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Sports Year In Review

State championships in basketball, lacrosse highlight 2006
by: Vern Uyetake, REVIEW PHOTO / VERN UYETAKE
Two guys who were virtually unstoppable in their respective sports were Kevin Love, the star of Lake Oswego’s boys basketball team, and Justin Blackmore, pictured, the top assist man for Lakeridge boys lacrosse.

Since the school's inception in the early 1950s, Lake Oswego High School has enjoyed a series of successful seasons in virtually every sport. The Lakers had even won state titles in many of those sports, but not in boys basketball. Of course, all of that changed last March when the Laker boys won their first-ever hoops championships with a thrilling 59-57 victory over South Medford.

That capped a season that had garnered considerable national attention, partly because of the play of All-American center Kevin Love, who could wind up being the all-time scoring leader in Oregon history. It's easy to see why that story leads off our recap of the top sports stories of the year for the two local high schools.

The Lakers had a lot to prove when they entered the 2005-06 season. The bitter memories of a fourth-quarter meltdown against Jesuit in the 2005 title game was still fresh in the players' minds.

To prepare his team for another shot at the title, coach Mark Shoff scheduled an impressive list of tough preseason opponents. So it was no surprise that the Lakers lost three of their first nine games, but all of them were against out-of-state teams. Then, after settling for third place at the prestigious Les Schwab Invitational, the Lakers went to win their next 20 games.

One of the pivotal moments of the regular season came when Lake Oswego hosted a talented Oregon City team before a national television audience. The game was never really close, though, as Lake Oswego rolled to a convincing 68-48 victory over the Pioneers. Love led the way that night with 37 points and 22 rebounds and it was just a typical game for him.

Before advancing to the state tournament, the Lakers had to survive a major scare from Canby in the second round of the playoffs. With six minutes left in regulation, the Lakers trailed by nine points. In the final seconds, the Lakers still trailed by three but Ernie Spada hit an NBA-range three-pointer to send the contest into overtime.

The game was again tied late in the extra period when Spada attempted the winning shot but missed. Then Love missed a tip-in, but he grabbed his own rebound and scored as the buzzer sounded to give Lake Oswego an incredible 50-48 victory.

The Lakers had a much easier time during the first two rounds of the state tournament the following week. Even when Love found himself in foul trouble during a quarterfinal match-up against Westview, the Lakers still had little trouble registering a 72-39 victory. The key was the play of Spada and back-court mate Vince Thomas. The two sharp-shooters canned seven three-pointers between them and combined for 39 points. Their play in that game was a large part of the reason why Spada and Thomas were named to the second-team all-tournament squad.

In the semifinal against Jefferson, Love was able to stay out of foul trouble, but he managed only nine shot attempts and made just four of them. Love did most of his scoring that night at the foul line, where he hit 12 of 17 attempts. He wound up with a game-high 20 points and also grabbed 20 rebounds and had six blocked shots. The Lakers also got 14 points each from Spada and Thomas and senior forward Mike McLaughlin chipped in 13 more as Lake Oswego rolled to an easy 74-59 victory.

That set up a championship showdown against South Medford, which had entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the state. It also featured the marquee match-up of Love and good friend Kyle Singler, who, like Love, is ranked among the top players in the nation.

Singler had a tough time finding holes in Lake Oswego's defense and finished with just 14 points, an unusually low total for him. Love was also held below his average but still finished with game highs in points (with 24) and rebounds (with nine).

As expected, the game was close throughout and South Medford even had a chance to win at the end, but Michael Harthun's long three-point attempt bounced harmlessly off the side of the rim, giving the Lakers a 59-57 victory.

The Lake Oswego girls team also had an impressive late-season run that ended with a fourth-place finish at the state tournament. Ironically, that was the same spot the Laker girls found themselves in at the beginning of the season, as they were ranked fourth in the preseason coaches' poll.

However, proving that the ranking was deserved was no easy task. The Lakers suffered an early-season loss to cross-town rival Lakeridge, then lost to West Linn for the first time in 10 years. Plus, there were a couple of sup-par efforts against an always-tough Oregon City squad.

But the Lakers were on a roll by the time they reached the playoffs, thanks to a six-point win over West Linn in the regular-season finale. Then came a 17-point win over Crescent Valley and a 14-point decision over Hermiston in the first two rounds of the state playoffs.

After a surprising two-point loss to Ashland in the first round of the state tournament, the Lakers stormed back with a 21-point victory over Central Catholic and a seven-point win over South Eugene. It was a total team effort as the team's leading scorer, Jamie Laats, had only 34 points in the three tournament games. Forward Robyn Barton added 25 points for the winners.

That set the stage for a busy spring season, where the biggest news typically comes from the baseball diamond. However, the biggest stories in the spring came from the lacrosse fields, where the Lakeridge boys team won a second consecutive state championship and the Lake Oswego girls team managed to duplicate that effort.

For the Lakeridge boys, it was only fitting that they met Oregon Episcopal School in the championship game. Those two teams have met each other in each of the last three finals. OES won the first one in that series, then Lakeridge returned the favor in 2005. Then, it was the Pacers' turn when the two teams met again in early June before an estimated 3,500 fans at Lake Oswego District Stadium.

The Aardvarks got off to a fast start with a 2-0 lead that would represent the largest lead either team would enjoy during the day. The Pacers got untracked with back-to-back first-period goals by Danny Purcell. Lakeridge had its first lead when Connor Martin scored late in the first period to make it 3-2.

After that, the teams traded goals with ties being recorded at 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. Then, with time winding down in the final period, Max Schlesinger scored the winning goal despite falling down backwards while attempting the shot.

Purcell finished with a team-high three goals while Schlesinger added two tallies. For the season, Martin and Justin Blackmore combined for more than 100 goals and Blackmore also dished out more than 60 assists.

It was also a déjà vu experience for the Lake Oswego girls lacrosse team, which beat Lincoln for a second consecutive time to win the state title. This time, the Lakers had to fight back from a four-goal deficit, and then played through two nerve-wracking overtime periods before Morgan Marjama scored one minute into the first stanza of sudden death.

Afterward, Marjama was awarded the MVP award for scoring five goals and handing out two assists.

The Pacers also had a good year on the track, at least by individual standards. Brandon Collier led the way for the Pacers at state when he won the triple jump, placed second in the long jump and took seventh in the 300-meter hurdles. He claimed 20 of his team's 25 points as the Pacers wound up in ninth place in the standings.

Three of the remaining points went to Dave Marks, who was a late addition to the 3,000-meter race, and then finished sixth.

It was also a great spring for the Lake Oswego softball team, which won the school's first-ever league championship with an 18-3 record.

The biggest story during the fall was the Lake Oswego football team, which claimed another Three Rivers League championship; and for the third year in a row, the Lakers managed to advance to the state semifinals. But that's where the run ended after a loss to Southridge.

The 11-3 record Lake Oswego sported gave head coach Steve Coury a 124-47 career mark during his 15 years with the Lakers.