West Linn's boys lacrosse team caps a near-perfect season with a 13-9 victory over rival Lakeridge for its first state title in 11 years

by: VERN UYETAKE - West Linn lacrosse players hoist the state championship trophy at Lake Oswego High School following the team's 13-9 victory over Lakeridge.Last spring saw the West Linn boys lacrosse team return to the upper echelon of powers in Oregon, breaking a long drought by reaching the Final Four and falling just one win short of a state title.

This year, the Lions firmly established themselves as the premiere team in the state, capping one of the best season's in the program's history with a resounding 13-9 win over Lakeridge, atoning for last year's disappointing loss in the finals.

“We were hoping to be at this point. We just have a great mix of young talent and kids who have been around a bit,” coach Mark Flood said.

West Linn ran the table against Oregon opponents, finishing the season with a 21-1 record overall that included three victories against the Pacers, a Herculean accomplishment in itself.

The Lions' previous two wins over Lakeridge were defensive, evenly-matched slugfests with West Linn emerging with a pair of one-goal victories.

Given the parity between the two teams and after both the Lions and Pacers narrowly escaped Jesuit and OES in the semifinals, it seemed like a safe bet to assume Saturday's contest would also come down to the final possession.

Instead, West Linn shocked just about everyone in attendance by thoroughly routing Lakeridge for three quarters, building a 10-goal lead in the fourth quarter and then fended off a spirited rally to seal the team's first state title since 2003.

The Lions never trailed in the game and, after slowing Lakeridge's run midway through the final run, were never really threatened in the contest. It was a far cry from West Linn's previous game against Jesuit where the team trailed for all but 51.9 seconds, getting two goals from Ryan Klose in the final 70 seconds of play to top the Crusaders 9-8.

In that semifinal contest, West Linn was completely out of sorts for three quarters. The Lions have been a slow starting team at times this year and it nearly cost them dearly last week.

West Linn's offense was sluggish with very little ball movement. The Lions also committed uncharacteristic turnovers and struggled clearing the ball. As a result, West Linn fell behind 5-1 midway through the second quarter before starting to show signs of life late in the half.

Still, West Linn could only muster one more goal before the half on a nice individual effort from Graeme Henderson.

The Lions continued to rally in the third quarter, getting goals from Ryan Bowers and Jacob Taylor to gut the lead to one.

However, despite dominating possession in the quarter, the team struggled to convert, failing to score on a two-man-up opportunity at one point.

Jesuit would score again in the closing seconds of the quarter to lead 6-4.

The teams would trade man-up goals in the fourth but West Linn still could not draw even with the Crusaders.

Ian Anderson's second goal of the fourth quarter made it 8-7 with 3:05 left in the game. The Lions were playing with all the momentum and Jesuit was simply trying to hang on down the stretch.

“These kids are more poised than the rest of us. That's the way it's been all year,” Flood said.

After being shut out for the contest, West Linn fed the ball to Ryan Klose in the final minutes. After being turned away by a nice save, Klose finally got on the board with 1:06 left in the game to tie the score.

Then, after Dylan Tuor won a huge face-off, Klose found the back of the net again just 14 seconds later to give the Lions their first lead of the game.

West Linn got one final save from goalie Will Strickland on Jesuit's last possession to pick up the harrowing victory.

That advanced the Lions into Saturday's final at Lake Oswego High School. Despite behind ranked No. 2 and No. 4 heading into the postseason, West Linn and Lakeridge were roundly considered to be the state's two best teams.

While both teams have had a tendency to play conservatively in the first half this year, West Linn decided to leave nothing to chance this time around.

The Lions jumped all over the Pacers. Tuor won the opening face-off and then scored on an assist from Klose eight seconds into the game and West Linn never looked back.

“If I can move the ball around and get other people involved then I'm happy,” Klose said.

Taylor notched a hat trick just 24 seconds into the second quarter, putting West Linn up 4-0 before Lakeridge finally got on the board.

Tuor wreaked havoc on face-offs against the Pacers, winning eight of 10 in the first half.

“There's no secret to what we do. If Dylan's winning face-offs consistently we can be tough to stop and we got a lot of good looks,” Flood said.

After Lakeridge cut the lead to 5-2, West Linn got two more goals in the half from Anderson and Ryan Lonsway and led 7-2 at the break. The lead very well could have been larger if not for a handful of terrific saves by the Pacers' goalie.

The Lions weren't content to rest on their first-half laurels and, if possible, picked up their intensity in the third quarter.

West Linn scored three goals in the first three minutes of the second half and, after leading 10-2, Strickland further demoralized the Pacers with a pair of nice saves.

Tuor and Bowers would score again in the third quarter and the Lions killed a penalty before giving up a late goal but still led 12-3 with just 12 minutes to go.

After Klose scored on an assist by Cooper Hill 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, West Linn's title appeared to be all but wrapped up.

“We just executed so well. We spread them out and our passing was crisp,” Klose said.

However, the Pacers had a final run in them. After behind thoroughly dominated on face-offs all game, Lakeridge won a string of them and scored four goals in less than two minutes to draw within 13-7 with plenty of time remaining.

West Linn was able to stop the bleeding, however, taking time off the clock on possessions and getting a pair of saves from Strickland as key seconds ticked away.

“I've got to give Lakeridge a lot of credit. Those guys battle so hard and they push us. They've been our motivation all year long,” Klose said.

Lakeridge scored twice more to make it 13-9 with 1:38 to play. However, Tuor captured the next face-off to lock down the Lions' victory.

West Linn was a remarkably poised squad this season, keeping its cool in all of its biggest moments. However, the Lions were also relatively young and will return a big part of its core, including all four of its sophomore first-team all-state selections.

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