Silverton has had South Albany’s number the past two seasons, even as the RedHawks have improved to become one of the better 5A boys basketball teams.

South made progress Friday night toward gaining ground on the Foxes, but there’s more work to do.

After erasing a 10-point first-quarter deficit, the RedHawks lost contact in the third and couldn’t catch up in a 58-46 defeat in Mid-Willamette Conference play.

“It was a step forward. They are one of the top three teams in the state,” said South coach Justin Smith, whose team lost the previous four games to Silverton, covering this year and last, by an average of more than 20 points.

“We feel like we’ve got to take strides to make it to where we talk about being an elite team. We feel like this program is going in the right direction.”

Silverton (17-2, 10-1) was third and South (15-3, 7-3) eighth in this week’s 5A coaches poll. The Foxes defeated the RedHawks 80-61 on Dec. 21 in Silverton. Both teams came in with four-game winning streaks.

South had a lot of momentum going to halftime after outscoring the visitors 17-12 in the second quarter. But whatever the RedHawks had gathered, they weren’t able to carry it back to the floor after the break.

A Sam Myers layin and a Jadon Lyons-Lopez transition basket early in the third quarter helped South return to its halftime deficit of three.

But Silverton came back with six points in a row to stretch its lead.

South struggled to gain the upper hand, and the Foxes ended the third with a 40-31 lead despite seven turnovers in the period. The RedHawks were 2 of 8 at the free-throw line in the third and 10 of 19 for the game.

“I felt like we came out in the third quarter thinking we were going to have the same energy,” said South junior guard Kenyon McGlothan. “We thought we were just going to come out and go off.”

The RedHawks battled in the fourth, getting as close as five.

Two Lyons-Lopez foul shots and a McGlothan fastbreak basket to follow with 5:39 left made it 42-35.

McGlothan later scored again off a steal, and Arthur Benjamin Mercado’s conventional three-point play got it to 46-41 with 3:08 remaining.

South then had two possessions still down five but couldn’t score.

Eli Nafziger’s layin with 49 seconds remaining got the RedHawks back within six. But Silverton closed out the game making six straight free throws.

“We were a couple free throws, a made layup, a knock-down 3 from making it a one-possession game … and we just didn’t make that,” Smith said, noting his team’s relative lack of experience in those types of games.

“It’s something we’ve got to continue to work to. It was a good experience tonight. I was proud of the effort. We just didn’t make enough plays.”

McGlothan led the RedHawks with 12 points. Mercado added 10 and Lyons-Lopez nine. Jonah Downey had 14 points and Levi Nielsen 11 for the Foxes.

Silverton looked like it might run away with the game early, jumping ahead 13-3 and leading 19-10 midway through the second quarter on Grant Dunn’s second 3-pointer.

But McGlothan answered with his own 3 then added two free throws. Teammate Evan Benson canned a 3-pointer to make it 8-0 run, and Ayden Foster extended it with a transition basket with 2:09 left in the half to give South its first lead at 20-19.

It turned out to be the home team’s only lead. The Foxes finished the half on a 6-2 run to go to halftime up 25-22.

“They don’t have any quit,” Smith said of his team. “We couldn’t make a shot early and we couldn’t get anything going. That feels like it’s pretty consistent on this year.”

The coach said he likes the improvement his squad has made and continuing to grow will give them “a chance at the end.”

The RedHawks sit behind Silverton and Corvallis (10-7, 9-2) and 1.5 games ahead of Crescent Valley (8-10, 6-5) in the Mid-Willamette standings.

South, chasing a third straight trip to the 5A state tournament, has six games left in the regular season, starting with Tuesday’s game at West Albany.

The conference’s top four teams get a berth in the 5A round of 16. The higher team in the season-ending OSAA power rankings between the fifth-place finishers in the Mid-Willamette and Midwestern League also makes the bracket.

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