We're only one week into the league basketball season and the West Linn girls team already has a leg up on one of its key opponents in the race for playoff positioning.
Yet, in an effort to avoid putting too much pressure on his players, West Linn coach Glen Lee tried to downplay the importance of Tuesday's home game against Lakeridge. Apparently, it was the perfect approach as the seventh-ranked Lions took control of the game early and never looked back en route to a 51-41 victory.
It was West Linn's second straight game without senior point guard and team leader Rosetta Adzasu. Lee wasn't sure how his team would respond with Adzasu out of action, so the coach didn't want to put any extra pressure on his players by reminding them how important Tuesday's game was.
But Lee and his assistant coaches were certainly aware of the situation. They still had vivid memories of last year's home-court loss to Lakeridge, which nearly derailed the Lions' playoff chances.
'We didn't make a big deal out of this game with the kids but the coaches knew how important it was,' Lee said.
Sometimes, it's better to just let the kids play.
Without Adzasu, who was sideline for personal reasons, Lee was a bit apprehensive about his team's chances against Lakeridge. Adzasu was also out of uniform against Putnam last Friday and Lee felt fortunate to escape that contest with a 58-52 victory.
Against Lakeridge, a number of players stepped up to play either starring or key supporting roles to make Adzasu's absence less noticeable.
Leading the way was senior guard Emily Wattman-Turner, who had a team-high 15 points, including a trio of three-pointers in the first half. Senior post Sam Dewart also played a solid game with nine points and some strong board play.
Plus, all three of the team's freshmen - Andi Maleike, Elise Miller and Amy Christensen - turned in impressive performances. Malieke was the team's second-leading scorer with 10 points. Christensen chipped in seven more and Miller had five while doing a very capable job as Adzasu's replacement at point guard.
'Our freshmen are getting valuable court experience for us,' Lee said. 'Their contributions are going to help us down the line.'
The only drawback to the night was West Linn's surprisingly weak performance from the foul line, where they hit just 7 of 20 attempts. Typically, the Lions hit almost 60 percent of their foul shots.
With an effort like that on Tuesday, West Linn would have had Lakeridge buried by the end of the third quarter. As it was, the Lions still held a 41-24 lead through three quarters despite making just 1 of 8 foul shots in the period.
Lakeridge was able to jump to an early 3-0 lead when Lauren Joyce canned a wide-open three-pointer. Joyce had been Lakeridge's best outside shooter during the preseason but she didn't get any more wide-open looks at the baskets against West Linn until late in the fourth quarter.
After that, the Lions responded with a run that effectively took Lakeridge out of the game.
The Lions (now 10-3 for the season) closed the first period with seven unanswered points to take a 14-9 lead. That run included a three-pointer by Hannah Schumaker and a pair of inside baskets by Maleike and Dewart.
Through most of the second quarter, the Lions scored two times for every basket the Pacers managed. Wattman-Turner canned two of her three-pointers in that period while Christensen had all three of her field goals in that stanza.
'I thought Amy Christensen really stepped up,' Lee said. 'And I was a little surprised that (Lakeridge) didn't have someone a little closer to (Wattman-Turner).'
But the Pacers managed to stay within striking distance, thanks to a three-pointer by Andrea Hopkins and a basket by Emily Dungey just before the halftime buzzer sounded. That trimmed West Linn's lead to 28-18 at the break.
The Lions regained their momentum in the third quarter, which started with a pair of inside baskets by Dewart and then two hoops by Maleike, which pushed West Linn's advantage to 36-18.
'I thought Sam and Andi both came up with some big plays in that third quarter,' Lee said.
Then, with the game seemingly in hand, West Linn appeared to coast through the remainder of the third period and most of the fourth. The Lions made just four field goals in the final 11 minutes; but they hit 7 of 14 free throws, which was just enough to keep Lakeridge from making a serious comeback.
The Pacers rarely use a full-court press, but they employed one for about half of the final period. And, at times, it worked.
While West Linn had trouble holding onto the ball, Kiersten McNairy and Kai Schmidt started getting hot at the other end. McNairy, who didn't score in the first three periods, had six points in the final stanza; and Schmidt had seven of her team-high 13.
But it was too little, too late as Lakeridge was unable to get any closer than nine points (at 49-40 and 50-41). By the end, the game had a similar feel to the Putnam contest that was played four days before. In that game, the Lions didn't play all that well in the first half but still led 26-21 at the break.
'It was just sloppy,' Lee said of the opening half against the Kingsmen. But the Lions did have a solid third quarter when they outscored Putnam 15-8, which gave West Linn a 12-point cushion heading into the final quarter. And then the game nearly got away from the Lions as Putnam scored 23 points in the final period.
'We sneaked that one out,' Lee said. 'But the girls are learning how to gut it out.'
Sophomore guard Morgan Joscelyn wound up as West Linn's leading scorer in that game with 12 points. Maleike added 10 points to the cause while Dewart chipped in 10.
Next up for West Linn will be a non-league game at West Salem on Friday. Then, the Lions will return to league play next Tuesday with a game at third-ranked Oregon City.