South Medford's Donovyn Hunter (right) races up court against Lakeridge's Kara Roberts (1). (Photo by Fanta Mithmeuangneua)
South Medford's Donovyn Hunter (right) races up court against Lakeridge's Kara Roberts (1). (Photo by Fanta Mithmeuangneua)

PORTLAND – No. 3 South Medford dialed up its trademark full-court press and overwhelmed co-No. 7 Lakeridge 79-33 in Platinum bracket first-round game at the POA Holiday Classic girls basketball tournament Wednesday at Grant High School.

The Panthers (9-1) turned up the heat from the start, making it difficult for the Pacers (7-2) to get the ball past half-court. They repeatedly forced turnovers deep in the Lakeridge end, quickly converting them into baskets.

“It's a big focus for us,” South Medford senior guard Kendall Fealey said. “We're always preaching defense. That's where most of our offense comes from, steals. We like to play fast, and that starts with our defense.”

Oregon State-bound senior guard Donovyn Hunter set the tone at the top of the press, using her anticipation and 6-foot frame to create deflections and her intensity to chase down loose balls, even going to the floor to dig one out.

“I get a little tired,” Hunter said. “I take pride in defense. I've always been taught growing up, defense wins games. So I like being at the top, even though I get tired. Everyone else sees the tempo that I set with it, and everyone picks up on it.”

Hunter, who as a sophomore was a key player on a team that won the 6A culminating week tournament, makes the team go on both ends of the court. She averages team highs of 16.8 points and 4.8 steals.

“We follow her,” Fealey said. “So if she's going hard, we all have to follow. She's big on effort. You might make some mistakes offensively, but you can always go hard on defense.”

South Medford is averaging 16.5 steals per game. On Wednesday, the Panthers collected 18 steals, getting six from sophomore Sara Schmerbach and three each from Hunter and freshman Elise Richardson. They forced Lakeridge into 25 turnovers.

The Pacers, who had lost only to co-No. 9 Jefferson, struggled to adjust to the pressure.

“I think we were way too tentative early, and then we got our heads down,” Lakeridge coach Jason Brown said. “Their pressure really bothered us. We knew that's what they were going to do, but I don't think we realized how good they were, and how fast and long.”

Hunter had 20 points and seven rebounds and senior guard Tatum Schmerbach had 15 points and six assists, making three three-pointers. Junior forward Kim Ceron added 12 points.

The Panthers dominated in their first game against a team in the top 10 of the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll. South Medford, a 6A semifinalist last year, advances to meet No. 4 Beaverton, the reigning 6A champion, in a semifinal at 3 p.m. Thursday at Franklin High School.

“We're excited,” Hunter said. “Throughout the years, we've always been lined up or something was canceled and COVID hit, so we weren't able to play them. We just want to play.”

Said Fealey: “It will be a good game, for sure. Reigning state champs. It's a good preview for what we might see in March. A good test for us.”

Hunter had 12 points in the first quarter as South Medford raced to a 23-8 lead. She not only was disruptive on the press, but was a stabilizing force for an offense that patiently shared the ball.

“Probably the highest basketball IQ kid that we've had come through the program,” Panthers coach Tom Cole said of Hunter. “She has a real good feel for pressure.”

South Medford kept coming at Lakeridge in waves. The Panthers, whose depth was bolstered by the addition of six promising freshmen, didn't let up as Cole substituted liberally.

“That's the thing this year,” Cole said. “That freshman class has six kids that are all going to be future impact players for us. So it's good to be able to get them as much experience as possible. We got them a lot of good minutes today.”

Freshman guard Taylor Young, the team's second-leading scorer this season at 10.9 points per game, finished with six points. Freshman forward Dyllyn Howell had six points on two three-pointers.

Hunter raved about the freshmen.

“Their IQ, their effort, everything's through the roof,” she said.

The depth allows the Panthers to crank up their intensity.

“I think we play even faster than last year,” Fealey said. “Every year we play fast, but this year, especially.”

It also helped that South Medford was at full strength for the first time since their appearance in the Iolani Classic in Hawaii Dec. 8-10. That's where the Panthers suffered their only defeat, falling in the tournament final 68-46 to Incarnate Word Academy of St. Louis, ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps.

South Medford has won five in a row since that defeat, a streak that includes a 58-49 road win over 5A No. 1 Crescent Valley, the reigning 5A champion.

Lakeridge senior guard Keelie O'Hollaren, an Air Force commit who averages 18 points per game, scored a team-high 10 points. Junior post Zoey Davis and senior post Jadyn Harrell added six points each.

Highlights from Wednesday games at the POA Holiday Classic:

Platinum bracket

Beaverton handled Sherwood 61-34 as Lainey Spear went for 23 points, six rebounds and four steals. She hit 10 of 16 shots, including 3 of 5 from three-point range. Sabrina Flowers had 18 points for Sherwood. … Malaya LeSueur had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Benson past Willamette 79-48. Samarah Massey added 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Brynn Smith led Willamette with 24 points. … La Jolla Country Day (Calif.) dominated Barlow 85-60 behind 23 points each from Tajianna Roberts and Breya Cunningham. Annie Koenig and Kennedie Shuler scored 20 and 14 points, respectively, for the Bruins.

Diamond bracket

Clackamas rolled past Wilsonville 75-28, getting 21 points and six rebounds from Jazzy Davidson. Avery Peterson made five three-pointers and finished with 17 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals, and Allie Roden made four three-pointers and scored 16 points. Gabriella Moultrie led the Wildcats with 12 points. … Camas (Wash.) edged Tualatin 42-37. … Oregon-bound Sofia Bell collected 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, making four three-pointers, in Jesuit's 62-38 win over Sheldon. Emma Sixta and Avery Edwards added 12 points apiece. … Sierra Canyon (Calif.) blitzed Jefferson 89-46.

Thursday schedule, Franklin HS:

Platinum bracket

Beaverton vs. South Medford, 3 p.m.

Benson vs. La Jolla Country Day, 8 p.m.

Diamond bracket

Clackamas vs. Camas, 5 p.m.

Jesuit vs. Sierra Canyon, 6:30 p.m.