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Pacer boys hit a rough patch

From the perspective of the Lakeridge boys basketball team, it would be nice if the regular season lasted another two or three months. That way, the Pacers would have enough time to dig themselves out of the hole they find themselves in.

Instead, the Pacers have just six league games remaining, and they probably need to win five of them to have a shot at the playoffs.

Lakeridge could have lessened the strain considerably by winning on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Pacers lost a 67-52 decision to a tough Clackamas team. Now, the Pacers are facing what could be a string of must-win games over the next three-plus weeks.

'It just makes the second half of the (league) season very difficult,' Lakeridge coach Dave Nuss said after Tuesday's loss. 'I think we have to go 5-1 in the second half to give ourselves a chance.'

The loss to Clackamas dropped Lakeridge to 1-5 in league play. After the first half is completed on Friday for the other teams in the TRL, the Pacers will probably find themselves two games out of the fourth and final playoff spot.

It's probably safe to say that the Pacers don't feel like a 1-5 team. They could just as easily be 4-2 at this point, but they didn't get the breaks they needed in a pair of three-point losses to West Linn and Milwaukie and a one-point loss to Lake Oswego.

With Lakeridge already in a bit of a hole, Tuesday's game against Clackamas was huge for the Pacers. But Clackamas (4-1) is not an easy team to beat, especially on its home floor. And Lakeridge wound up playing catch-up almost the entire way.

The Cavaliers had a 15-point lead by the midway point of the second period. Lakeridge managed to trim its deficit to 10 late in that quarter and had a chance to cut it to eight points, but the Pacers let a fast-break basket slip away just before halftime.

In the second half, Lakeridge was able to cut Clackamas' lead to eight points on two occasions, but the Cavs answered both times and gradually began to pull away again.

Afterward, Nuss was quick to give Clackamas credit for a well-played game.

'They're a solid team that knows how to share the basketball,' he said.

On the other hand, Lakeridge probably didn't play its best defensive game of the season.

'We had some breakdowns on defense and it ended up costing us,' Nuss said.

It didn't help that Lakeridge came into the game short-handed after Chris Hoch injured a shoulder in last Friday's game against Milwaukie. When he was healthy, Hoch was Lakeridge's most active player and the Pacers clearly could have used him against the Cavaliers.

'Chris Hoch has been the guy that has been holding us together,' Nuss said. 'Not having him is tough.'

Filling the void in Hoch's absence was his younger brother, Michael.

And the freshman forward came through, sharing team scoring honors with 14 points.

'We gave him some opportunities to score and he converted them,' Nuss said of Michael Hoch, who also had a team-high nine rebounds.

Senior guard Tyler Larsen also scored 14 against the Cavs, but Nuss was most impressed with the efforts of some of his role players. One of those was Austin Wippert, who played well off the bench while scoring five points.

'It wasn't just the points. It was the way he played, especially on defense,' Nuss said of Wippert.

Also turning in solid games were Ben Nelson and Robert Breedlove.

'I thought Bob (Breedlove) did a nice job against Milwaukie, so we decided to give him a start (against Clackamas),' the coach said.

In addition to an occasional breakdown on defense, the Pacers also committed 25 turnovers. Lakeridge is now averaging 20 turnovers a game in league play.

'We've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball,' Nuss said.

As difficult as Tuesday's loss was, the real heartbreaker was last Friday's 47-44 loss to Milwaukie. That gave the Mustangs their first league win. It was a game most people figured would probably go Lakeridge's way.

'That was a tough one,' Nuss said. 'It was definitely a game that you wanted to have.'

The game took a bad turn in the first quarter when Chris Hoch got injured. It was his second injury of the season.

The first time came during Lakeridge's holiday tournament when he injured a knee. At the time, there were fears that the junior forward might be out for the rest season, but he returned two weeks later.

Now, his status is questionable once again.

'It's possible that he's done for the year,' Nuss said. 'He was starting to come back into his own.'

The Pacers certainly could have used Hoch down the stretch against the Mustangs. But it seemed that no one could stop Milwaukie from hitting clutch three-pointers. One of them drew the Mustangs into a tie.

Then, with about two minutes remaining and Lakeridge trailing by a point, the Pacers appeared to be on the verge of scoring a crucial basket from point-blank range. But a Milwaukie player was able to block the shot and knock it off the Lakeridge player before it went out of bounds.

'It was just one of those plays,' Nuss said. 'Their kid made a great play.'

Milwaukie then scored at the other end to go ahead by three.

Larsen led Lakeridge with 22 points and Josh Little added 12, but no one else was able to score in double figures.