Which Lake Oswego softball team will show up for the state playoffs, which begin on Friday?
Will it be the team that had the potential to win a second consecutive Three Rivers League championship, or will it be the team that nearly played its way out of the playoffs.
More than anyone, Lake Oswego coach Don Hunt would like to know the answer to that question. But he's not even sure what to expect from a team that finished the regular season with two frustrating losses.
Because of those losses, the Lakers had to settle for the TRL's fourth playoff seed, which means a road game against Lincoln in the first round of the playoffs. Typically, this is the time of the year when teams begin to put everything together. But during the last week, the Lakers (9-9) took a step sideways if not backwards.
The Lakers began their tuneup for the playoffs by losing a 3-0 decision to cross-town rival Lakeridge last Friday. Granted, the Pacers (6-12) are a much improved team this season, but in the previous game between the two teams, Lake Oswego won 9-0.
Even with last week's loss to the Pacers, Lake Oswego still could have grabbed the TRL's No. 3 playoff berth with a victory over Oregon City on Monday. The Lakers got a playoff-type performance from their defense and pitcher Taylor Hemzacek was superb on the mound. But Lake Oswego couldn't get a hit when it needed one and wound up losing the contest 1-0.
Oregon City's second baseman was almost personally responsible for her team's victory after she made two spectacular catches on line drives. Each time the Lakers had two runners in scoring position. She then ended the game with an unassisted double play.
'She literally won the game by herself,' Hunt said. 'If she makes neither one of those plays, we win the game 4-1. It was just one of those games.'
Unfortunately, the Lakers have had a number of games this season where they couldn't quite get over the hump.
'It's been an awfully long year. It's been one thing after another,' the coach said.
The good news is everything starts anew on Friday when the playoffs open with the Lakers playing Lincoln at Irv Lind Park, which is located at NE 57th and Halsey.
Last year, the Lakers easily beat Lincoln in a playoff warm-up game. This year, who knows what will happen.
'If we play like we did against Oregon City, we can beat anybody,' Hunt said.
Lake Oswego's biggest problem this year has been an inability to score runs. Yet, the Lakers possess the league's best hitter in Carlen Don. She hit .548 for the season after going 4 for 4 against Oregon City.
It's not surprising that she leads her team in hits, runs scored, RBIs and doubles. She is so feared that league champion Putnam intentionally walked her three times in a recent game, including once when first base was occupied.
'I would have done the same thing,' Hunt said.
Lately, the Lakers haven't been getting enough hits behind Don to keep the opposition honest.
'We've been such an up and down team,' Hunt said of his squad.
But, if the team that nearly beat Oregon City shows up for the playoffs, 'we'll be OK,' the coach said.
Hunt did get some good news recently when senior shortstop Courtney Fitzgerald returned to the lineup after missing most of the season with a broken wrist. Unfortunately, the wrist still hasn't healed enough for Fitzgerald to bat, but she's already made a couple of stellar plays in the field.
Plus, Hemzacek has pitched well lately even though she's been bothered by an apparent pinched nerve in her back. Hunt nearly pulled her from the Lakeridge and Oregon City games but Hemzacek pleaded to stay in and the coach stayed with her.
Meanwhile, the Lake Oswego baseball team tied West Linn for the Three Rivers League championship after routing Oregon City 17-5 on Monday. Unfortunately, the Lakers (14-4 TRL, 18-6 overall) had to settle for the league's No. 2 playoff berth after losing two of three games to West Linn during the regular season.
With the No. 2 berth, the Lakers will host Franklin in the first round of the playoffs. That game will be played Friday at 4:30 p.m.
The Quakers finished third in the PIL despite having a losing record. They were 7-9 in league play and 9-10 overall. Yet, Lake Oswego coach Jake Anders still sees Franklin as a serious threat.
'The key is you can't overlook your opponent,' the coach said. 'We did that in the regular season and it cost us … It's not always the best team that wins.'
But the Lakers will counter with the best hitting team Anders has had during his nine years at Lake Oswego. Plus, the Lakers have plenty of post-season experience, going 7-4 during Anders' tenure. That included a state title in 2004 and a trip to the quarterfinals last year.
'If we play like we did against Oregon City, we can beat anybody,' Anders said.
That effort against the Pioneers included three home runs. One was a grand slam by Bennett Frazier. Plus, Cooper Mandelblatt had a two-run shot and Matt Stutes hit a solo blast.
In addition, Jared Van Hoon, who will be the likely starter on Friday, threw a complete game against the Pioneers.
'I think everybody is ready for the playoffs,' Anders said.