One by one, with tears in their eyes, the members of the Lakeridge girls basketball team slowly filed out of the locker room for the last time this season after last Thursday's season finale against Clackamas. The players weren't ready for the season to end, but end it did after a heartbreaking 45-38 loss to the Cavs.
With a win, Lakeridge would have found itself in a three-way tie for the TRL's third and fourth playoff spots. Instead, Clackamas claimed the No. 3 berth while West Linn, a team Lakeridge beat three weeks ago, wound as the No. 4 team. Lakeridge, which was saddled with one of the toughest schedules in the state, wound up with an early start to spring break.
For a while, it looked like Lakeridge's season would continue a while longer. In fact, the Pacers turned in one of their best first halves of the season as they took a 23-16 lead into the locker room at intermission. Junior post Kiersten McNairy was a major force in that half with nine points and junior guard Kai Schmidt kept the Cavs honest by hitting a pair of three-pointers.
'Yeah, we looked pretty good,' Lakeridge coach Mike Melin said of his team's first-half effort. 'For the most part, I thought we controlled the tempo, even though (Clackamas) wanted to run. We made them play our game.'
But the Cavs have proved to be a resilient bunch this season. Even after losing stalwart point guard Cameryn Calhoun to a season-ending injury the week before, the Cavs still had plenty of offensive weapons.
In the third period of Thursday's game, it was Brooklyn Humble's turn to shine for the Cavs. She scored nine points in that quarter, including a three-pointer to open the half.
The Pacers, meanwhile, went ice cold in the third stanza with McNairy and Kirah Aldinger-Gibson scoring the team's only baskets of the period. Aldinger-Gibson's basket tied the contest at 27-all. But a short time later, Clackamas freshman Alisa Griggs answered with a fade-away jumper and the Cavs had a lead they would never relinquish.
It was Griggs' basket that started an 8-0 run, which gave the Cavs all of the separation they needed. After that, the Pacers seemed to answer every time Clackamas scored, but they couldn't make up that earlier deficit.
Even though the Pacers trailed the entire fourth quarter, they still had plenty of reasons to be optimistic during that period. Two times they closed the deficit to three points - once on a basket by Amanda Huck and later on a pair of free throws by Aldinger-Gibson.
Those foul shots made it 38-35 with 3:59 left in the contest. But Lakeridge scored only one more time the rest of the way - when Aldinger-Gibson hit a three-pointer with five seconds left. In between, the Pacers came up empty-handed on five possessions and twice they gave up critical offensive rebounds to the Cavs.
'When you're trading baskets, you've got to make the ones that are crucial. And (the Cavs) made theirs and we missed a couple of ours,' Melin said.
Lakeridge finished the season 9-15 overall, but eight of those losses came during a brutal preseason schedule when the Pacers ran into most of the top teams in the state. That rough start carried into January as the Pacers lost four of their first six league games.
At that point, a lot of people felt Lakeridge was all but finished. But the Pacers rallied nicely down the stretch and stayed in the playoff chase until the bitter end.
'We had the second or third toughest schedule in the state. But the kids didn't get their dobbers down. They kept playing hard,' Melin said.
By the end, Melin might have been the saddest person to see the season end. He loved the way his players constantly played their hearts out.
'They did all of the things we asked them to do and we played until the last game of the season. There's a bunch of teams that didn't even have the option to do that this year,' the coach said.
'The kids could have folded at any time. But they just kept working hard and they had good attitudes. As a high school coach, that's the kind of kids you want to have around.'
For the game, McNairy led the Pacers with 11 points while Aldinger-Gibson added nine and Huck had eight. Early this week, it was announced that Huck and Schmidt both earned second-team all-league honors.