Pacer boys continue to improve

by: FILE PHOTO / VERN UYETAKE Michael Walker is one of five returning varsity players for the Pacers this season.

The Lakeridge boys basketball team isn't backing down from anyone this year. The Pacers have taken on a tough preseason schedule with the hopes of being tested heading into league play.

Lakeridge returns five key contributors from last year's squad that finished third in the Three Rivers League.

Brandon Loiler, Michael Walker, Madison Pihl and Justin Luevano are all back as leaders to this year's squad along with Tom Knecht who is still recovering from a broken wrist he suffered during the football season.

Lakeridge features a versatile group of athletes that will be able to attack opponents in a number of different ways.

"We have a number of three-sport athletes and those guys don't just rely on a set skill, they rely on their competiveness," coach Dane Walker said.

The Pacers have been focusing on defense and figure to be one of the stingiest teams in the league again this season.

"That's always been my focus but I think we have the ability to score more this year," Walker said.

Loiler and Knecht will give Lakeridge a prominent presence inside this year as the Pacers look to replace Michael Hoch at the post while Walker and Luevano are both strong shooters and ball handlers.

Pihl also has a dangerous outside shot and is a relentless defender.

Lakeridge has also received some strong early performances from Rich Hillier, Patrick Jaco and Mark Groethe and the team will add Blake Dutton later in the year when he recovers from football injuries as well.

"I like the make-up of this group. We have a lot of guys who do a number of different things," Walker said.

Lakeridge is off to a 1-2 start against three very strong teams. The Pacers won their opener at Southridge 49-46, getting 16 points from Walker and 15 from Loiler.

Lakeridge built a 24-12 lead at the half but had to grind out the win in the fourth quarter, keeping the Skyhawks in check offensively.

The Pacers then fell to a strong North Salem team, getting double-digit scoring efforts from Luevano, Walker and Pihl as the Vikings pulled away in the second half.

Then, on Tuesday, Lakeridge took on one of the top teams in the state in Westview and fell 68-57 on the road.

"We hope we'll be playing at a pretty good clip by January and get a few of those close losses from last year to go our way," Walker said.

Lakeridge will host its annual Holiday Tournament this year Dec. 19-21.