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Pacers boys see TRL victory slip away

BOYS BASKETBALL

In sports, it sometimes helps to have a bad memory.

That's what it might take for members of the Lakeridge boys basketball team as they try to recall details of Tuesday's disappointing 57-56 loss to West Linn. It might be best just to forget everything that happened.

Even though it was an exciting game for the fans, it was a difficult contest for the Pacers to endure. After controlling the game in the first quarter, Lakeridge went ice cold in the second period. Then it turned into a see-saw battle in the second half, although it easily could have been a one-sided affair if the Pacers had made even one-half of their close-range shots.

Then, after keeping the game close, the Pacers had two opportunities in the final 30 seconds to pull out a victory, but they failed to convert on both opportunities. And the Lions escaped with what was essentially a gift-wrapped victory.

It's games like Tuesday's contest that makes a coach's hair turn gray prematurely.

'Nothing against West Linn, because they really are a pretty good basketball team,' Lakeridge coach Dave Nuss said after the game. 'But we really did let the game get away from us.

'We jumped out a nice lead at the end of the first quarter. And then we just kind of quit playing.'

Coming into the contest, the Pacers knew they would have their hands full with the Lions, who are off to their best start since winning the state championship in 1997.

But the Pacers were clearly up to the challenge. In fact, the Pacers were so well-prepared for this game that they actually looked like the dominant team in the first quarter.

What was especially impressive was Lakeridge's ability to work the ball inside to 6-foot-9 center Graham Moredock, even when the Lions were focusing their defensive effort on stopping him. But Moredock got on an early roll as he scored eight of his team's first 12 points (guard Brian Luevano had the other four).

By the end of the first quarter, the Pacers had an 18-10 lead and they had West Linn reeling on its home court. The most optimistic Pacer supporters were probably wondering of their team was going to blow West Linn off the court.

Well, the answer to that question came quickly. To the Lions' credit, the home team made the appropriate adjustments on defense, and suddenly, just getting the ball inside to Moredock became a chore. In the process, it took just four minutes for West Linn to wipe out all of Lakeridge's first-quarter advantage. Then it became a struggle for Lakeridge to score at all in the second period.

'To come over to West Linn and have a great start like that and then just flip it away,' Nuss said as he searched for answers for team's abrupt turnaround.

'If we had matched (them) in the second quarter, I think they would have gone away,' the coach added.

Instead, it was Lakeridge that almost faded away early in the third quarter. The momentum West Linn got from its second-quarter comeback helped the Lions score the first two baskets of the third period, which gave the home team a 32-26 lead.

But Lakeridge bounced right back with a layup by Moredock, a three-pointer by Tyler Larsen and a three-point play by Luevano. And in a span of a minute, Lakeridge had the lead back at 34-32.

Then the game almost got away from the Pacers again as West Linn's Colby Martzall went on a 12-point barrage that gave the Lions a 45-39 lead early in the fourth quarter. And once again Lakeridge responded with a one-minute flurry, which included baskets by Moredock, Kenan Ozgur and Joe Cramer, and the game was tied at 45-all.

From there, the game see-sawed back and forth. Lakeridge even had the lead two times in the final two minutes, including at 54-52 on a rebound basket by Moredock and at 56-54 on two free throws by Larsen.

That's when the Pacers' defense needed to step up.

'We always talk about getting stops on defense and we just didn't get the crucial stop that we needed late in the fourth quarter,' Nuss said.

Yet, after a pair of free throws by West Linn's Brenton Spickerman, which tied the game at 56-all, the Pacers then had two chances to win the game.

The first opportunity slipped away when Luevano found a seam down the right side of the key but missed his contested layin in heavy traffic. Then, after Spencer Dorway hit one of two foul shots to give the Lions a 57-56 lead, the Pacers had one more chance with 14 seconds remaining.

This time, Nuss called for Luevano to dribble across the top of the key while looking for Cramer in the corner. Luevano never saw Moredock break free down the middle of the key, mainly because Spickerman jumped out to cut off the passing angle inside. Then, when Luevano tried to hit Cramer, West Linn's Justin Monahan jumped into that passing lane and intercepted the pass, which effectively ended the game.

Considering the way the game started, the Pacers couldn't help but think that this game got away from them. Now, Lakeridge finds itself in the position of having to play catch-up in the battle for playoff position.

'It's a tough one, because (West Linn) is a team we're going to be going up against for one of those playoff spots,' Nuss said. 'Now, you're down one (game) against them.'

Moredock was outstanding in the loss while scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. Luevano added 11 points to the cause while Ozgur added nine.