North Medford's Michael Levos, right, rises up for a basket as South Medford's Tevyn Mercer defends during Wednesday's Abby's Holiday Classic game at South Medford. - Photo by Denise Baratta

North surges by South

North Medford took a bite out of a little South Medford history Wednesday afternoon and, in the process, took a step toward a potential historic run of its own in the third-place championship game of the 20th Abby's Holiday Classic.

The Black Tornado had four players score in double figures and used a dominant second half to break a halftime tie and cruise to a 58-45 boys basketball victory on the Panthers' home floor. The win was the first on the road in the cross-town rivalry for North Medford since Feb. 1, 2000, and marked only the second victory over South Medford in the past 23 meetings.

"It's definitely a confidence-builder for us because it seems like it's just a mental funk when you play South," said North senior Matt Maurer, who led his team with 15 points and 10 rebounds. "There's just something about them to where you just don't play your game, and today we did."

Wednesday's game also marked the first of what will be an unprecedented four meetings between the cross-town rivals this season. The teams have met as many as three times since Southwest Conference play started and also once during the old Southern Oregon Conference days when they also squared off in the Holiday Classic.

Neither team had truly hoped to be in the situation of playing four games against the other, but semifinal losses on Tuesday night put those wheels in motion. In fact, Wednesday's championship matchup between West Linn and Churchill, which the Lions won 70-41, marked only the third time in tournament history that a Medford team wasn't in the title game. Out of area teams played for the title in 2005 and '06, although South Medford played in the Les Schwab Invitational and not the local tourney during those seasons.

Each team had hoped to gain the early advantage Wednesday, but the Panthers (5-5) simply had no answer for a Black Tornado team that gained confidence as the game wore on.

Jared Knox helped spearhead North's effort with nine of his 12 points in the first half, and teammates Kyle Waits and Michael Levos picked up the torch in the second half to finish with 11 and 10 points, respectively. The senior duo had only three combined points at halftime.

Knox, a 6-foot-2 junior, was also instrumental in helping slow South Medford standout Josh Havird on the defensive end. Havird scored all 15 of his points in the first half, going 8-for-8 from the foul line to go with three jumpers. The 6-3 junior was joined by Levos on the all-tournament team, along with West Linn's Jeff Bush and Michael Underriner, Churchill's Reid Overman and Cody Gappa of Red Bluff.

"Jared played excellent defense," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "The 15 points that Havird had in the first half were just really tough ones. He made a lot of free throws, too, but the shots he made were tough."

Havird's field goals were among only five baskets made by the Panthers in the first half. South was 5-for-24 from the field in the half but was able to hang with North Medford (6-4) thanks to a 14-for-22 showing at the foul line.

In all, the Panthers connected on only 12 of 44 shots from the field and finished 18-for-30 from the free-throw line. North Medford countered by going 10-for-23 in the first half and 21-for-43 overall from the field.

"We didn't handle North's pressure well," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "They got out and got into us and I think we were bothered by that and weren't patient enough offensively, and they forced us into taking bad shots. That results in making it very difficult to score."

"We have to learn to play with a greater effort to become more efficient offensively," added Murphy, whose team holds a 38-15 edge in the series with North. "It's really just basic fundamentals and we've got to go back to the drawing board and practice."

With the score tied 25-all coming out of the intermission, North Medford turned up its intensity and executed on a much higher level to outscore the Panthers 33-20 over the final 16 minutes. Maurer, Waits and Levos were especially active during that stretch on both ends of the court, while Knox was joined by Michael Bradshaw in denying Havird any good looks at the basket.

"I really thought we just played an excellent second half," Plankenhorn said. "We did all the things that we talked about that we needed to do as a basketball team. We played really sound defense on Havird and made everything challenged, cleaned up the rebounding on the defensive and offensive end and we ran our stuff."

North was especially efficient in closing out the third quarter on a 5-0 run, with Chris Faust converting in the paint and, after a pair of missed free throws, Knox draining a 3-pointer over Havird with about five seconds to go in the quarter. That allowed the Tornado to take a 41-34 lead into the final quarter.

"That was a huge 3 at the end of the third quarter," said Plankenhorn. "That was just an excellently run play by our guys. (South) knew what was coming and we took the counter of it and (Knox) just stroked it right down."

Mike Brassel stepped up for the Panthers in the fourth quarter — scoring 11 of his 16 points — but South never really threatened to overtake the Tornado.

"Mike Brassel played as good of a basketball game as he's played this year," said Murphy. "He played smarter, he took care of the ball better and he made some shots. What we would like to do is build on that and hopefully Mike can continue to do that for us and get better."

Travis Pratt added nine points and seven rebounds for the Panthers, who were doubled up on the backboards by the taller and more aggressive Tornado. Waits and Levos each had seven rebounds, and reserves Faust and J.J. Browne-Moore combined for seven more.

North senior Sean Phillips added five assists in a runaway effort that allowed the Tornado to exit South Medford High with a much different feeling than it has experienced this decade.

"Winning feels a lot better," added Plankenhorn. "Anytime you beat a South Medford team, it's definitely a good one."

NORTH MEDFORD (58) — Maurer 15, Knox 12, Waits 11, Levos 10, Faust 6, Browne-Moore 4, Phillips 0, Bradshaw 0, Mautz 0, Osmanski 0. Totals: 21-43 14-24 58.

SOUTH MEDFORD (45) — Brassel 16, Havird 15, Pratt 9, Mercer 2, Pearson 2, Retzlaff 1, Seutter 0, Shanklin-Rice 0, Wallan 0, Voss 0. Totals: 12-44 18-30 45.

North Medford 13 12 16 17 — 58

South Medford 10 15 9 11 — 45

3-point goals — North Medford 2-8 (Knox 2), South Medford 3-12 (Havird 1, Pratt 1, Brassel 1). Technical fouls — Mercer, North Medford bench, Havird.

WEST LINN 70, CHURCHILL 41 — At South Medford, West Linn's Jeff Bush scored 18 points and the Lions (8-2) opened a 36-20 halftime lead in the tournament championship game.

Reid Overman paced Churchill (6-3) with 13 points.

REX PUTNAM 42, RED BLUFF, CALIF. 39 — At South Medford, Putnam of Milwaukie limited Red Bluff to two points in the fourth quarter, raising its record to 4-6 and giving it fourth place.

Brandon Sherier scored nine for the Kingsmen.

Red Bluff got nine points each from Grant Blaser and Trevor Miller and placed sixth.

WEST SALEM 59, REDMOND 39 — At South Medford, Tae Land-Adams scored 27 points as West Salem (2-7) placed seventh.

The Titans outscored Redmond 19-7 in the fourth quarter.

Jack Dollarhide and Tanner Manselle each scored 10 for eighth-place Redmond (3-8).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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