After two or three tough seasons, the Putnam boys basketball team is no longer a pushover. Lake Oswego nearly learned that the hard way last Friday night.
For the most part, the seventh-ranked Lakers (11-2) never seemed to be in serious danger of losing the game. But they never could shake the pesky Kingsmen, who played brilliantly and refused to back down against a more heralded team.
By the end, Lake Oswego had to feel fortunate to escape with a 59-53 victory.
'I knew (Putnam) was going to be good,' Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff said after the game. 'The big difference I saw was the game really came down to shooting. We missed some wide open shots and they hit some shots with hands in their faces. So, you've got to give them a lot of credit.'
It's hard to argue with the assertion that Lake Oswego played below its normal level. But it wasn't for lack of trying. The Kingsmen simply had the Lakers out of sync. At times, they were even a little frustrated.
It probably didn't help much that starting forward Cody Randall was sick and throwing up all day before the Putnam game. Normally, Randall is one of the most energetic players on the Lake Oswego team but he struggled most of the game against the Kingsmen.
It was amazing he was able to play at all and he approached the game as though there was nothing wrong. In fact, Shoff didn't even know Randall was sick and didn't find out until two days later through a third party.
'I think he felt he owed it to the team to play,' said Shoff, who now has a new appreciation for Randall's dedication.
With Randall sick and some of his teammates struggling to find their mark, Elliot Babcock-Krenk took it upon himself to pick up the slack. He's the kind of player who can do anything that's needed to help his team win. On Friday, he had to score and do it as often as possible.
The senior guard was 8 of 12 from the field, including a 5 of 6 effort from the three-point line. He finished with a game-high 26 points.
'He hit the big shots for us,' Shoff said afterward.
But Babcock-Krenk didn't want to make a big deal of his big night.
'I was just doing what I was told to do,' he said.
Babcock-Krenk did have some help from his friends. Center Max Jacobsen chipped in 13 points, making him the only other Lake Oswego player in double figures. Plus, Nick Halberg did a good job of running the team while scoring six points and Catlin Blyth was solid off the bench with seven points. In addition, Marcus Anthony showed signs of returning to his old form after suffering a severely sprained ankle early in the season.
But there's no denying the fact that the Lakers had to depend heavily on Babcock-Krenk in this game. In the first quarter, when Putnam was busy setting the tone for the game, Babcock-Krenk proved to be the Lakers' anchor with a seven-point effort. By the end of period, Lake Oswego was lucky to be ahead 13-12.
Babcock-Krenk then started off the second quarter with a three-pointer and Blyth followed with a driving basket a short time later to give the Lakers some breathing room at 18-12.
But the Lakers went away from their top scorer for almost the remainder of the period and, not surprisingly, Putnam made a run at the lead once again. Leading the Kingsmen's surge was 6-foot-5 center Ali Mihub, who scored eight straight points en route to a 17-point night.
Then, when it looked like Putnam might take a lead into the locker room at halftime, Babcock-Krenk answered with a three-pointer to give the Lakers a 27-22 lead at the break.
The Kingsmen made another run in the third quarter, three times cutting their deficit to two points. And, guess who answered the call for Lake Oswego?
Yes, Babcock-Krenk responded with an eight-point outburst, including back-to-back three-pointers, and the Lakers had a 41-34 lead heading into the final stanza.
In the fourth, Lake Oswego pushed its lead to 12 points on two occasions, the last time coming on a pair of free throws by Anthony. Yet, Putnam refused to fold. The Kingsmen eventually closed the gap to 54-51 with 36 seconds left. But Jacobsen and Babcock-Krenk sealed the victory when they combined to hit 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch.
'In the fourth quarter, the last couple of minutes, we got a little nervous,' Babcock-Krenk said.
He attributed that case of nerves to the fact that Lake Oswego is a relatively inexperienced team for this level of play.
'I'm the only one who's really played a whole lot,' the senior guard said. 'I try to help them with their confidence, but I think as the season goes along it will come to them.'
Nerves probably never would have been an issue if Lake Oswego had taken better care of the ball against Putnam's harassing defense.
'We were terrible with their pressure. And that's usually when you get easy baskets, when they're doubling,' Shoff said.
The Lakers were plagued by some of the same problems in the early stages of Tuesday's 61-38 victory over Milwaukie. Through one quarter, the Lakers had only a 14-12 lead over the Mustangs
But the second quarter was a much different story as Lake Oswego outscored the host team 22-5. The Lakers eventually pushed their lead to 30 points before settling for a 23-point victory.
Babcock-Krenk was also the leading scorer in that game as he finished with 21 points. And Jacobsen was next in line once again, this time with 19.
On defense, Jacobsen drew the toughest assignment of the night as he had to guard Milwaukie's John Opperud, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound center. Opperud is almost impossible for one person to guard, so Jacobsen got help most of the night from his teammates. Together they held Opperud to six points, which was eight below his season average.
'We just wanted to make sure he wasn't going to get to the basket as easily as he had against other teams,' Shoff said.