For the first time in his four years as the head coach of the Lakeridge boys basketball team, Dave Nuss didn't get a chance to make plans for the post-season. His team was eliminated from contention even before last Thursday's league finale against Clackamas was played.
So, it would have been understandable if the Pacers had just gone through the motions in that game. It was more of a case of the opposite, however. In fact, the Pacers easily could have won the game.
The Pacers (4-8 TRL, 10-14 overall) appeared to be in a commanding position when they jumped to a 29-20 lead heading into the halftime break.
'We had a great first half, that's for sure,' Nuss said.
But Lakeridge couldn't sustain that effort and wound up losing the contest 52-50. Clackamas had to out-score Lakeridge by eight points in the final period to pull out the victory.
Clackamas managed to turn things around by switching to a zone defense in the second half. By the time Lakeridge adjusted to the change, it was almost too late.
'It kind of changed the flow of the game,' Nuss said of Clackamas' defensive switch, 'and we never really recovered.'
For a while in the fourth quarter it looked like Lakeridge might end up losing by double digits, but Joe Cramer hit two late three-pointers and Brett Klitz hit another one to make it a tight game at the end. Cramer finished with a team-high 13 points.
'They went down fighting,' Nuss said of his squad.
The most telling statistic of the game might have been the disparity in attempted free throws. The Cavs had 27 foul shots and made 18 of them. Lakeridge, meanwhile, was a minuscule 2 for 3 from the line. Lakeridge did commit three intentional fouls late in the game, which gave the Cavs six extra foul shots. Still, Nuss had a hard time explaining how there could have been such a difference in attempted free throws.
'We weren't getting the calls … That's tough to overcome,' the coach said. 'That (disparity) was very frustrating to look at … but that's kind of the way things went for us this year.'
Thursday's game as a whole 'was kind of a microcosm of our season,' the coach said, noting that things looked good for Lakeridge for a while and then, gradually, it all began to slip away.
'There were times when we played like a playoff team,' Nuss said. 'But we just never could get any consistency.'
Unfortunately, this year's team will lose seven players to graduation. The only underclassmen who saw much action were Tyler Larsen and Josh Little, a pair of 6-foot guards.
'That's a concern,' Nuss admitted as he anticipates greeting a relatively inexperienced group of players for the first day of practice next season.
But there is some talent in the pipeline. Next year's sophomore class appears to have some depth and a good work ethic. And the long-term prognosis looks excellent, thanks partly to a seventh-grade class that is coming off an excellent season this year.
But Nuss still sees some concerns at Lakeridge. For starters, Lakeridge has the second smallest enrollment among all 6A schools in the state. Even one-half of the state's 5A schools have larger enrollments than Lakeridge has. So, Nuss and other coaches at Lakeridge need to get the most out of every athlete they can find. And with a limited of top-level athletes at the school, most of them need to play multiple sports for all of the teams to be successful.
'We're all vying for the same A-level athletes,' Nuss said.
'But I'm not complaining,' the coach added. 'We're just trying to figure out how to deal with it.'