Newberg boys polo edges Lakeridge 22-21 in sudden death
There was no trophy.
There was no national anthem, no crowd and no closure.
They even changed the rules of the game.
But everything else about the May 4, contest between the Newberg and Lakeridge boys water polo teams screamed "state championship game."
The Tigers and Pacers matched up in each of the previous three state championship games, with Newberg winning in 2017-18 (for its fourth and fifth straight state titles) and Lakeridge taking its first state crown in 2019.
The battle, held at Chehalem Aquatic Center in Newberg, marked another fitting chapter in their rivalry, with the Tigers eventually winning 22-21 in sudden death overtime.
"Fake polo, real polo, whatever you want to call it, it was people going at it," said Newberg's Mateo McKay, who tied for game-high scoring honors with eight goals. "It was still competition and we were out here playing our best and they were too."
"The key was really slowing it down and just visualizing what we needed to do on offense, what we needed to do on defense," said Newberg goalie Nick Helikson, who stopped 17 shots in the win, including three in the sudden death period. "We visualized that we could do it and we did it and we won."
With the victory, the Tigers improved to 7-0-1 overall and 2-0 in the Three Rivers League. Lakeridge, meanwhile, lost for the first time and fell to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the Three Rivers League.
Despite the loss, the Pacers reveled in the chance to play another one of the best teams in the state.
"I love playing against Newberg because they're a top competitor and it's always going to be a guaranteed fun game with high intensity," said Lakeridge's Torin Ferguson, who led his team with eight goals.
"I think we played really well. We played really good defense," said Pacer goalie Colby Larrance, who also stopped two shots in sudden death. "There were a few times where we messed up a little bit, but we were always able to bounce back and respond."
The two teams traded shots throughout regulation play, with the Pacers up 4-3 after the first quarter, down 10-9 at the half, tied 14-14 after three periods and tied again at 18-18 at the end of the fourth.
With overtime play disallowed under the modified 2021 rules, the two teams instead went into a shootout, with each team sending five players out to alternate shots from the 5-meter line.
The Tigers and Pacers traded goals early, with Newberg getting conversions by both McKay and Grant Waldel, while Lakeridge answered with makes from Anthony Wang and Ferguson to tie the score at 20-20.
In sudden death, Newberg's Ty Patterson and Lakeridge's Josh Leaverton both connected early to make it 21-21, but after a pair of stops by Larrance and Helikson, the Tigers' Kyle Del Villar beat Larrance to the right corner and Pacer Colin Alexander saw his attempt to tie ricochet off the right post and out.
"I think the key is that we had confidence in the boys and we're strong shooters," McKay said. "We're working day in and day out. We try our hardest in practice, and most of all, we love each other. We are the best teammates we could ask for."
"I feel like every game, you have a couple of missed opportunities that you just need to take to your next game and say 'We'll learn from this and keep pushing forward,'" Ferguson said. "Other than that, I think we played a really good game."
In the game's first two periods, neither team led by more than one goal until McKay scored four minutes into the second quarter, a margin matched when McKay hit again with less than two minutes left in the half to make it 10-8.
Newberg extended its lead to 12-9 when Del Villar connected from the right side early in the third quarter, but that advantage wouldn't last. Lakeridge answered with a 5-2 scoring edge in the final six minutes of the period, three of those from Collin Parker and one each by Anthony Wang and Ferguson to knot the score at 14-14 heading into the final period.
The Tigers and Pacers then notched four goals each in the fourth quarter, with Newberg getting three from McKay and one by Waldel, while Lakeridge responded with three goals by Ferguson and one by Wang to force the shootout.
"It's been a hard year because we lost all our seniors, but we kept up the intensity and we were ready," McKay said.
"We took as many opportunities as we could," Ferguson added. "You don't get these types of games often, but when they happen, it's excellent."
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