The Laker girls' three games at this year's state basketball tournament were virtually indistinguishable. The team played stifling defense for 12 quarters and firmly established itself as the most physical squad in the field.
As a result, all three games were exceedingly close and each was decided by a second-half spurt. Unfortunately for Lake Oswego, the team was on the positive end of only one of those spurts and dropped a pair of tough games to the eventual state champions and third-place victors.
Ironically, the Lakers beat Sheldon in the opening round but the Irish rebounded to win the consolation bracket, finishing in fourth place overall, one spot ahead of Lake Oswego.
The key game for the Lakers in the tournament was their semifinal match-up against Southridge. The Skyhawks ended up capturing the state title but Lake Oswego played them close, pulling within one point in the fourth quarter.
But Southridge was able to grind out a hard-fought, albeit aesthetically displeasing, victory as the Lakers' shooting woes and foul trouble caught up with them. The pill was harder to swallow when, the next day, Southridge buried Jesuit to win the state title.
Still, it was an impressive season for the Lakers who rolled to a 24-5 record and claimed the top seed in the Three Rivers League, which Oregon City had previously grasped with a stranglehold. Below is a summary of the Lakers' 2007 state tournament:
Lake Oswego 40 Sheldon 32
After Lake Oswego's opening-round victory, a sloppy affair that saw the Lakers trail for the majority of the game before pulling away in the fourth quarter, the general consensus was that Lake Oswego was lucky to avoid such a large upset.
However, as the tournament went on, the Irish rolled over Lincoln and then beat Oregon City in triple overtime for fourth place, shattering the tournament's combined scoring record in the process.
As it turned out, the game wouldn't be an anomaly. Instead, it fit into a pattern. Baskets were at a premium early on. Avery Lee's three-pointer midway through the opening quarter marked the game's first points.
But the Irish rallied to take a 9-5 lead after eight minutes. Lake Oswego turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and missed a bevy of shots from right around the basket.
Sheldon's Kendra Little scored nine points in the second quarter and the Lakers' most disruptive defender, Ali Lomax, found herself in foul trouble.
Lake Oswego trailed by four at the break and quickly found themselves in an eight-point hole in the third stanza. Plus, Lomax picked up her fourth foul. Suddenly, the Lakers were in legitimate trouble.
The Lakers responded by upping their defensive pressure and it sparked a 10-2 run. Jill Shoquist's steal and lay-up was followed by a pair of free throws from Shannon Reader, tying the game at 25-25 with one quarter to play.
Sheldon wasn't fazed and scored the first four points of the quarter. However, the Lakers regained some confidence on offense as Becky Luetjen converted a driving lay-up and Lomax knocked down a jump shot to knot the score again.
With just a few minutes to play, Lomax scored again and was fouled. She missed the free throw but Emily Hatch hauled in the rebound and scored.
Sheldon was rattled and late turnovers by the Irish clinched a berth in the semifinals for Lake Oswego.
Southridge 41 Lake Oswego 34
This one will sting for a while. In more ways than one. The Lake Oswego girls basketball team's quest for a state championship ended against the Skyhawks in a tight and exceedingly physical contest that left both teams battered.
Perhaps the Lakers can take solace in the fact that they were the only opponent in the tournament that Southridge was not able to drub. The Skyhawks pounded Lincoln in the opening round and buried Jesuit in the championship but were unable to put the Lakers away until the game's final minutes.
The Lakers could never quite get over the hump and seize momentum of the game. They trailed by just a handful of points for, seemingly, the entire game.
Foul trouble also plagued Lake Oswego as both Margaret Johnson and Hatch were confined to the bench for most of the first half.
'It was pretty frustrating but you just have to roll with the punches,' Johnson said.
Strong defensive performances by both teams led to an inordinate number of turnovers early on. The teams combined to give the ball up 31 times in the first half, which made scoring chances difficult to come by.
'Defense has been our focus from day one. That's just the way we play. I just felt we made more mental mistakes than we're accustomed to,' Laker coach Jason Fawcett said.
Southridge jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and kept Lake Oswego without a field goal until Becky Luetjen knocked down a three-pointer with 13 seconds to play in the opening stanza, cutting the lead to 6-4.
The second quarter saw just as many turnovers but more scoring. After Ali Lomax scored on an assist from Jill Shoquist, the Lakers held an 8-7 lead. The teams then traded hoops until Southridge's Danielle Wells hit a lay-in with 22 seconds to play, giving her team a 16-14 advantage at the break.
The Skyhawks made it very clear what their plan was coming out of the locker room. With Hatch and Johnson both in foul trouble, Southridge forced the ball into their star post Michelle Jenkins' hands.
For a five-minute stretch, Jenkins was unstoppable. She scored 14 of her team's 17 points in the quarter as the lead swelled to eight points.
But strong play by Johnson, including a three-pointer, kept Lake Oswego within striking distance and the Lakers trailed by five with one quarter to play.
For the game, Lake Oswego shot only 27.5 percent from the field but took twice as many shots as Southridge did. The Lakers quickly cut into the Skyhawks' advantage in the final quarter. After a two and a half minute scoring drought by both teams, back to back hoops by Shoquist and Lee made the score 33-32.
Southridge responded by getting to the line and slowing the game down even more. Much to the chagrin of the Lake Oswego fans, Southridge attempted 37 free throws in the game as opposed to just 13 for the Lakers.
'You have to learn how to adjust to how the game is being called and I don't think we really did that,' Fawcett said.
However, the Skyhawks only hit 20 of those attempts and were just eight for 19 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
But Lake Oswego couldn't capitalize. The Lakers only scored six points in the final quarter. Southridge didn't convert a field goal in the fourth quarter but the few free throws they knocked down were enough to seal the game.
Luetjen ended up with a team-high 11 points for the Lakers while Jenkins scored 21 and added six rebounds for Southridge.
The loss set up a showdown for third place against Central Catholic, the team that Lake Oswego was tied with at the top of the polls for part of the season.
Central Catholic 63 Lake Oswego 52
The Lakers saved, arguably, their best performance for last. Once again, Lake Oswego found itself in position to come away with a victory, but some poor shooting and a brief lapse early in the fourth quarter allowed the Rams to pull away.
This time, it wasn't missed lay-ups or bad turnovers that thwarted the Lakers in the early going. Instead it was the interior play of Kate Wade who blocked five shots in the opening period.
On the other end of the floor, Johnson picked up two fouls in under a minute while Central Catholic's star, Becky Goll, also committed a pair of fouls.
Including the blocked shots, the Lakers missed their first 10 field goal attempts and trailed 12-6 at the end of the opening quarter.
Lake Oswego mounted a spirited rally in the second period and went on its biggest run of the tournament. After falling behind 16-8, the Lakers scored the next 13 points of the game.
Lomax scored six consecutive points in that stretch and Lee added five, including a three-pointer that capped the run. At the half, the Lakers led 21-18.
'We finally got into our game in the second quarter and things started to click,' Johnson said.
The third quarter went back and forth with Johnson taking over on offense for Lake Oswego. The senior scored seven points in the quarter while Luetjen knocked down four free throws.
Lomax picked up her fourth foul in the quarter and her absence allowed the Rams to attack the basket and, eventually take a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Central Catholic essentially put the game away in the opening minutes of the final period. The Rams went on a 13-1 run and knocked down the majority of their free throws to keep the Lakers at a distance.
'We had every opportunity (to win) but they really hit their shots. They're tough to beat when they're doing that,' Fawcett said.
Johnson scored seven more points and had three rebounds in the quarter for her team, but Lake Oswego couldn't make up ground.
'I think this was a good learning experience, especially for our young players to go up against this kind of competition,' Fawcett said.
The Laker girls lose five seniors, all of whom were significant contributors to this year's team. Hatch, Johnson, Lee, Lomax and Shoquist will all graduate, leaving a number of holes to fill.
However, Lake Oswego should still be very competitive next season as Luetjen Reader and point guard Sarah Griffin will be back to compete in what is expected to be a very unpredictable league.