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Lakers overcome early jitters to beat LHS

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego’s Shannon Reader, center, battles Lakeridge’s McKenzie Jank, left, and Ally Knecht for a loose ball during last Friday’s Civil War game. Lakeridge’s high-intensity effort threw Lake Oswego off balance for a while but the Lakers regrouped for a 55-40 victory.

Lake Oswego's Ali Lomax has long been known for her hard-nose defensive play, but now she's making a name for herself on offense as well.

Using an assortment of hustle plays, slashing drives to the baskets and some timely outside shooting, Lomax had a game-high 18 points Friday night to lead the fifth-ranked Lakers to a 55-40 victory over cross-town rival Lakeridge.

Lomax usually draws Lake Oswego's toughest assignment on defense and she often delivers with an unmatched level of hustle. But lately she's also turned into one of the team's main scorers.

After getting off to a slow start Friday night, Lomax scored her team's first three baskets of the second half and that gave Lake Oswego a big enough cushion that Lakeridge never could recover.

Even though Lomax's effort was one of the key reasons that Lake Oswego won, she didn't want to take much of the credit.

'We're just playing as a team,' Lomax said after the game. 'We have a lot of chemistry and everyone has been playing really good together.'

When these two rivals meet, both teams always seem to step their intensity up a notch and Friday night's contest was no exception. However, the squads were so hyped up that it seemed to work against them in the early going.

Things got off to an ominous start when Lomax could have scored the game's first two points but instead went 0-for-2 from the foul line. It didn't help much that Lake Oswego got into early foul trouble because of the physical style of the game.

'Yeah, three minutes into the game we had three of our key players (Lomax, Sarah Griffin and Margaret Johnson) all with two fouls,' Lake Oswego coach Jason Fawcett noted. 'We had to settle down a little bit and adjust to how the game was being called.'

There was so much contact, especially in the early stages, that the officials opted to let a lot of stuff go to avoid turning it into a foul-shooting contest.

'It was a rough game,' admitted Lakeridge's Kai Schmidt, who led her team with 12 points. 'But we gave it both ways, so it was fine.'

Aside from the roughness, the Pacers also seemed to suffer from some early-game jitters. Yet, they played just well enough to post leads of 7-4 and 11-6. Interestingly enough, the Pacers had five different players score during that stretch.

'Mike (Melin, the Lakeridge coach) did a great job of maximizing what they have,' Fawcett said.

But the maximization didn't last long enough, at least from Lakeridge's point of view. The entire team suddenly went cold about 90 seconds into the second period. It was approximately the same time that Lake Oswego began to heat up.

After committing a turnover for every point they scored during the first eight minutes, the Lakers then gradually began to seize control of the game. They took the lead for good, at 14-11, with a string of eight unanswered points, including four by Lomax. By intermission, Lake Oswego had a 21-16 lead, thanks partly to an eight-point first half by Becky Luetjen.

'For the first half, it was kind of what we wanted to have happen,' Melin said. '(We wanted) to keep the game fairly close and keep the score in the 20s, and force them to think about the type of shots they were taking.'

Obviously it was still anyone's game at halftime. After that, though, it looked like it would be Lomax's game.

After scoring just four points in the first half, Lomax took over in the third quarter. She started the period with a rebound basket and followed a short time later with a three-pointer that gave Lake Oswego a 26-16 lead.

After a pair of free throws by Schmidt, Lomax scored again and teammate Emily Hatch followed with a rebound basket to put the Lakers ahead 30-18.

'Our Achilles heel this year has been the third quarter,' Melin said. 'We just have not had a good third quarter.'

The game nearly turned into a blowout after the Lakers scored 11 unanswered points to push their lead to 45-25 early in the fourth quarter.

'My hat's off to the Lake Oswego kids,' Melin said. 'They just out-hustled us and out-rebounded us the whole game. And they made key shots down the stretch when they had to.'

'All we wanted to do was stay focused,' Lomax said. 'We were grabbing each other and saying 'stay in this game.' And then we just fought and fought and fought.'

'The (Lake Oswego) girls, to their credit, did a nice job of staying focused on what the game plan was,' Fawcett said.

After losing their focus for a while, the Pacers made the score respectable when they tallied 10 of the game's final 14 points.

'We have yet to play a full game - for four quarters,' Schmidt noted. 'Once we do that, I think we'll be a way better team.'

Lomax wound up being Lake Oswego's only player in double figures, but she did more than just score.

'She's doing what we expect of Ali,' Fawcett said of his defensive star. 'She brings amazing intensity, she focuses the other girls and her energy is just relentless.'

Luetjen and teammate Avery Lee also had good games for the Lakers with nine points each.

Catherine Bergeron also had nine points for Lakeridge.

It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams. The first time came at the Interstate Shootout when Lakeridge had a decent chance to pull out a victory before losing in overtime. A lot of people expected this game to be just as close.

'We just wanted to beat them at their house, but we respect each other,' Lomax said.

'The girls (from each team) are such good friends with each other that I think there's a lot of inner pride there,' Fawcett said.