Seventh heaven for South

South Medford has won its fair share of flashy boys basketball games this season, but Thursday night wasn't about flash.

It wasn't about that one memorable highlight kids will be re-enacting the following day in their driveway or at basketball practice.

It wasn't about 3-point daggers or no-look passes.

Thursday night was all about taking care of business, and the fourth-ranked Panthers proved equal to the task as they slowly but surely pulled away from Grants Pass to secure the Southwest Conference championship with a 67-47 victory.

"They were very definitive in that this was not going to be a co-championship," said South Medford coach Dennis Murphy of the Panthers' seventh straight league title. "We were going to take care of our business. We surely had stubbed our toe (last week against Sheldon) and did not want to do that again."

E.J. Singler and Michael Harthun once again led the way for South Medford (21-4, 13-2 SWC) in the regular-season finale. Singler, a 6-foot-6 junior, had 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Harthun chimed in with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists on senior night.

"It feels good to go out on top," said Harthun. "We worked hard for this this season. It was a whole team effort and a credit to the fans, but the one (title) we're looking for is the state championship, so we've still got work to do."

That work begins March 8 when the Panthers play host to a Class 6A second-round game in the state playoffs. South Medford will face the winner of a first-round matchup between the PIL's No. 2 seed (Wilson or Grant) and Mt. Hood No. 4 seed David Douglas.

The winner of next Saturday's game at South advances to the 6A state tournament at McArthur Court in Eugene.

The Panthers used a 7-1 surge that closed the second quarter to gain a little separation from the Cavemen (9-16, 5-10) on Thursday, then stretched a 33-26 halftime lead with a 14-6 edge in the third quarter.

South gained the upper hand primarily behind second- and third-chance efforts at the basket. The Panthers wound up taking 19 more shots for the game (63 to 44) and converted 10 more (28 to 18) on a night when there really wasn't much flow to the proceedings.

"We just got outhustled on the offensive glass," said GP coach Scott Gottula. "They just kicked our butt there. They just wanted the offensive board more than we wanted the defensive board."

That extra hustle proved instrumental considering the Panthers were never really able to get out and run to their liking, thanks to a bevy of whistles and physical play.

"There wasn't a lot of flow with quite a few fouls being called," said Harthun. "It was kind of hard to get into a rhythm, but we played through that. At this point in the season you've got to do that because you never know how playoff games are going to go. Hopefully this will help us because playoff games are a lot like that, too."

Zach Haveman provided solid support for Singler and Harthun with 11 points and joined Mitch Singler and Brandon Kezer in pulling down four boards. Cody Walport and Josh Aguirre also gave the Panthers a nice lift off the bench.

"The kids off the bench played well and gave us sparks from time to time, and we needed that tonight," said Murphy.

Jaron West (11 points), Dee Wiersma (10) and Forrest Carpenter (10) each reached double figures in scoring for the Cavemen, while Buddy Saxon had nine points and eight rebounds.

Grants Pass needed a win over South Medford or a South Eugene loss to North Medford to earn the fourth and final playoff berth out of the SWC. The Cavemen were eliminated later Thursday when the Axemen edged the SWC runner-up Black Tornado, 83-82.

"I've always believed that if you have sentences that have 'if' in them in the last game of the year, you're probably not in the greatest situation," said Gottula.

GRANTS PASS (47) — West 11, Carpenter 10, Wiersma 10, Saxon 9, Fields 5, Parker 2, Morgan 0, Davidson 0, Nickelson 0, Haggard 0, Romick 0. Totals: 18-44 6-7 47.

SOUTH MEDFORD (67) — E.J. Singler 22, Harthun 17, Haveman 11, M. Singler 6, Boyd 5, Walport 2, Kezer 2, Aguirre 2, Work 0, Phillips 0. Totals: 28-63 8-11 67.

Grants Pass 15 11 6 15 — 47

South Medford 14 19 14 20 — 67

3-point goals — Grants Pass 5-15 (Wiersma 3, West 1, Fields 1), South Medford 3-10 (Boyd 1, Haveman 1, Harthun 1).

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

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