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The Lakers clinch the Three Rivers League championship with their 67-59 road victory

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego High School senior Sam Abere (left) looks to go the basket in front of Tigard freshman Malik Brown (12) during the Lakers' 67-59 league win on Friday.Nothing comes easy in the Three Rivers League.

Winning a league championship in the Three Rivers League is nothing short of a grueling task.

Well, the Lake Oswego High School boys basketball team has had its sights set on that Three Rivers League title all season long. On Friday, the Lakers achieved that lofty goal — but the championship-clinching victory was anything but easy.

Lake Oswego, fighting off a persistent Tigard squad all game long, got a hard-fought 67-59 win over the Tigers in a Three Rivers League showdown played at Tigard High School.

"It went well. We came out with a plan, and I think we executed very well," said Lake Oswego senior guard Casey Graver, who scored 17 points in the contest. "We've been good with adversity all year, and tonight was no different."

"It went pretty well," said Lake Oswego senior guard Sam Abere, who tallied a game-high 18 points. "It was kind of rocky in the second quarter, in the last two minutes, and we let them get back into it. But it was about playing connected, and playing together, and I think we did a good job of that tonight."

With the win, Lake Oswego improved to 10-0 in TRL play (14-8 overall). And, coupled with West Linn's loss at Oregon City on Friday, the Lakers clinched their third straight outright Three Rivers League championship.

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego High School senior Casey Graver (right) battles Tigard junior Drew Carter for a loose ball during the teams' Three Rivers League contest on Friday.PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard High School senior Steven Long tries to battle his way to the basket during the Tigers' league game with Lake Oswego on Friday."This is a big one. Clinching league is huge, and they're a top-10 team," Abere said. "The league title is really huge. We've held it down the last two years, and this will be my third year in a row. It means a lot to us, and it helps give us confidence going into the playoffs."

"It's one of the many goals we've set," Graver said of the league title. "This was huge. Every game is huge for us in this point. We know what we need to do to get some of our goals accomplished, and this was another step tonight."

With the setback, Tigard moved to 5-5 in TRL games (15-7 overall), putting the Tigers in a tie with Tualatin for third place in the league standings.

"It was just another one of those games where we weren't hitting our shots, and they were knocking them down," said Tigard senior wing Steven Long, who scored 13 points in the contest. "It was really close. At the end, we were just trading buckets with them, we needed to get some stops."

"We fought back in it, but we just kept trading baskets. Like coach (Shawn Alderman) said, we always get a lead, and then they catch up to us," said Tigard freshman guard Malik Brown, who had a strong overall performance in the game. "Then we fight back, but it's just too late. We celebrated on our makes, and then we didn't get back on defense, and we just kept trading baskets."

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego High School senior Jack Chlumak goes up high for a shot during the Lakers' 67-59 Three Rivers League win at Tigard on Friday.PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard High School freshman Malik Brown (12) quickly brings the ball upcourt on a fastbreak during the Tigers' league game with Lake Oswego.The fired up Tigers got off to a fast start to the contest. Tigard junior Drew Carter, after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt, made all three of his ensuing free throws, giving the Tigers a 10-5 lead with 5 minutes and 22 seconds left to play in the first quarter.

Lake Oswego came fighting back. The Lakers took their first lead of the game, at 12-10, when senior post Jack Chlumak scored on a layup with 3:12 left in the quarter. From there, Lake Oswego got a 4-point play by junior Grayden Smith, followed by baskets by Chlumak and junior post Trace Salton, giving the Lakers a 20-16 lead at the end of the opening period.

Lake Oswego kept rolling in the second quarter. The Lakers opened up a 10-point advantage, at 31-21, when Graver sank a 3-pointer, coming off a pass from Salton, with 2:56 left before halftime. The lead was at 35-23 after Abere connected on a foul-line jumper with 1:16 remaining in the period.

But the Tigers turned things around before the break. Tigard freshman Kalim Brown sank a 3-pointer, coming off an assist from Carter, and junior Jake Wihtol came up with a steal and breakaway dunk with just four seconds left in the quarter, trimming the Lake Oswego lead to 35-28 at the intermission.

Tigard kept momentum early in the third quarter. Junior Brett Moss opened the period with a basket on a foul-line jumper, following a steal and pass by Malik Brown, and Long sank a 3-pointer, cutting the margin to 35-33 with 5:55 left in the quarter.

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego High School senior Grant Brauner (right) looks to drive against Tigard senior Steven Long during Friday's Three Rivers League contest.PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego High School junior post Trace Salton (10) goes up to the basket during the Lakers' league game at Tigard on Friday.But, as would become the theme in the second half, Lake Oswego answered Tigard's run with a run of its own. A pair of 3-pointer by Abere, and one by senior Grant Brauner, helped the Lakers up their lead to 46-36 with 3:01 left in the period.

Tigard rallied again. The Tigers, getting a pair of baskets by Carter, a steal and layup by Malik Brown and a basket by Wihtol, cut the lead to 48-44 in the final minute of the third quarter.

But Graver ended the period by sinking a running, buzzer-beating 3-point bank shot from about 30 free away, giving the Lakers a 51-44 cushion going into the fourth quarter.

"I've actually been fortunate to hit a couple of those this year," Graver said of the basket. "My teammates, like Jack Chlumak, help me out. At the end of quarters, I don't know, I guess I just like the clock running down like that. It was awesome."

The Lakers kept control early in the final period. They opened a 59-48 advantage following a basket by Chlumak, coming with 5:33 left in the game.

But Tigard had one more big rally. The Tigers, with Long converting a 3-point play, and following up with a 3-point basket, and, with Kalim Brown sinking a 3-pointer off a pass from Malik Brown, cut the Lake Oswego lead to 61-57 with 2:09 remaining in the contest.

Tigard had a chance to get even closer, but missed on a pair of 3-point shots in its next possession. Then, after getting another stop, the Tigers missed on another shot, with the ball going out of bounds to the Lakers.

From there, Lake Oswego got four straight points by Salton, including a dunk off a pass from Graver, to help secure the 67-59 victory.

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard High School junior Drew Carter (5) takes a jump shot during the Tigers' Three Rivers League game with Lake Oswego on Friday.PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego senior Casey Graver (left) tries to go up to the basket against Tigard junior Drew Carter during Friday's Three Rivers League contest."We've been in these situations before," Abere said. "We've had three overtime games, and two of those were wins. In the fourth quarter, that's where we come together and play our best basketball. This was very fun. Games like this are always the best."

"When they make a run, we know it's on us, the five guys on the court, the guys on the bench," Graver said. "We did a great job talking all night long. We had so many contributions tonight, it was huge."

Abere, sinking three 3-pointers after the break, scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the second half.

"I kind of took advantage of what they were giving me," Abere said. "The last couple of games, I haven't been scoring a lot, so I knew people would be playing off me, so I just let it fly."

Abere was also key on defense for the Lakers, helping limit Carter to 16 points in the contest.

"Last game, he had 36, so this game, it was all about making sure we knew where he was, not getting lost, and not let him get hot, like he does, because he's a helluva player," Abere said.

Graver had six rebounds to go with his 17 points. Salton added 12 points for the Lakers. Chlumak had nine, and Smith scored six.

Lake Oswego, as a team, made 26 of 51 shots from the field, with nine 3-pointers, and six of seven free-throw attempts.

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard High School freshman guard Malik Brown (right) looks to drive against Lake Oswego senior Casey Graver during Friday's Three Rivers League contest.Carter's 16 points led Tigard. He also had five rebounds and three assists. Long scored nine of his 13 points in the second half.

"I was just trying to be confident in my shot, and play to my strengths," Long said.

Malik Brown had nine points, three assists and three steals as he continued his strong freshman season.

"I love it," he said. "It's a great experience, great teammates and I can't wait for the playoffs. I love the team."

Kalim Brown added eight points for the Tigers. Wihtol scored six and Moss pulled down six rebounds.

Tigard, as a team, made 22 of 56 shots from the field, with six 3-pointers, and nine of 10 free-throw attempts.

"We've been learning that for awhile, but we need to lock in. We just have to figure it out, and get back," Malik Brown said. "Games like this will help us. It's fun."

"We gave a great effort, just, next time, we need to knock down our shots, and get some stops, too," Long said. "Playing against tough teams like this will help us a lot, especially mentally. We just need to close out games like this."

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Lake Oswego senior Jack Chlumak (right) brings the ball into front court against Tigard freshman Malik Brown during Friday's Three Rivers League game.Both teams will be back in action on Wednesday. Lake Oswego will travel to Canby for a 7 p.m. league game, and Tigard will play at rival Tualatin in a 7:15 p.m. league contest.

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