said.

Senior 6-3 wing AJ Stephenson is a solid complement to Boswell, averaging 14 points, six rebounds and four assists so far this season. Aloha's big wins this season came against Franklin in the season opener and at South Salem.

Red Bluff brings a balanced attack into the tournament with all five starters a threat to score. The leading scorer is senior 6-3 forward Kevin Bosworth at 12 points per game, though four other starters average nearly the same on a team that is perimeter-oriented.

"We're fairly small and, unfortunately, we kind of have to live and die by the three," Red Bluff coach Stan Twitchell said. "We're a young group and a small group. We'll have our hands full.

"I want us to just continue to keep going in the right direction, play well, and compete with quality opponents. This is great prep for our league."

Clackamas, the highest rated team according to the state coaches' poll, has only one loss this season — to Tigard. The Cavaliers enter the tournament 60-54 winners over Franklin and also defeated West Salem by 11 to open the season. Clackamas is led by Craig Seiler, who has recently caught fire by averaging 15.3 points per game in the Cavaliers' last three games.

The three-day tournament runs today through Friday because of a scheduling conflict with the Rogue Valley Championships wrestling tournament, also held at North Medford.

Reach sports reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469 or e-mail

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