It will almost be a welcome relief when the Lakeridge girls basketball team begins its Three Rivers League schedule next week.

Of course, the Three Rivers League is always one of the two toughest conferences in the state in girls basketball (the Metro League is the other). But the competition there couldn't be any tougher than what Lakeridge faced during its 10-game preseason schedule.

Playing against heralded teams like Tualatin, Jesuit, Beaverton, Sheldon and Lake Oswego, the Pacers (3-7) took their share of lumps during the preseason. To their credit, the Pacers did come close to pulling off an impressive upset against Lake Oswego in the Interstate Shootout.

But, by the end of that tournament, the Pacers simply looked like a team that was worn out. The best example of that came in Lakeridge's tournament finale against Lincoln, a team that also struggled mightily during the preseason. Lincoln won the game 41-30 as the Pacers had trouble finding the basket.

'Today was a great example of having kids play really hard but not having a lot of gas in the gas tank,' Lakeridge coach Mike Melin said after the loss to the Cardinals.

It might have been the low point of the season as the Pacers got caught flat-footed on numerous occasions.

'I would have to agree with that. It was pretty flat today,' Melin said. 'It just kind of looked like our feet were stuck in the sand.'

But it would be unfair to base Lakeridge's preseason solely on a game when the team looked completely worn out. The game against Lake Oswego was more indicative of the way Lakeridge can play. For a while, the Pacers even looked like the better team, which is saying a lot since the Lakers (8-2) are ranked fifth in the state.

The best part of that game for Lakeridge had to be the second quarter, when the Pacers outscored their cross-town rivals 17-6. That gave the Pacers a 28-21 lead at intermission. The lead then grew to 30-21 with a quick basket to start the third quarter.

Then, things temporarily came unraveled for the Pacers as Lake Oswego stepped up its physical inside play. And the Pacers had trouble responding.

'One of the things you always have to contend with with Lake Oswego is they're so physical. They're so strong and they just killed us on the boards,' Melin said.

Almost before the Pacers knew it, their entire nine-point lead had evaporated. By the end of the third quarter, the score was tied at 34.

To the Pacers' credit, they battled back in the final period, especially in the later stages. Kai Schmidt played a huge role when she hit a three-pointer and followed a short time later with a runner to narrow Lake Oswego's lead to 44-43.

After Lake Oswego's Margaret Johnson hit a pair of free throws to push the Lakers' lead back to three, the Pacers once again had an answer. This time it was Catherine Bergeron's turn to step up as she hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 46.

That sent the game to overtime, but the Pacers didn't have much luck there as the Lakers won the extra period 7-2.

Despite the lapse at the end, it was probably Lakeridge's best effort of the season, so far, against a good team.

'We've been teetering on playing that way with a lot of tough teams,' the coach said. 'It was nice to play a top 10 team and finally play four full quarters.'

Melin also liked some of the impressive individual efforts he saw, like the play of center Kiersten McNairy and guards Amanda Huck and Kirah Aldinger-Gibson, plus Bergeron and Schmidt.

But Melin knows there's still a lot of work to do between now and the start of league play next week.

'I'm so glad that we don't have to play league until after Christmas,' the coach said. 'For us being a new program (with a new coach), just trying to get all of the kinks out is really important … But (the Lake Oswego game) is a step in the right direction.'

One of the important parts is Melin knows his players are all on the same page with him.

'They're very intelligent, very savvy basketball players,' the coach said of his squad. 'That's really nice because you can talk to them as adults and they understand … They already have a feeling for what is going on, and you don't have to convince them.'

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