Last Friday's 50-point loss to cross-town rival Lake Oswego ended Lakeridge's slim chance of making the playoffs, but the Pacers refused to give up on the remainder of their season.
Lakeridge coach Dave Nuss was almost expecting a letdown after last Friday's big loss. On the surface, that appeared to temporarily happen on Tuesday as Milwaukie jumped a 15-point halftime lead over the Pacers.
But Lakeridge (4-7 TRL, 10-13) regrouped nicely, thanks to a stout defensive effort, and turned what could have been a disappointing loss into a 61-56 victory.
'I knew (Milwaukie) was going to be pretty tough,' Nuss said. 'I was telling our guys that we had to be ready.'
One might think that Nuss was giving Milwaukie too much credit, especially since the Mustangs were 2-9 in league play and 4-18 overall coming into the contest. But Milwaukie has played well lately and gave third-place West Linn a tough test last week.
The Mustangs continued their solid play through the first half of Tuesday's game with the Pacers as Andrew Lee turned in a career performance with 17 first-half points. But Lee never scored another point as Lakeridge turned up the pressure with its defense.
'Defense won it for us … without a doubt,' Nuss said.
Considering the fact that Lakeridge had nothing tangible to play for, the Pacers easily could have packed it in after falling behind by 15 at intermission.
'But we challenged them at half and they responded,' the coach said. 'That's a good feeling.'
Senior guard Joe Cramer had possibly the best game of his career with a game-high 22 points. He was the only Lakeridge player in double figures. However, Graham Moredock, Brett Klitz, Tyler Larsen and Alex Gay combined for another 30 points.
Klitz had all eight of his points in the third quarter, 'which was very instrumental,' the coach said. Plus, Gay turned in a good defensive game, as did Andrew Mertz coming off the bench.
In addition, Brian Luevano hit four clutch free throws down the stretch in the fourth quarter. They were the only points Luevano scored in the game.
'It was a great team effort,' Nuss said.
This is the first time in Nuss' four-year tenure at Lakeridge that the Pacers were eliminated from the playoffs before the regular season ended.
'I know the guys are disappointed,' Nuss said. 'But we've been struggling from our first league game … From then on, it's been an uphill battle.'
The Pacers could still finish the season with a big statement if they can beat Clackamas at home tonight, which will be senior night.
'We're going to go after (Clackamas) strong,' Nuss said. 'We're going to be pumped.'