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Without Hatch, LO girls settle for fifth place at Interstate Shootout

by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego’s Sarah Griffin splits a pair of defenders as she looks to score against Tualatin during last week’s Interstate Shootout. Lake Oswego wound up losing that game, but the Lakers claimed the consolation championship with a 50-48 victory over North Medford on Saturday. Griffin hit the game-winning shot with three seconds remaining.

Just wait until Emily Hatch gets back. The Lake Oswego girls basketball team had to play without its senior post during last week's Interstate Shootout and the Lakers still won three out of four games.

At times during the tournament, the Lakers looked as though they were ready to challenge Oregon City and Southridge as the top programs in the state. It was hard not to think how good the team could be when Hatch is healthy.

She missed the tournament after suffering a deep back bruise during practice. But she is expected to return by this weekend.

Before her injury, Hatch was often one of the top two scorers on the team. Without her, though, a number of other players stepped up their games, showing that the Lakers might have one of their deepest teams in years.

The team's only forgettable moment came in the tournament opener against highly-touted Tualatin. Unfortunately, neither team seemed able to hold onto the ball, which turned the contest into a turnover fest.

But there was one major bright spot in that 57-54 loss. It came from junior forward Becky Luetjen, who had been used mostly as a role player in the past. Against the Timberwolves, Luetjen scored a team-high 15 points, including eight during a fourth-quarter run that helped trim the Lakers' deficit from nine points to a single point.

After that, virtually everyone played well in a blowout win over Barlow and a hard-fought overtime victory over cross-town rival Lakeridge. The game against the Pacers easily could have resulted in a loss, though, if not for the hard-nosed inside play of senior forward Margaret Johnson.

She was relatively quiet in the first half, when Lakeridge was on the verge of dominating the game. But Johnson came alive in the second half and led an impressive turnaround to help the Lakers avoid what easily could have been a loss.

Johnson had 11 second-half points and was almost too physical for Lakeridge to handle inside.

'We had a big talk at halftime,' Johnson said. 'I think we finally realized that we're here for a reason and that's to get (the job) done.'

Johnson had a three-point play two minutes into the fourth quarter that gave Lake Oswego a 41-38 lead. Then, Luetjen hit three of four free throws to make the lead 44-38.

The Pacers came back to tie the game at 46, which is where it stood going into overtime. Then, a driving basket by Luetjen, a layup by Avery Lee and three free throws by Sarah Griffin gave the Lakers a 53-48 victory.

That set up a consolation final showdown against North Medford, a pesky team that was much tougher than anyone expected. The Lakers led the game by as many as nine points on three different occasions, but the home team never could shake the Southern Conference visitors. But the Lakers finally pulled out a 50-48 victory when Griffin hit a decisive long jumper with three seconds remaining.

'Well, it could have been any one of (the Lakers),' Lake Oswego coach Jason Fawcett said after the game. '(Griffin) was the one on the spot, but any one of them could have made the shot.'

Johnson wound up leading all scorers with 15 points, but the rest of the scorebook showed what a balanced effort Fawcett got from his players. Griffin and defensive standout Ali Lomax each had eight points while Luetjen, Lee and Jill Shoquist added six points each to the cause.

Aside from Griffin's big shot at the end, Lomax and Shoquist probably made the biggest contributions in that game.

Lomax seemed like she was everywhere on the court as she used her high-octane energy to chase down one loose ball after another. Her effort included diving into the stands for one ball.

'Defensively, she does a lot of things for us that get us going,' Fawcett said of Lomax. 'She really brings a lot of energy.'

The Lakers found themselves in a bit of a bind early in the game when Griffin picked up her second foul and was forced to sit out nearly eight minutes of the first half. Her absence was hardly noticed, though, because of the play of Shoquist, who was one of the quickest players in the tournament.

Shoquist's six points all came from length-of-the-floor drives, usually against full-court pressure. And no one could keep up with her. That in itself would have been enough of an advantage for the Lakers. Then Shoquist added a little bit of flair when she hit a pair of tough, running one-handers.

They're the kind of shots that make coaches cringe when players take them, but they're not bad shots for Shoquist.

'We talk about making good decisions. And what's a good decision for her might not be for someone else,' Fawcett said. 'But that's Jill. She loves the runners and she has great body control. So, it's not something that we consider a bad decision.'

After seeing the Lakers turn in a number of impressive individual performances during the tournaments, one thing seemed to stand out the most - the fact that this team could be really good once Hatch is fully healthy again.

'No doubt,' Fawcett said.

'Em definitely is a big presence inside that we need,' Johnson added.

Even Lakeridge coach Mike Melin found it hard to disagree.

'It was a blessing (for Lakeridge) not having Emily Hatch playing,' Melin said. 'She brings a whole different realm to the basketball game.'