Coach Mike Melin always remained the eternal optimist, even when his Lakeridge girls basketball team was struggling to win games.
Even when the Pacers lost four of their first six league games this season, and put themselves dangerously close to being eliminated from the playoff chase, Melin responded by saying, 'Oh, we're still in good shape.'
Well, Melin's faith was rewarded on Tuesday with Lakeridge's crucial 59-53 victory over West Linn. That win moved Lakeridge (3-4 TRL, 7-12 overall) within a half-game of the Lions (4-4, 12-7) for fourth place in the Three Rivers League standings. If the two teams wind up tied for that fourth spot, a one-game playoff will be held to determine which team moves on to the state playoffs and which team stays home.
Tuesday's game might not have been a must-win contest, but a loss would have severely damaged Lakeridge's chances for a playoff spot. With their proverbial backs to the wall, the Pacers responded with their best game of the season.
'We had great poise and great discipline,' Melin said after the game. 'And we really didn't have that many unforced errors tonight. That was the key.
'There's been times this year where things have gone well, but unforced errors or turnovers have really killed us. And tonight we didn't do that and that's the reason why we won.'
It also helped that most of the Pacers played with a refuse-to-lose attitude. Not only was it the team's best physical effort of the season, it was also the team's most focused effort.
One of the biggest stories of the night was the play of Kirah Aldinger-Gibson, whose right wrist was wrapped up from a sprain she suffered three weeks ago. It was questionable whether Aldinger-Gibson would be ready for the game at West Linn. Not only was she ready, she wound up leading the team in scoring with 14 points, even though her wrapped wrist had a noticeable affect on her ability to follow through on shots.
'Bless her soul,' Melin said of Aldinger-Gibson. 'She was hurt and still played very well tonight … She sprained the wrist (against Lake Oswego) really good and it's very uncomfortable for her.'
West Linn's fans probably aren't feeling too badly for Aldinger-Gibson, though, because she drove around defenders three times for easy lay-ins. And when the Lions tried to deny her the drive to the basket, Aldinger-Gibson was able to pull up and hit three mid-range jumpers.
Equally important was the play of Amanda Huck, who scored 13 for the team's second-highest point total. She was a major force inside for the Pacers, and at times, she was Lakeridge's only inside presence.
Huck had to accept an even greater role than normal when junior post Kiersten McNairy found herself in early foul trouble. McNairy, who was whistled for a couple of questionable fouls, wound up barely playing in the game before fouling out with four points.
With McNairy watching from the bench, the 5-foot-10 Huck had to become Lakeridge's post. And Huck could not have played the position much better. She was especially strong on the boards.
'When we had to have a rebound, Amanda Huck got it,' Melin said. 'I couldn't believe the amount of rebounds she had.'
And whenever the Pacers needed a crucial basket, they usually got it. Junior guard Kai Schmidt had the hottest hand from the outside. She hit four three-pointers, including three in the third quarter, to account for the 12 points she scored.
Catherine Bergeron, with eight points, and Ally Knecht, with six, also hit some big baskets when their team needed them.
Lakeridge might have won by even more if not for the superb play of West Linn point guard Rosetta Adzasu. She scored a game-high 17 points but saw only 13 minutes of action because of foul trouble. When Adzasu was in the game, though, she dribbled around and between defensive players as though they were standing still.
West Linn's fortunes seemed to rise and fall depending on whether Adzasu was on the court. When foul trouble sent her to the bench midway through the first quarter, it opened the door for a 7-0 Lakeridge run that pushed the Pacers' lead to 14-5.
But when Adzasu returned in the second quarter, she solely turned the game around with three lightning quick drives to the basket. That gave West Linn a 19-16 lead. The Lions had their last lead of the game a minute later when Adzasu hit a pair of free throws to make the score 21-20.
Adzasu played only 35 seconds on the third quarter and the Pacers took advantage with possibly their best quarter of the season. Schmidt led the way with her trio of three-pointers. Aldinger-Gibson also hit two clutch jumpers in that stanza.
Then, after West Linn had trimmed the Pacers' lead to seven (at 39-32), Lakeridge's Liz Marx answered with her only basket of the game and Bergeron followed with a three-point play that gave the Pacers a 44-32 lead after three periods. The margin grew to 14 points when Knecht opened the final period with a jumper.
The next few minutes belonged to Adzasu, whose penetration moves were almost unstoppable. But she simply had too much ground to make up. Although, the Lions did trim their deficit to three points two times late in the contest. The Pacers were able to close out the victory by hitting 7 of 10 free throws in the final 80 seconds.
It was a night when the Pacers needed big games from virtually everyone, and everyone came through.
'It was absolutely our best effort,' Melin said. 'Things are starting to click and it's the right time of the year for them to click, too.
'I've told the girls all along, that if we could win a couple of games in a row, that would start the snowball affect and good things would happen,' the coach continued.