South pulls away in Nike Interstate opener

LAKE OSWEGO — South Medford's girls basketball team celebrated its ascension into the national rankings with another convincing victory over another formidable opponent.

The Panthers, whose dominant play has resulted in a bull's-eye on their backs this week in the Nike Interstate Shootout — the state's most prestigious regular-season tournament — rolled to an 81-62 first-round win over Clackamas at Lakeridge High School Tuesday.

Kylie Towry scored 20 points, leading four players in double figures for South Medford (7-0), which is ranked No. 1 in the Class 6A coaches' poll.

Now there's another ranking system to talk about: The Panthers broke into the MaxPreps Freeman Rankings this week as the country's 20th best team, climbing 15 spots from the previous list.

Coach Tom Cole has taken the Panthers to the Shootout each of his five years. The first two years, they played in a lower division. The past three, they've been in the upper division.

And never has South Medford fielded such a well-rounded squad.

"That's part of the evolution of this group," said Cole. "We're deeper than what we have been in the past, and that's what it takes to beat these teams. Sometimes, kids who have led us in other areas are not having their best games, but others are able to step in and carry the load.

"These kids are capable of playing with any of these teams and, as with tonight, are capable of beating some of the better ones."

Ashley Bolston, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, was a prime example, scoring 19 points and "carrying us in all statistics," said Cole, with eight rebounds and eight steals.

Andee Ritter, a freshman guard, also stepped up, scoring 17 points and adding six rebounds, six steals and five assists.

South Medford led most of the first half but couldn't pull away and led 41-35 at intermission. A 22-11 advantage in the third gave it breathing room.

The setback was the first for Clackamas (6-1), which last year lost a narrow decision to Jesuit in the state championship game. Clackamas is ranked fifth in the coaches' poll.

South Medford's 6-5 post, Tess Picknell, scored 14 points to go with eight rebounds and five blocked shots, and Yaremi Mejia added eight assists and five steals.

Scrappy Clackamas used a full-court press in the second quarter to rattle the Panthers and force a number of turnovers.

"At halftime, we really challenged the kids to come out and play the kind of basketball they're capable of playing," said Cole. "The kids really adapted to that and really shifted the tide."

Luisa Tago, a 5-9 junior, didn't put up the gaudy stats of some of her teammates but was instrumental nonetheless, said Cole.

"She's a tough defender and always solid in rebounding," he said. "She just does the yeoman's work and plugs away. She was a big part of a good effort."

South Medford's wins have come by an average of 35.6 points, and they've scored at least 80 points in their past six outings — including two games of more than 90.

The sledding figures to get more difficult this week.

The Panthers play Westview at 6:30 tonight. The No. 10 Wildcats (4-3) surprised No. 2 Central Catholic, 48-47, Tuesday. Central Catholic is the only other Oregon team in MaxPreps' national rankings, at No. 18.

South Medford defeated Westivew 87-55 in the Panthers' second game, but the Portland school now has a transfer post player in the lineup that has made it that much stronger.

"They are a different team than what we saw," said Cole. "We know they'll come out and we won't surprise them like we did in their first home game."

SOUTH MEDFORD (81) — Vargas 0, Towry 20, Tago 5, Ritter 17, Bolston 19, Mejia 6, Picknell 14, Morris 0. Totals: 33 11-19 81.

CLACKAMAS (62) — Reiner 5, Gistwig 2, Watari 7, Cox 4, Azorr 2, Thomas 6, Vasconcellos-Mattocks 19, Pagano 2, Rowland 13, Oswalt 2. Totals: 23 14-22 62.

South Medford 22 19 22 18 — 81

Clackamas 15 20 11 16 — 62

3-point goals — South Medford 4 (Towry 3, Ritter 1), Clackamas 2 (Reiner 1, Watari 1).

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