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Tigers push South Medford to the limit


Strong effort drives Tigard in the state semifinal contest

by: DAN BROOD - FLOOR BURNS -- Tigard High School junior guard Emilee Cincotta, in front of South Medford senior Kylie Towry, dives for a loose ball during Friday's semifinal game at the Class 6A state tournament. The Tigers were edged 35-31.PORTLAND — There was no real pressure.

There wasn’t really anything to lose.

So the Tigard High School girls basketball team decided to just go all out and give it everything it had.

And the Tigers, behind that inspired effort, almost shocked South Medford — and the rest of the state.

Tigard, pushing the defending state champions to the very limit, was edged 35-31 by the Panthers in a thrilling Class 6A state tournament semifinal game — which wasn’t decided until the final seconds — played Friday at the Rose Garden Arena.

“We left it all on the court,” said Tigard junior guard Emilee Cincotta, who led the Tigers with 13 points and five steals in the contest. “We had nothing to lose and we played our hearts out. I wish we would have won, but we played our hardest.”

“We really wanted it,” Tigard senior post Julia Santos said, with a teardrop rolling down her right cheek. “It was a great game, and I thought we could do it. I’m so proud of everyone. I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying because we worked so hard out there.”

“None of us could have played any harder,” Tigard senior post Megan Risinger said. “We believe in ourselves and everyone played their hearts out all game. That’s all you can ask for.”

South Medford improved to 24-4 on the season to that point with the victory. The Panthers also advanced to play Central Catholic in Saturday’s state championship game.

Tigard, which brought a 19-game winning streak into the semifinal contest, moved to 24-5 on the season with the setback.

“It was a great effort,” Tigard coach Steve Naylor said. “That’s a real good team, but our girls left it all on the court. They weren’t afraid to go all out.”

Tigard rode that attitude to a strong start in the semifinal tilt.

Cincotta and Risinger sank the first two baskets of the game to give the Tigers a quick 4-0 lead. Cincotta later scored back-to-back baskets at the end of the first quarter to give Tigard a 10-8 lead at the end of the period.

The talented South Medford squad came out strong, to start the second quarter. The Panthers opened the period with a 12-0 run, which included a three-pointer by sophomore Andee Ritter, giving South Medford a 20-10 lead with 5 minutes and 1 second left in the period.

But the Tigers didn’t seem to get discouraged. In fact, they answered back — in a big way.

Risinger ended the South Medford run with a pair of free throws. Then, following a basket by Panther senior Yaremi Mejia, Tigard went on a run of its own.

Tiger junior guard Lexi Carter converted a three-point play, Risinger made two more free throws and Santos scored on a put-back shot to cut the South Medford lead to 22-19 at halftime.

Tigard carried its momentum into the second half. Cincotta opened the third quarter with a three-point basket, tying the game at 22-22. Cincotta then scored on a drive to the basket to give the Tigers a 24-22 lead with 6:09 left in the period.

Now, South Medford answered back. The Panthers got a three-pointer from Mejia and then consecutive hoops from senior Luisa Tago and senior Kylie Towry to grab a 29-24 advantage with 3:38 remaining in the period.

But the Tigers wouldn’t go away. A free throw by Risinger and a bank shot by Carter trimmed the margin to 29-27 — setting up an intense fourth quarter.

The Panthers upped their lead to 31-27 after junior Ashley Bolston went 2-for-2 from the foul line with 7:31 remaining in the game.

A pair of free throws by Cincotta got the margin back down to two, at 31-29, with 4:55 left to play.

With less than three minutes remaining in the game, South Medford, still clinging to a two-point lead, spread the court, looking to eat some time off the clock in addition to looking for an easy basket. With, 2:21 remaining, Ritter missed a foul-line jump shot, and Tigard senior post Meeka Mayhew snagged the rebound.

That set up a basket by Risinger, coming on a drive down the lane, tying the game at 31-31 with 1:46 left to play.

From there, South Medford looked to work for the final shot of the game. But, with 1:11 remaining, the Panthers threw the ball out of bounds, giving the ball — and the chance to set up a game-winning play — to Tigard.

The Tigers began to work the clock, but, with 34 seconds remaining, Carter, while driving toward the paint, slipped on the Rose Garden hardwood. As she fell to the court, the ball bounded away from her and ended up in the hands of Towry.

South Medford quickly took advantage of the opportunity, as Mejia scored on a running jump shot in the lane, giving the Panthers a 33-31 lead with 18 seconds left to play.

The Tigers, hurriedly tried to answer back, but they had the ball go out of bounds with 13 seconds left to play.

Towry was fouled with 2.8 seconds remaining to play, and she sank both of her ensuing free throws to wrap up the 35-31 win for South Medford.

“This stings,” Risinger said. “But every single player did everything they could. We played our hearts out.”

“No one ever expected us to be here, and we gave it everything we had,” Cincotta said.

“We almost had them,” Naylor said. “Overall, I’m very proud of the girls.”

Cincotta scored her game-high 13 points on a 5-for-6 shooting night from the field. She also had six rebounds and three assists to go with her five steals.

Risinger added nine points and four rebounds. Carter had five points, four rebounds and three steals. Freshman post Elise Conroy had four rebounds and a blocked shot.

Tigard, as a team, made 11 of 28 shots from the field. The Tigers were also plagued by 22 turnovers.

“It’s hard to beat a team that good with 22 turnovers,” Naylor said.

Towry and Mejia scored 10 points apiece for South Medford. The Panthers made 11 of 37 shots from the field.