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Pacer boys bow out in semifinals

The Lakeridge boys soccer has made such a habit of winning games over the last few years that it's almost a shock when they lose.

So, there were a lot of people surprised, or at the very least disappointed, when Lakeridge suffered a season-ending 3-2 loss to Tualatin in the state quarterfinals last Saturday.

It was one of the most entertaining games of the season. It was also an evenly played game, but it was Tualatin, not Lakeridge, that was able to deliver down the stretch.

'We created enough opportunities, we just didn't capitalize,' Lakeridge coach Paul Slover said.

The Pacers were able to capitalize early, though. They grabbed a quick 1-0 lead, getting a header goal by senior Josh Little off a corner kick by senior Will Marks just three minutes and eight seconds into the contest.

But Tualatin answered back, tying the match at 1-1, when freshman Clark Phillips scored on a volley shot from eight yards out off a header pass from Jordan Lichty with 32:34 left to play in the first half.

Three minutes later, Lichty and Phillips teamed up for another goal. This time, Phillips, while in the box, tapped the ball back to Lichty, who, from 20 yards out, blasted a shot into the upper right corner of the Lakeridge goal to give Tualatin a 2-1 lead.

Then, it was Lakeridge's turn to rally. The Pacers tied the score at 2-2 on a rebound shot by junior Nick Wilkins with 3:44 left to play in the first half. The goal came on a corner kick by the Pacers' Facundo Dipasuale. Tualatin initially blocked a Lakeridge header off the corner kick, but the ball went right to Wilkins, who put his shot into the back of the net from six yards away.

The first half 'was pretty balanced,' Slover said. 'It was a good battle … but I felt if we made some adjustments (at intermission) we would be in good shape.'

As it turned out, Lakeridge never scored again, although there were some close calls. The only goal in the second half was scored by Tualatin's Kyle Wallace when he made an impressive run down the right side and scored from 14 yards out with 22:49 left in the contest.

'It was a very good goal by their player,' Slover said.

To maintain their margin, the Timberwolves had to fight off a barrage of shot attempts by the Pacers in the game's final 30 seconds. Senior Eric DeStefano had back-to-back shots from close range but both were blocked by Tualatin's Jared Angle. A follow-up shot by Wilkins was wide left of the goal, which put an end to the threat.

It was a tough loss for Lakeridge's six seniors, especially DeStefano, Dipascuale and Taylor Thompson, who all played key roles on Lakeridge's 2003 state championship team. That group had hoped to win at least one more title, but the closest they came was last year's loss to Jesuit in the semifinals.

In that Jesuit game, the Pacers felt they were hampered by a lack of calls from the referee. But they had nothing to complain about after losing to Tualatin.

'We lost to a team that played good enough to win,' Slover said simply. 'I'm very disappointed … But there's no bitterness because the players decided the game.'

Afterward, the Lakeridge players took the loss as well as anyone could have expected.

'It was really tough,' Slover noted, 'but they took it like professionals.'

The Pacers had to go through the playoffs without their regular goalkeeper, Jason Dodson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the season. But James Higgins did a very capable job of filling in for Dodson during the postseason.

'Higgins was in the right place when we needed him to be,' Slover said.

In fact, 'all of the kids played well. We didn't have an off-night,' the coach added.

With the loss of six seniors, many of whom were major contributors, Lakeridge could look like a much different team next year.

'Next year becomes a bit of a puzzle,' Slover said. 'I think it becomes a true rebuilding year.'

Despite losing three games this year (the team's overall record was 13-3-1), Slover considers the season a great success.

'It was a great year,' Slover said twice for emphasis. 'The kids were great, but it's going to be tough to lose those seniors.'

To no one's surprise, DeStefano wound up being named the Three Rivers League's player of the year after scoring 38 goals. Ironically, the only games DeStefano didn't score in were the games Lakeridge lost.

In addition, Dipascuale, who played virtually everywhere on the field this season, received the second most number of votes in the all-star balloting. Also making the first-team all-league squad were Thompson and Dodson.

- Dan Brood of the Tualatin Times contributed to this report.