How much lower can the Lake Oswego boys golf team shoot?

Earlier in the year, the Lakers were ecstatic about breaking the 300 barrier for a team score. Now, a score in the 280s is beginning to look realistic.

In fact, the Lakers nearly made it into the 280s when they easily won Monday's league tournament at Persimmon Golf Course in Gresham with a 291 mark. It was the lowest team score during the four-year tenure of head coach Chris Sheik, and now the Lakers have reached the point where they could be serious contenders for a state title.

'It's where we have to be,' Sheik said of his team's low score. 'It's been a great year so far. We just want to carry this thing through.'

The Lakers have won all five TRL matches this year and they would have be odds-on favorites to win next week's event at Oregon Golf Club. Then it's on to the district tournament the following week at Stone Creek, where the Lakers always seem to play well.

To shoot a score in the low 290s, it requires virtually everyone on the team going low and that's what happened Monday in Gresham. Kevin Gay led with the way with a 68 while Jake Sullivan had a 71 and Elliot Marshall turned in a 74. Not only were they Lake Oswego's top three scorers, but they also went 1-2-3 in the tournament, although Marshall's 74 was tied by Troy Douglass of Lakeridge.

In addition, Matt Montpass had a 78 and Chris Metcalf carded an 80, which is a respectable score, but the Lakers didn't even have to use it as part of their team total.

While Lake Oswego has nearly clinched the league title, Gay is on the verge of doing the same for the league's top individual honor. He's won the last four league tournaments while averaging a 71. His only blemish came in the first league event when he shot a 78 and was well behind teammate Kevin Day's pace-setting 71.

Even though Gay has made everything look easy this season, he said that's definitely not the case.

'It's been a bit of a struggle,' he said after Monday's round. 'It just takes a lot of effort.'

For most good players, that extra effort is usually spent during practice. And Gay said he spends most of his practice time working on his chipping and putting, which he believes has saved him approximately four shots per round.

Monday's 68 was Gay's best round ever, eclipsing a 69 he shot last summer, although he can't remember what course he came on. But that 69, which was 3 under, still represents his lowest score in relation to par. On Monday, Persimmon was playing at a par 70.

Any way you cut it, a 68 is going to be hard to beat at the high school level.

'I know in the Three Rivers League that 2 over will probably win the tournament,' he said.

But Gay has been getting a lot of stiff competition from his teammates lately. On Monday, they all threatened to break 70.

'A lot of my friends have been nipping at my heels,' Gay said.

But it's a friendly rivalry.

'They're always calling me to go play,' he said. 'I think that helps us motivate each other.'

That competition apparently helped Sullivan, who hadn't played a varsity match in a while because the competition within the team had been so tough in recent weeks. But Sullivan won his spot back in a challenge match last week. After that round, Sheik was confident Sullivan would continue his strong play through this week's tournament.

'He had a couple tough challenge matches,' Sheik said. 'He deserved to have a low round.'

Now, it seems everyone on the team is playing with confidence.

'That's a huge thing,' the coach said, 'but golf is about 99 percent mental.'

While Lake Oswego was winning its fifth straight league tournament, cross-town rival Lakeridge was finishing second for the fifth straight time. After registering a season-low score of 310 the week before, the Pacers were probably thinking they might have a chance to unseat the Lakers in an upcoming tournament. But that's become a difficult proposition.

'I want to beat them,' Lakeridge coach Jason Wold said after his team fired a 322 score on Monday. 'But I'm thinking more about a state berth.'

After Monday's tourney, the Pacers now have a comfortable 10-point lead on third-place Clackamas. But the Pacers had to scramble to finish one stroke ahead of the Cavs this week.

The Cavs looked to be in good shape when their first three players came in with a 75, 78 and 79. Coming in at the same time were Douglass with a 74, Kevin Craig with an 83 and Ben Saulson with a 93.

Craig's round was higher than he typically shoots, but Saulson's round was off the charts compared to what he usually shoots. So, Wold figured his team was in trouble.

But Lakeridge's Matt Kitto followed with an 81 while his Clackamas counterpart carded a 91. Then, George Lin saved the day for Lakeridge when he registered an 84 while the last Clackamas player turn in a 91.

Lin's 84 meant Saulson's 93 wouldn't count in Lakeridge's team score. But with Clackamas recording a pair of 91s, one of them had to count, and that was just enough to give the Pacers a one-stroke margin over the Cavs.

Lin had shot a 43 on the front side and then a 41 on the back. Those two strokes wound up being the difference between the two teams.

'I used it as an example (afterward) of how important every stroke is,' Wold said.

Lin not only saved the day for the Pacers but he helped cheer up Saulson, who was 13 strokes off his normal score.

'(Saulson) felt he let us down,' Wold said. 'But he was relieved after (Lin came in).'

The scramble at the end over-shadowed the round turned in by Douglass, who has made a habit lately of being near the top of the leaderboard. But Wold doesn't want to put too much weight on one player's score.

'I don't focus as much on individuals as I do the team,' the coach said. 'The motivation (for everyone) is to help the team … I want them to feel responsible for the overall success of the team.'

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