Defense lifts the Tigers to a 9-7 victory over Lakeridge Saturday in Corvallis

SETH GORDON - Junior goalie Wilson Johnson deflects a ball over the cage Saturday during Newberg's 9-7 win over Lakeridge in the 6A boys water polo state championship game at the Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis. Johnson made 17 saves in the victory and was named the all-tournament first-team goalie and overall tournament MVP. 
CORVALLIS — The Newberg boys polo team has just one thing on its mind the last two weeks and it showed Saturday night in the 6A state championship game.

The Tigers weren't pleased with their performance in 6-5 loss to Lakeridge in a state seeding tiebreaker contest Nov. 1 at Mt. Hood Community College, but in the end it might have been the best thing for them.

Newberg looked like a different team from the opening whistle, playing more aggressively on offense and locking down Pacers star Terran Walker on defense in jumping out to a 5-2 halftime lead.

The Pacers rallied with three goals in the third quarter to make it 7-5, but the Tiger defense was smothering in the fourth quarter, lifting Newberg to a 9-7 victory and its fourth consecutive state title.

"After we lost at Mt. Hood, it set an entirely new mentality for us at practice all the way up until state," senior Dalton Paskett said. "We had one goal in mind and it focused us so much."

In the tiebreaker loss to Lakeridge, which had also beaten the Tigers in their first league matchup of the season, Newberg controlled play early, but didn't close the first half strong and the Pacers seized control in the second half. SETH GORDON - The Newberg boys water polo team celebrates its fourth consecutive 6A state championship after downing Lakeridge 9-7 Saturday at the Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis.

Junior goalie Wilson Johnson said the team watched all of Lakeridge's games at the state tournament and noted the Pacers were consistently stronger in the second half.

"Knowing that, we came out 10 times harder at the beginning and kept that intensity up the whole game," Johnson said. 

Head coach Jim McMaster's team asserted itself immediately, with Raleigh Day scoring just nine seconds into the game.

Lakeridge answered back with a nice lob shot to tie the contest midway through the quarter, then the two teams then traded goals in a span of 40 seconds, with sophomore Alex Touzeau scoring on the man advantage for Newberg.

Paskett broke the 2-2 tie after driving to the cage and receiving a nice pass from junior captain Dane Findley to make it 3-2 with 1:16 left in the first quarter.

The Tigers struggled with ejections, especially in the first half, but Johnson came up with a huge save on a Lakeridge 6-on-5 and initiated the break with a long outlet to Zach Johnson, who drew a 5-meter call. The junior coolly scored on the penalty shot to make it 4-2 at the end of the first.

The game slowed down in the second quarter, with Touzeau scoring the only goal on the man-advantage to give Newberg a 5-2 lead at the break.

True to form, the Pacers came out strong in the second half, scoring twice in the first minute of the third quarter to make it 5-4, but Newberg responded with back-to-back goals from Day and Touzeau to push the lead back to three midway through the period.

Lakeridge seemed content to play off Touzeau in order to double team other player and the sophomore took advantage to the tune of a game-high three goals.

"Alex Touzeau went off tonight," Johnson said. "I think we could have lost the game without what he did."

Lakeridge pulled back within two by drawing a 5-meter call, with Brody Veater beating Johnson to make it 7-5 going into the fourth.

The fourth started with a bang, as Paskett scored his second of the game on a beautiful pass from Jordan with 6:20 remaining in the game, but Walker answered with a goal from hole set just 10 seconds later.

From then on, the Tigers seemed content to drain the clock on offense and focus on defense. The strategy paid off as the Pacers did not seriously threaten the rest of the way.

Newberg then earned the man advantage and Grant Stilp skipped a shot past the Lakeridge keeper to put the game out of reach at 9-6 with less than a minute to play, although the Pacers did score on their next possession to bring the final score to 9-7.

"Since we lost to them, it's all we could think about," Johnson said. "They didn't know what we were bringing to the table. We played together. That was the most important thing."

Wilson made 12 saves in the game and was named Tournament MVP, with Zach Jordan and Paskett joining him on the all-tournament first team. Findley and Day also earned honorable mention.

"Wilson really allows us to play a different game than a lot of teams get to play because if we get in trouble down at hole set, we know we can drop back and trust that Wilson is going to be able to block their weaker players' shots," Findley said. "A lot of people can't do that, but he really locks that down for us."

Although the end result was the same as in the past three years, this year's title run felt a little bit different because of the losses to the Pacers and because Reynolds and South Eugene seemed to be legitimate threats as well.

"Four straight just means that we're going to go for five," Johnson said. "Everybody wants us to lose. Everybody in the state wants to see Newberg lose and Jim tells us that every day at practice, so we work 10 times harder before every game."

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