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Pacer boys save best effort for second half

A lot can happen in eight days. Just ask the Lakeridge boys basketball team.

During that time, the Pacers transformed themselves from a team that didn't look comfortable together on the floor to a squad that looks like a bona fide playoff contender.

After beating a tough Tigard team, by a 57-48 score on Tuesday, it's almost hard to believe that the Pacers were barely able to score against Sunset in last week's jamboree.

'It was a big, big win,' Lakeridge coach Dave Nuss said of the Tigard contest. 'For this early in the season, it was a big win.'

But it didn't come easily. The Pacers trailed by 11 points (at 31-20) at halftime, and they faced a 13-point third-quarter deficit before rallying for the victory. The key to the turnaround came when the Pacers scored five points in the final eight seconds of the third quarter.

The mini spurt started when Ben Nelson hit a three-pointer with eight seconds left in the period. Then, Nelson stole a pass near mid-court and quickly hit teammate Josh Little for a lay-up that barely beat the buzzer.

That cut Tigard's lead to 43-37 and left the Pacers with a deficit that was much more manageable.

'That just sort of changed the complexion of the whole game,' Nuss said. 'Then, our guys thought we were in this game.'

As it turned out, the Pacers owned the rest of the game as they outscored the Tigers 20-5 in the final period. Little and Chris Hoch led the charge in that last stanza with eight points each.

'They really stepped it up,' Nuss said of the efforts of Little and Hoch down the stretch.

Little finished as the team's leading scorer with 17 points. Hoch wound up with 12 while hitting all six of his shot attempts. Plus, Tyler Larsen, the team's leading scorer in a pair of games last weekend, had 10 points; and Nelson and Trevan Hertz added seven points each to the cause.

Hoch might have been the Pacers' X factor. He played most of last Saturday's game against Sandy with a sprained ankle. Then, after the ankle stiffened on Sunday, Hoch was forced to the sideline for Monday's practice. That meant he couldn't start Tuesday's game. But when he finally entered the lineup he delivered in a big way.

'He made some big plays for us in the fourth quarter,' Nuss said. 'He was very active and he was finishing inside and getting rebounds.'

Plus, as noted earlier, he hit all six of his shot attempts. Not bad for a guy who was playing injured.

'He said it was a little sore,' Nuss said of Hoch's sprained ankle, 'but you couldn't tell by the way he played.'

Considering the way they played against Sunset last week, the Pacers could have been in trouble against Tigard. Things did look bleak for a while in the first half, and the problems continued in the third quarter when the Tigers turned up the pressure with their full-court press.

'Then, our guys started getting turnovers and we started running our offense better,' Nuss said.

Still, the Pacers could have faced a double-digit deficit heading into the final period if not for the heroics of Nelson and Little. Then, all of the momentum was on Lakeridge's side.

'Old Mo is a nice guy to have on your side,' Nuss said.

The Lakeridge crowd also played a big part in the turnaround. When the Pacers started making their move, their rooters became very vocal and Nuss felt that helped spur his players on.

'That's something we haven't heard in our gym for a while,' Nuss said of the crowd. 'They picked us up … They were awesome.'

The Pacers entered the Tigard game after having split a pair of games at the Aloha tournament last week. They started the tournament off by losing to Franklin 69-56. That loss spoiled a huge game by Larsen.

He finished with 25 points but 20 of those came in the fourth quarter when the Pacers were trying to mount a big rally. Unfortunately, the Pacers had already dug themselves a large hole when they were outscored 23-7 in the first quarter.

'We played much better in the second half but we could never get over the hump,' Nuss said.

That set up a consolation showdown the following day against Sandy. The Pioneers were one of the few teams that Lakeridge was able to dominate last year, and this season's rematch was no exception.

The Pacers set the tone with a 22-9 first-quarter advantage, and they stretched that margin to 16 points by halftime. Sandy was never able to recover after that.

Larsen led the way with a career-best 32 points while Little chipped in 18.

'We came out strong from the get-go,' Nuss said of the Sandy game. 'On defense, we forced lots of turnovers and we had lots of assists (on offense) …. We probably passed the ball better than any team I've ever had.'