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Defending champs answer challengers

by: Vern Uyetake, Lakeridge midfielder Joe Cramer fights off a hit from a Lake Oswego player during last Friday’s TRL game, which the Pacers won 17-3. Lakeridge capped that effort with a 17-5 victory over West Linn on Tuesday.

At this point in the season, it would be hard to imagine that anyone could unseat Lakeridge as the state boys lacrosse champion.

Such a claim is bound to upset some of the supporters of the Lake Oswego boys team, which is considered to be one of the top four or five teams in the state. But even they might be hard-pressed to argue after Lakeridge registered a very impressive 17-3 victory over the Lakers last Friday.

And if that wasn't enough, Lakeridge followed up last Friday's victory with an easy 17-5 decision over West Linn, which is considered to be another top-five team.

Last year, there were numerous claims that Lakeridge had its best team ever when the Pacers won their second consecutive state title. However, after Tuesday's game, West Linn coach Mark Flood was convinced the Pacers had set a new standard.

'Their starting lineup is as tough to cover as I've ever seen,' Flood said after watching Lakeridge score the game's first 11 goals. 'This might be the best (high school) team I've ever seen.'

West Linn had been pointing towards the Lakeridge game, so the Lions didn't exactly stand around and let the Pacers do whatever they wanted. But, on the other hand, the Pacers got so many open shots that the game looked like a complete mismatch, at least in the first half.

The key was Lakeridge's ability to move the ball rapidly around the perimeter. The Pacers ran their offense with such precision that West Linn was often one step behind on defense, even when the Lions accurately predicted who would wind up taking the next shot. The result was a number of close-range shots that West Linn goalkeeper Joey Peterson had no chance of stopping.

'When we move the ball that well it's going to be really hard to stop us,' Lakeridge coach Curt Sheinin said after the game. 'When we can make three or four passes, we can usually catch the goalie out of position.'

For the first two-plus quarters the Pacers scored a goal approximately every two minutes. Sometimes it took only half of that time. On one occasion, only 10 seconds had elapsed between goals.

The biggest beneficiaries of all that ball movement were Max Schlesinger and Danny Purcell, a pair of senior attackmen who played huge roles in last year's title run. They had four goals each against the Lions.

Purcell really should have scored five times but he missed a wide open net late in the third quarter. His shot wound up deflecting off the top of the crossbar and bounced directly to Schlesinger, who quickly deposited the ball in the net before the West Linn defense had a chance to react.

The other starting attackman - Andrew Clayton - also looked good while picking up a late first-half goal.

'Our attack is good,' Sheinin said. 'All three can handle the ball.'

While the attack line put on a scoring clinic, it was Lakeridge's starting midfield - which consists of Joe Cramer, Brett Klitz and Conor Ryan - that made many of those scoring opportunities possible. But they're not just playmakers. They can score as well. Cramer finished the night with three goals while Ryan added two more and Klitz had one.

'They can do it all,' Sheinin said of his midfield. 'They can handle the ball, they can feed, they can shoot and they can pick up groundballs.'

Lakeridge's six offensive players were so good that the Pacers' defense seldom saw any action during the first half. But when West Linn did manage to get a shot off, Lakeridge goalkeeper Cooper Robbins often made difficult saves look easy. In fact, Robbins has become so popular with the team's fans that they would chant 'Coop' every time he touched the ball.

The way Lakeridge dismantled West Linn and Lake Oswego has to make other teams around the state wonder what it will take to knock off the Pacers. It's almost like the Pacers were sending a message to everyone during the past week.

Sheinin agreed with that assessment, yet he was surprised with the ease that the Pacers beat their top two Three Rivers League rivals. The lopsided score against the Lakers was especially shocking since they often fight the Pacers to the wire.

'We wouldn't have expected that score against LO,' Sheinin said. 'They're a better team than that. I think we just caught them on an off night.'

Actually, the Lakers were probably thinking they had a decent chance to win last Friday's game after scoring three goals (two by Blake Heim and one by Sean Silverstein) in the first quarter. Amazingly, Lake Oswego didn't score again for the rest of the game.

After that it was a one-sided game as the Pacers raised their offensive execution a notch or two.

After the big emotional win over Lake Oswego, the Pacers jumped on a bus and headed north for a game against Mercer Island, the reigning state champs in the Washington. Lakeridge lost that game 13-12 but Sheinin felt the Pacers were the better team and probably would have won if they had come into the game with at least one day's rest.

But the schedule won't get any easier. Next week, the Pacers head to California where they will face a brutal slate of games, including a contest against St. Ignatius, the top-ranked team on the West Coast.