Max Schlesinger's overtime goal gives Pacers a 10-9 victory over OES, and Lakeridge claims its third straight title
After rolling through a season full of blowouts, the Lakeridge boys lacrosse team pushed its fans to the edge of their seats in last Saturday's state championship game against Oregon Episcopal School.
It was a season similar to last year's, and as luck would have it, this year's title game would end in similar fashion as well. In fact, it even featured the same hero as Max Schlesinger scored the decisive goal 96 seconds into overtime as Lakeridge squeaked out a thrilling 10-9 victory over the Aardvarks.
That goal capped an exciting back-and-forth game in which each team appeared to be in control on multiple occasions.
'It was just an unbelievable game,' Lakeridge coach Curt Sheinin said. 'We went ahead and they tied it. Then, they go up and we tie it.'
It was the third straight state championship for the Pacers (with all three coming against OES) and their eighth in 11 years under Sheinin. Equally impressive is the fact that Lakeridge has won 59 consecutive games against Oregon teams, a streak that dates back to the Pacers' loss to OES in the 2004 title game.
But it wasn't easy winning No. 59, especially against an OES defense that some people believed was the best in the state. The OES offense wasn't too bad, either. In fact, the Aardvarks held the lead three times, including a 5-2 advantage late in the first half.
Lakeridge's high-powered offense had been held in check through most of that first half, with just a late first-period goal by Schlesinger and an early second-quarter tally by Andrew Clayton to show for its efforts.
Clayton's score gave Lakeridge its first lead of the game at 2-1. But the Aardvarks responded with their best stretch of the game when they reeled off four unanswered goals against a Pacer defense that looked flat-footed.
'In a championship game, everybody tightens up. Their feet aren't moving quite as fast, and the thought process might be just a little bit behind,' Sheinin said, explaining Lakeridge's slow start on defense.
No in-state team had managed a three-goal lead against Lakeridge this season, but no one on the Pacers' sideline seemed too worried.
'I didn't think we were nervous because it was so early in the game,' Sheinin said. 'All we needed was one goal to get back in it.'
That one goal came with 1:13 left in the first half when Joe Cramer scored on an unassisted one-on-one move down the right side. That score started a four-goal run - which also included tallies by Schlesinger, Corey Rosenfeld and Clayton - that gave the Pacers a 6-5 lead late in the third period.
Then it was OES' turn as the Aardvarks scored two straight to take a 7-6 lead early in the fourth. Then, Clayton scored twice in a row, both times on slashes across the middle, where Rosenfeld found him with perfect entry passes. That put Lakeridge ahead 8-7 with 7:41 left in regulation.
OES answered three minutes later on a goal by Travis Lazar but Rosenfeld put the Pacers back on top (at 9-8) with his unassisted goal at the 3:21 mark.
Lakeridge then turned up its defensive pressure and appeared headed to victory as the Aardvarks had trouble getting a good look at the goal in the closing minutes of regulation.
'I honestly thought we had it with 30-some seconds to go,' Sheinin said.
But disaster struck as the Pacers lost possession while trying to clear the ball from behind their net. OES' Kyle Dern made an alert play when he scooped up the ball and fired a quick shot past Lakeridge goalkeeper Cooper Robbins.
'That was pretty much a fluke goal that they got,' Sheinin said of OES' tying tally. 'I think (Dern) was literally on his knees when he scored.
'At that moment, we could have folded, but we didn't,' the coach added.
The only problem was the game was headed to overtime, where it takes just one goal to end the contest. So, OES seemed to have the upper hand when the Aardvarks won the opening face-off in overtime and immediately called time out to set up what they hoped would be the game-ending tally.
But the Lakeridge defense stepped up with a steal by Spenser Halvorsen, who was a menace all night.
'I think Spenser stripped (Dern) two or three times during the last few minutes. And that was critical,' Sheinin said.
The Lakeridge coach then called time to set his strategy, but the OES defense managed to get the ball right back.
Robbins then stepped up with his biggest save of the game. He made several good saves during the contest, but none was more important than the stop he made 65 seconds into the overtime period when he deflected away a hard, low shot that appeared to be headed for the net.
That set the stage for Schlesinger. His game-ending play started as he rolled behind the net to the left. After clearing the goal line, Schlesinger used a jumping, spin move to separate himself from his defender. While falling backwards, Schlesinger opted for a bounce shot that barely slipped past the OES goalie.
Schlesinger also won last year's title game against OES when he scored the winning goal in the final seconds of regulation while falling down backwards.
'The ball just happened to be in my stick both years. For some odd reason it (wound up) in the back of the net in the end,' Schlesinger said.
'Last year, we had a set play. But this year, the idea was for me to iso behind (the net) and draw a slide (from the defense), so I could hopefully pass the ball for a finish. But no slide came, so I shot the ball instead,' Schlesinger said.
Afterward, Sheinin had a hard choice to make in deciding who should get the game ball. Clayton would have been a good choice with his game-high four goals. Rosenfeld would have been a good choice, too, with his two goals and team-high two assists. Robbins and Halvorsen would have been smart picks as well. But Sheinin went with Schlesinger, who registered a feat that was almost hard to fathom.
'I think everyone dreams about (making the winning goal), and to have two of them is kind of a ridiculous feeling,' Schlesinger said. 'I can't really describe it right now. Hopefully some day I'll understand the magnitude.'
It was fitting that Schlesinger wound up being named to the first-team all-state squad. He was joined on that squad by teammates Danny Purcell (who had one assist against OES), Cramer, Brett Klitz (who was injured for the playoffs), Halvorsen, defender Grant Neely and Robbins.
'As a group, this was probably more talented than any group we've had. We had some individuals that were incredible, but this whole team has just been amazing,' Sheinin said.
Unfortunately, those seven first-teamers, plus seven other team members were seniors this year, and Sheinin has no idea how he'll replace most of them.
'I don't even want to think about it,' the coach said.