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Lakers stellar run ends in PKs

by: VERN UYETAKE Kyle Gazzigli shields a Jesuit defender in Lake Oswego’s 4-1 quarterfinal victory over the Crusaders last week.

The Lake Oswego boys soccer team entered this year's playoffs as underdogs, a No. 6 seed with a slate of difficult opponents ahead of them if the Lakers happened to advance.

But on Tuesday, after the team had reeled off three straight postseason wins to clinch a berth in the semifinals, Lake Oswego was playing like a team that very much deserved to be there.

After a 4-1 pasting of Jesuit in the quarterfinals, the Lakers more than hung with second-ranked Grant, outplaying the talented Generals down the stretch in regulation and overtime in a 1-1 draw.

Then, in penalty kicks, one good guess by Grant's goalie was enough to abruptly end the Lakers' season.

Nothing can take away from Lake Oswego's remarkable run this year. The team unequivocally played its best soccer of the year in its final four games, proving that its victories against higher-ranked opponents were no fluke. But a loss in a shootout in what basically equates to a coin flip was still a tough pill to swallow.

"It's never easy but it's a reflection on what these kids have accomplished and how they've settled into their roles," coach Fraser Morrison said.

Playing in a cold and thick fog at Lake Oswego High School, Grant and Lake Oswego put on a tremendous show in what turned out to be a very evenly matched game.

The Generals had nine shots in the first half compared to four from Lake Oswego but the Lakers had the better chances.

Grant got looks at the goal but the Laker defense did a nice job deflecting those shots.

Grant's defense was also very technically solid for the entire game, playing Lake Oswego's forwards physically and making a concerted effort to key on Andrew Jeffery, who posted a hat trick against Jesuit in the quarterfinals.

Fifteen minutes into the game, Grant got on the board. After a Lake Oswego defender slipped, Hayden Swanson found himself with open space and buried a shot from 20 yards out.

But the Lakers didn't trail for long. Sixty-eight seconds to be exact.

Despite hounding Jeffery, the Laker senior got the ball in Grant territory and beat three different defenders before drilling a shot to tie the game.

Grant had another great chance in the final minute of the first half but Swanson's low shot was saved nicely by Owen Madin.

The Generals had a few dangerous chances early in the second half but the Lakers weathered them and controlled the final 30 minutes of regulation.

Jeffery had another good opportunity that missed wide and Matthew Fischer sent a dangerous ball into the box that was saved by Grant's goalie.

The Lakers put late pressure on the Generals but couldn't come up with a game-winner and the contest went to overtime.

In the extra periods, Lake Oswego looked like the team that most wanted to avoid penalty kicks.

"With the quality we have up front we were confident we could get another one," Morrison said.

The Lakers continued to keep the ball on Grant's side of the field but the team's defense remained extremely tough.

The Generals' best chance in overtime came with just 20 seconds remaining when an open shot was sent just over the crossbar.

The game went to a shootout and the Lakers connected on three of their first four shots but Grant was perfect, placing each strike into a corner to seal the win.

Lake Oswego earned its first trip to the semis since 2004 with a convincing 4-1 drubbing over Jesuit.

The game was a rematch of Lake Oswego's season-opener, a game where the Crusaders dominated the first half.

"If you'd asked me in the first 15 minutes of that game, I wouldn't have believed we'd make it as far as we did," Morrison said.

But, in two months, the Lakers showed that they have become an entirely different team.

Lake Oswego struck quickly. Jeffery laid a short pass in front to Jack Halvorson who scored and gave the Lakers an immediate burst of energy.

Lake Oswego went right at the Crusaders and used a more direct approach than it has for much of the season.

The strategy was to play lockdown defense and get the ball up to the Lakers' forwards as quickly as possible.

Midway through the half, Jeffery had the ball in the right side of the goal box and battled intently with a Jesuit defender before being taken down for a penalty kick.

Jeffery took the shot and scored it easily.

Then, just 33 seconds later, the Lakers gained possession, got the ball back to Jeffery who beat two defenders and knocked in a brilliant strike, sending the Crusaders reeling.

Lake Oswego's approach wore off on Jesuit.

The precision-style team resorted to sending the ball up the field as well and, as a result, didn't control possession as much as it would have liked.

"The early goals helped and it forced Jesuit to make a choice on how to attack us," Morrison said.

Late in the first half, Lake Oswego was whistled for a handball just outside the goal box and the Crusaders buried the free kick, giving the team some momentum heading into the half.

Jesuit also had a nice chance in the opening minutes of the second half.

But Lake Oswego broke the Crusaders' spirits just five minutes into the half and again it was Jeffery that did it.

Despite being well defended he got off a shot from a very difficult angle that barely beat the Jesuit keeper to the far post.

"(Jeffery) is just a fun player to watch. That's why you coach - to see kids perform like that," Morrison said.

Jesuit put pressure on the Lakers for the remainder of the game but could never get into a rhythm to dig out of the early hole.

In all, it was a tremendous finish to a strong season for the Lakers who will graduate a very strong group of 11 seniors.