by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview goalie Mark Finkelnburg saved three shots in the fourth quarter against Lincoln to help the Wildcats beat the Cardinals, 6-3.

Big-time players make the weighty plays in the uttermost, pressure-packed games.

With his team clinging to a 5-3 fourth lead, Lincoln endangering the advantage with hostile defense and the shot clock winding down, Westview boys’ water polo player Noah Hofiens took the game into his command.

Hofiens, with his back turned towards the cage, swiveled away from a Cardinal defender, bowed his back and arched a sky-hook-looking shot over his shoulder.

The ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, as it rotated and spun towards the net. Just when Hofiens’ shot gave the impression of flying out of bounds, it swiftly dipped, and sloped over the Lincoln goalie, who was paralyzed in the water by the trajectory of the sphere, and into the cage.

The goal capped Hofiens’ afternoon hat trick, gave Westview a big three goal lead and essentially iced a 6-4 win on Thursday. On top of that, with the win, Westview avoided a league play-in game with Beaverton and will advance to the postseason on an outright basis.

“It was kind of lucky to be honest,” said Hofiens. “It was a good shot, it was fun. I don’t even know how to explain it... just a lot of luck, but it was one of the last big goals.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior Noah Hofiens celebrates his third goal of the game in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats win over Lincoln.

“It took a lot of commitment to get this win,” added Hofiens. “Our main goal was to not get beaten on (attacks). A lot of it was not getting countered and playing good defense. We had a lot of communication between our teams, just getting to know what each other’s habits were.”

Westview’s team is a rarity in Metro. Only two players compete at the club level, while the rest of the crew play exclusively at the high school level. They’re homegrown all the way, a throwback team that plays only during the high school season and took great joy in beating a Lincoln team that was full with club players.

“I think they kind of underestimated how we were going to play,” said shallow end goalie Tristan Garnett. “Last time, we didn’t do too well, but this game we just had to do our best.”

The Lincoln game was circled in red ink on Westview’s calendar, dating back to when the schedule came out during the summer. It was certainly a must-win for the playoff-hungry Wildcats who played with ruthlessness on defense and composure on offense.

“At the beginning of the season I didn’t know if we could pull it out, but we did,” said senior Mel Comoda. “We focused in on practice so much. Yesterday was just all focus on this. This is the win we wanted. On paper, they had one of the best goalies in the state and one of the best field players in the state. For us to pull this out, we’re just like ‘Wow’.”

“This is big,” said deep end goalie Mark Finkelnburg. “That was probably one of the best games we’ve played. We’ll play Southridge, and that’s going to be a tough game. We don’t expect to win that one, but going into state, this win is a confidence-booster for us. We’ll be ready for state I think.”

Comoda said Westview played shrewd water polo and maintained its energy level on defense throughout the whole game.

“Our coach told us we have to focus on defense more than they do on offense,” said Comoda. “Defense wins games, so that’s what we did.” by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior Mel Comoda puts defensive pressure on a Lincoln attacker in the third quarter of the Wildcats 6-3 win on Thursday.

“We had to get in the zone,” said Garnett. “We had to have the mindset that we were going to win, or it wasn’t going to happen.”

Garnett and Finkelnburg were clutch throughout the contest in the cage, swatting away six shots apiece.

“My biggest thing is keeping my hands down because when I raise my hands, they’ll shoot under my arms,” noted Garnett. “The biggest thing was keeping my arms down, so they didn’t skip past me. There were a couple shots that I was surprised I actually blocked.”

Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ offense sparked a four-goal advantage in the second quarter, when Hofiens scored twice, and Hayden Hertz and Peter Moshinsky also tacked on goals. Hertz added a goal in the third period before Hofiens’ key last-gasp goal.

“We had that fire to go out and win,” said Finkelnburg. “We don’t have that some games, but today we did, and that was big. Let’s hope we can keep that.”

Comoda said Westview fostered its offense with a lot of movement in the whole set, just trying to tire out the credited Cardinals. In the deep end of the pool, Hofiens worked the middle while Comoda manned the shallow end of the water. As the centerpieces of the Wildcat offense, Hofiens and his senior partner made sure the ball moved and no one was standing around waiting.

“If I know I can take somebody, I’m fronting and looking for the ball,” said Comoda. “But if not, like when they had three people in the middle, we worked it around. We made movement and got other people open.”

Finkelnburg said he could tell when Lincoln was going to fire, so he bounded out of the water, put his hands up and halted four Cardinal shots in the rough-and-tumble fourth quarter. Down 5-3 to the underdog Wildcats, Lincoln turned up the physical intensity around the cage, trying to dunk Westview in the pool and create scoring chances. Finkelnburg’s long wingspan tipped away a pair of close-range misses as the combativeness sky rocketed.

“They were going at it,” said Finkelnburg. “They were throwing elbows and stuff, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all part of the game. The refs can’t see everything, so you just have to fight through it.”

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