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Pioneers mystique continues

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego’s Margaret Johnson out-runs the Oregon City defense during a fast-break attempt in Tuesday’s pivotal game against Oregon City. The Lakers could have claimed their first Three Rivers League title since 1993, but Oregon City wound up winning the game 53-31, which kept the Pioneers’ 14-year home-court winning streak alive.

Who were those girls wearing Lake Oswego's jerseys Tuesday night, and when are they are going to give them back?

The Lake Oswego girls basketball team had a chance Tuesday night to win its first Three Rivers League championship since 1993. The Lakers' hopes for a title are still alive, but their fortunes might come down to a coin flip after they turned in their worst game of the season in a 53-31 loss to Oregon City.

That loss dropped the Lakers (10-1, 20-3) into a tie with Oregon City (10-1, 19-4) atop the TRL standings. If the two teams are still tied after tonight's league finale, a coin flip will be held to determine which team receives the league's top playoff berth.

In the process, Oregon City kept its amazing 14-year home-court winning streak intact. During that time, the Pioneers have won 13 consecutive TRL titles, a run that dates back to Lake Oswego's 1993 crown, which eventually led to a state championship.

The Lakers entered Tuesday's game with a 15-game unbeaten string, thanks in part to a 66-56 home-court victory over Oregon City on Jan. 26. A No. 2 ranking in the state had some Lake Oswego fans talking about the possibility of another state title for their team. But the Lakers will have to play much better than they did Tuesday night before entertaining any thoughts of a state championship run.

In what was easily the game of the year in the TRL, Oregon City and Lake Oswego looked like two teams going in opposite directions Tuesday night. The Pioneers played with possibly their most intensity of the season while the Lakers were often caught flat-footed and out of sync.

It was a night when the Lakers were their own worst emeny. They shot just 27 percent from the floor and committed 27 turnovers, including 17 in the first half. Their offensive woes led to a pair of eight-minute scoreless stretches - one in the first half and one in the second.

It's hard to explain how things could have gone so wrong in such an important game.

'We uncharacteristically missed a few lay-ins in the beginning and missed a few free throws. Then we let their momentum build … and instead of handling adversity like we have all year, we decided to get more individual,' Lake Oswego coach Jason Fawcett said.

It didn't help matters that Lake Oswego got into early foul trouble. The biggest problem came when defensive stopper Ali Lomax picked up her second foul just 27 seconds into the game. She then headed to the bench and stayed there until midway through the second quarter.

Oregon City's Kelly Marchant, the player Lomax was assigned to, then had a hey day in Lomax's absence. After being shut down in the first game between the two teams, Marchant scored the first six points in Tuesday's game. She added a three-pointer later in the first quarter and had 14 first-half points by the time Lomax returned to the game.

But even if Lomax had played the entire night, the Lakers would have been hard-pressed to win with the effort they showed on offense. It wasn't just the missed shots, of which there were plenty, that led to the Lakers' undoing. They also turned the ball over with such regularlity that they were never able to get into much of a rhythm on offense.

There was a brief moment of hope late in the first quarter when Lake Oswego trimmed Oregon City's lead to 15-11, thanks partly to a six-point effort by forward Margaret Johnson.

But the Lakers would get no closer for the rest of the game. Instead of making a run at the lead, the Lakers watched Oregon City reel off 12 unanswered points to push the Pioneers' lead to 27-12 with two minutes left in the first half.

'The second we got down we tried to build right back up,' Lake Oswego guard Jill Shoquist said. 'But we started not having faith in each other and not trusting each other … Then we just never bounced back.'

Lake Oswego had only one basket in the second period. It came on a put-back by Shannon Reader at the 1:52 mark. That hoop ended a 7½-minute scoreless stretch for the Lakers.

'We do that against the other teams (in the league) for one or two possessions, and they we bounce back and get our focus again,' Fawcett said. 'But the pace that (Oregon City) wants to play at doesn't let you regain that focus as easily.'

Things improved only slightly in the third period, when the Lakers were limited to only six points - two each by Avery Lee, Johnson and Emily Hatch. Oregon City had only 12 points in that period (including six by Marchant), but the Pioneers still had a near insurmountable lead at 41-19.

After another long scoreless stretch that encompassed the last half of the third period and the first half of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were finally able to play their best basketball of the night. But it was too little, too late by then.

'We'll learn from this,' Fawcett said of his team's lopsided loss. 'I'm not discouraged … but I'm disappointed, because I thought we were a little further down the line on the learning curve. We still have the tools for what we need to do.'

'I think we'll be fine,' Shoquist added. 'Today's today and tomorrow is tomorrow. We're already thinking about tomorrow.'

And now the league title could be decided by a coin flip.

'That's the rumor,' Fawcett said. 'So I guess I better start practicing my coin flips … I know what I'm calling but I can't let you know.'