South prevails in ugly fashion

A seventh straight victory — the sixth by double figures — in the series against Grants Pass was the outcome for South Medford Friday night in a boys Southwest Conference basketball game.

The scoreboard read 76-63 when the horn sounded at the South Medford gym, but nothing about those final digits were indicative of the difficulty the second-ranked Panthers had putting the Cavemen away.

South Medford shot just 26 of 61 from the field (43 percent) and never led by more than 14 points against a team the Panthers had beaten by an average of 20 points the previous seven meetings.

"It was a big, big struggle for us tonight," said Panther coach Dennis Murphy. "We never seemed to be able to kick it into that fourth gear. We never got going, and I think a lot of that is we were out-competed by Grants Pass tonight."

Junior 6-foot-6 post E.J. Singler battled through foul trouble to post a double-double with 22 points — 18 coming in the second half — and 11 rebounds.

Michael Harthun, who missed the victory over Roseburg last Friday with a bad back, scored nine points and dished out 11 assists. The senior point guard struggled from the field, however, making just four of his 11 attempts.

"He's not 100 percent," said Murphy of Harthun. "I think we all thought a week off would do him better. Obviously, that's not the case. He's just not there yet."

South Medford (13-2, 5-0 SWC) also learned prior to Friday's contest that 6-4 senior Conner Egan will miss the rest of the season because of recurring symptoms from a severe concussion suffered last season.

Egan took a shot to the head two weeks ago against South Eugene and had not practiced since.

"He took that hit against South Eugene and the headaches came back," said Murphy. "The MRI was clean, but the doctor just felt it was too great a risk to have him out there. And we all agreed."

Minus Egan, the Panthers' depth took a hit with still 10 conference games left to play.

And on Friday, that depth was put to the ultimate test.

South Medford used a 10-0 burst in the first quarter to overcome a 5-0 deficit.

But shortly after taking the lead, Singler picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench.

Singler was whistled for his third foul at the 4:33 mark in the second quarter, and Grants Pass took advantage.

The Cavemen trimmed South's 29-19 advantage to 29-24 late in the second quarter, and had the ball with one final shot before the half.

But a GP turnover resulted in a Griffin Boyd 3-pointer as the halftime horn sounded, and the Panthers took a 32-24 lead into intermission.

With Singler in foul trouble and Harthun laboring through a 2-for-9 shooting effort in the first half, Mitch Singler stepped up with eight points and five rebounds to help South stay on top.

Yet the 6-3 wing wasn't satisfied with how things went for South Medford.

"We had a really good week of practice," Mitch Singler said. "It was just a lack of effort on our part. We had hills and valleys, like coach Murphy said, and Grants Pass was good enough to stay in there when we were struggling."

Grants Pass, behind strong games from guards Jaron West (20 points) and Dee Wiersma (13 points) stayed within striking distance until the closing minutes of the contest.

"We just played hard defensively," said Wiersma. "Mostly, we wanted to pressure the whole time and not give up quick rebounds and transition.

"Even in a loss, it felt good to come to a tough place like this and play well."

The Cavemen (6-10, 2-4 SWC), who also picked up 11 points from Buddy Saxon, shot 46 percent from the floor (25 of 54) and were outscored only 44-39 in the second half.

"Last year we came down with a group that was undermanned and undersized," said GP coach Scott Gottula. "This year I thought we could do some things against them."

"We had too many unforced turnovers, especially in the first half," added the coach. "We go to a delay to get that last shot in the first half and end up turning the ball over. Then they hit that 3 and instead of maybe being down three, we go down eight at halftime. Something like that can turn the tide of the whole game."

With the win, the Panthers managed to maintain their one-game lead atop the conference standings over North Medford. The Black Tornado (4-1 SWC), which defeated South Eugene 58-51 Friday, hosts South Medford tonight at 7.

"That's a huge game," said Murphy, whose team beat North 73-67 in the first meeting this season. "We have to play a lot better than we did tonight, that's for sure."

GRANTS PASS (63) — Morgan 7, Nickelson 0, Carpenter 4, West 20, Saxon 11, Haggard 0, Wiersma 13, Parker 0, Fields 4, Davidson 4. Totals: 25-54 9-10 63.

SOUTH MEDFORD (76) — Aguirre 2, Harthun 9, Haveman 7, M. Singler 14, Kezer 0, E. Singler 22, Walport 5, Boyd 12, Work 3, Phillips 2. Totals: 26-61 17-26 76.

Grants Pass 11 13 20 19 —63

South Medford 18 14 21 23 —76

3-point goals — Grants Pass 4 (Morgan 1, West 1, Wiersma 2), South Medford 7 (E. Singler 2, Harthun 1, Boyd 2, Haveman 2). Fouled out — West. Technical foul — Grants Pass bench.

JV score — Grants Pass 55, South Medford 49.

Reach sports reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail

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