PORTLAND — Down but not out, North Medford's girls basketball team fought to the bitter end.
Trailing by 15 points early in the third quarter to Clackamas in the consolation bracket of the Class 6A state tournament, the Black Tornado twice cut the deficit to two late in the fourth before falling 43-37 Thursday morning at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center.
The No. 5 seed Tornado (18-9), co-champion of the Southwest Conference, faced a difficult matchup against the ninth-seeded Cavaliers (23-4), who were second in the Mt. Hood Conference behind Oregon City and yet were still the highest-ranked team to come out of the conference.
Kalani Hayes, a junior wing, contributed a solid all-around effort with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Clackamas, which advances to play No. 2 seed Tigard in the fourth-place game on Saturday morning.
Clackamas deployed an effective defensive game plan that helped limit North’s two leading scorers, post Megan Fossen and guard Rylee Karrick, to a combined nine points.
While denying Karrick a chance to touch the ball on the perimeter by face-guarding her, the Cavaliers slowed the 5-foot-9 Fossen inside with the presence of 6-2 senior center Ciara James.
“They had scouted us well and tried to do their best to take away our two leading scorers and obviously they did that pretty well, but other girls stepped up and we still had a chance at the end,” North coach Tim Karrick said.
“Megan does a lot of work inside and she’s not real tall,” he added. “That length gives her a little bit of trouble and it did again tonight.”
Fossen eventually fouled out with about two and a half minutes remaining while attempting a steal after the Tornado had stormed back within one possession of possibly taking the lead.
Despite none of its players scoring more than seven points, North managed to get back into the game in the second half by picking up its defensive intensity, forcing 10 of 17 turnovers after halftime.
“That kind of got us back into the game and then we hit some big shots,” Tim Karrick said.
“For us to fight back against a really, really good team, to give ourselves a chance to win, was impressive,” he added. “I was just impressed with our girls’ composure and effort. It was just a great effort. It’s just too bad couldn’t get over the hump.”
Sophomore point guard Jane Ersepke was the Tornado’s statistical leader with seven points and three assists.
The grittiness and toughness displayed by the players to rally was like a microcosm of the Tornado’s season, Tim Karrick said, and especially for North’s four seniors — Fossen, Rylee Karrick, Julia Graff and Adriane McLemore — the season represented a huge accomplishment.
“Four years ago we weren’t very good and, for this group in particular to achieve this, it’s very special,” North’s coach said. “They’ve definitley paid their dues and this year was a culmination of all that hard work and effort. It’s a pretty special group, for sure.”
CLACKAMAS (43): Bri Phiakahmngon 3-5 4-5 12; Kalani Hayes 3-5 2-3 10; Ciara James 4-6 2-2 10; Elly Bankofier 1-5 4-6 7; Payton Mongelli 1-2 2-2 4; Savannah Duarte 0-0 0-0 0; Bella Garcia 0-0 0-0 0; Olivia Morris 0-0 0-0 0; Megan Huynh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-23 14-18 43.
NORTH MEDFORD (37): Jane Ersepke 3-13 0-0 7; Megan Fossen 3-9 1-2 7; Talia Baker 2-3 2-2 6; Adriane McLemore 3-7 0-0 6; Julia Graff 2-2 1-1 5; Ana Baker 1-4 2-2 4; Rylee Karrick 0-1 2-2 2; Abby Christiansen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-39 8-9 37.
3-point goals — Clackamas 5-10 (Bri Phiakahmngon 2-2; Kalani Hayes 2-3; Elly Bankofier 1-4; Payton Mongelli 0-1), North Medford 1-7 (Jane Ersepke 1-5; Adriane McLemore 0-1; Rylee Karrick 0-1). Fouled out — North Medford - Megan Fossen. Rebounds — Clackamas 22 (Kalani Hayes 7), North Medford 14 (Adriane McLemore 4). Assists — Clackamas 7 (Kalani Hayes 4), North Medford 6 (Jane Ersepke 3). Total fouls — Clackamas 13, North Medford 14. Technical fouls — None.