Lake Oswego hits 22 of 24 free throws in the fourth quarter en route to a 66-56 victory over Oregon City, which gave the Lakers first place in the TRL
by: Matt Sherman, Lake Oswego’s Margaret Johnson, left, looks to score during Tuesday’s game against West Linn. Johnson scored a team-high 13 points as Lake Oswego registered a 49-33 victory. Johnson had 10 points in Lake Oswego’s 66-56 victory over Oregon City last Friday. That win moved Lake Oswego into sole possession of first place in the Three Rivers League.

When the Lake Oswego girls beat Oregon City three seasons ago there was jubilation on the court with students swarming the team after the final buzzer.

Last Friday, the Lakers did it again, topping the second-ranked Pioneers 66-56 while moving into first place in the Three Rivers League. But this time, the celebration was restrained. There were some smiles directed toward the bench when it became evident that Lake Oswego would win and hugs between teammates occurred after the game but there was little fanfare.

Perhaps it was because, this time, the Lakers expected to win. And this time, Lake Oswego outplayed the Pioneers for the majority of the game. And maybe the time has finally come where black and red jerseys are simply not as synonymous with dominating victories as they once were.

In previous years, the type of game that occurred on Friday would have played perfectly into Oregon City's hand. Generally, in a game when defense reigns supreme and a team finds itself in striking distance of toppling the Pioneers, it begins to panic and is promptly run out of the building.

But last week, the Lakers played with cooler heads, protected the basketball in the second half and showed an almost unbelievable amount of poise from the foul line when it mattered most.

After clawing their way to a slight lead in the final period, the Lakers knocked down 22 of 24 foul shots, making it nearly impossible for Oregon City to chip away at the deficit.

'We shoot a lot of free throws in practice after running and after they're tired. They're comfortable and they're confident. You have to give them a lot of credit,' Lake Oswego coach Jason Fawcett said.

Posts Emily Hatch and Margaret Johnson combined to hit all 14 of their free throws in the quarter and also pulled down a combined 12 rebounds in the period, forcing the Pioneers to be perfect on offense.

'We had a whole lot of confidence. Oregon City brings a lot of pressure inside and outside but we were able to match it,' Hatch said.

It was a stellar, workmanlike performance for the Lakers who now find themselves near the top of the list of contendors for a possible state title.

The game see-sawed back and forth for the better part of three quarters but, at no point, did Oregon City ever seem to have the upperhand against the Lakers.

In the first quarter, Hatch scored the team's first seven points. Lake Oswego probably could have jumped out to a substantial lead had it not been for 11 first-quarter turnovers. Some of those mistakes were forced by the Pioneers' press, but others were simply careless.

Oregon City also shot the ball well in the first half and the Lakers led 13-12 after the opening period.

In the second quarter, Lake Oswego's dominance on the glass started to kick in. For the game, the team nearly tripled Oregon City's rebounding output. Hatch pulled down five boards and Becky Luetjen added three off the bench in the quarter for Lake Oswego.

Luetjen also knocked down four free throws in the quarter. But the biggest story of the first half was the defense played by Ali Lomax.

Lomax had the unenviable task of guarding Natalie Marchant, one of the best players in the state. Marchant was pestered all game long and was, remarkably, held scoreless through two quarters, missing all four of her shot attempts.

'Kelly's a great player and she's a tough match-up. Ali worked her tail off chasing her around,' Fawcett said.

Still, the Lakers couldn't pull away. An offensive rebound by point guard Sarah Griffin and the ensuing putback at the buzzer gave Lake Oswego a slim 27-25 lead at the break.

The Lakers quickly built the lead to five points in the third quarter but Marchant finally came alive for Oregon City.

She scored her first points of the game on a pair of free throws and then hit two deep three-pointers to spark an 8-0 run. They would be her only field goals of the game.

But that run gave the Pioneers a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Still, the Lakers showed no signs of panicking. The Pioneers backed off their press in the fourth quarter and it proved to be a fatal mistake.

'It was about confidence and focus. We all trusted each other tonight,' Hatch said.

Lake Oswego only had two turnovers in the final quarter and was able to work the ball inside. As a result, the Lakers got to the line where they regained the lead and eventually pulled away.

Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game at 42 and then Hatch scored on three straight possessions to give her team a four-point lead it wouldn't surrender.

'We worked the ball around and found a lot of open opportunities,' Hatch said.

Lake Oswego built a nine-point lead until a banked three-pointer cut the deficit to six. But the Lakers refused to let any nerves get to them, as Johnson and Jill Shoquist knocked down four more free throws to seal the game.

Hatch led all scorers in the game with 19 points and also pulled down 16 rebounds.

'Emily Hatch was amazing on the boards tonight. She's relentless in the paint and that just breeds to everyone else,' Fawcett said.

The victory moved Lake Oswego into sole possession of first place but a potential trap game against a streaky West Linn team loomed ahead.

On Tuesday, Lake Oswego didn't play its best game but its stifling defense was still too much for a West Linn team that has recently struggled to find its offense.

Lake Oswego opted to use its press sparingly against West Linn's quick guards and its concentration on getting into passing lanes and forcing outside shots worked to perfection.

'We can play some great half-court defense, definitely,' Fawcett said.

After trailing 5-3 early on, the Lakers scored five straight points and never surrendered the lead again.

Johnson had a stellar game, knocking down three jump shots in the first half. Although the Lakers had some sloppy turnovers and missed more shots inside than Fawcett would have liked, the team passed the ball well and routinely got good looks at the basket.

'The beauty of Margaret is that she's such a tough match-up. If they put a guard on her, she can go inside, if they put a post on her, she can step outside,' Fawcett said.

Lake Oswego only yielded 13 first-half points and led 26-13 at the break.

West Linn came out with some renewed energy in the third quarter, opening with a small 6-2 run but Lake Oswego weathered the brief storm and still led by 10 with one quarter to play.

'West Linn is extremely scrappy and had a great game plan,' Fawcett said.

A West Linn three-pointer cut the lead to nine points but that was as close as the Lions would get.

Lake Oswego then went on a 14-2 run to put the game away. The final six points of the game were scored after West Linn turnovers.

The Lakers completed the first half of their league schedule by going unbeaten and will take on third-place Clackamas on Friday.

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