After routing Jesuit in the semifinals, the Lions cant keep up with No. 1 Lakeridge in the second half

by: VERN UYETAKE - West Linn's Jack McMenomey rips a shot in the Lions' easy semifinal victory over Jesuit last week. The Lions would then fall to Lakeridge in the championship game at Tigard High School on Saturday.One thing was abundantly clear last Saturday at Tigard High School. The two best boys lacrosse teams in the state were squaring off for the championship. West Linn and Lakeridge, despite playing each other twice in the regular season, appeared to be on a collision course that would lead to another showdown at Tigard for much of the year.

The Lions and Pacers spent the majority of the year ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state and each took on, and fared well against, a brutal schedule.

But, in recent years, the boys lacrosse landscape has been ruled by powerhouses like Sunset, Lincoln and OES.

While many people believed this would be the year that the Three Rivers League took home the crown again, the league's supremacy still needed to be proven on the field.

No doubt remained following Wednesday's semifinal matches. After last year's finalists, Lincoln and Sunset, were unceremoniously dispatched before even reaching the Final Four, both West Linn and Lakeridge pounded a pair of Metro League foes in Jesuit and Beaverton respectively, setting up an all-TRL championship.

In the regular season, Lakeridge won both contests 10-6 and 12-6 and cruised to the league title. However, West Linn didn't lose to another in-state opponent all year and was as healthy as it has been in years during the playoffs.

The Lions matched Lakeridge stride for stride in the first half on Saturday, trailing by just one goal at the break. But the Pacers took over with a quick burst in the third quarter and a stifling defense as it took home the title 15-7.

While West Linn was understandably disappointed by the outcome, the team had very little to hang its head about.

“The kids worked had on every ground ball. The effort certainly wasn't lacking. They were just better than us,” coach Mark Flood said.

The first half was a defensive battle with both teams taking their time and showing patience on offense.

West Linn got the looks it wanted but was routinely stymied by strong goaltending from Lakeridge.

“That's the best defense we've seen all year. They took away a lot of what we were trying to do in transition and I think we were trying to shoot a little too fine,” Flood said.

Defensively, the Lions did a nice job containing the Pacers' versatile and balanced attack. West Linn got strong play from senior Tanner Hampton, who missed the early part of the season with an injury, and the entire back line as the team trailed just 5-4 at the break.

“We really weren't worried at that point. We had finished very well and had made a few mistakes. We were feeling confident,” Flood said.

Flood knew the opening minutes of the third quarter might be pivotal as both squads would be looking to seize control of the game.

It was the Pacers who finally get some breathing room, scoring three goals in just over a minute, giving them a quick 8-4 advantage.

However, the Lions quickly righted the ship, stopping the bleeding with back-to-back goals to close within 8-6 once again.

West Linn felt like the momentum might be shifting in its favor but Lakeridge had a response this time and controlled the possession down the stretch in the third period, scoring the final three goals of the stanza to carry an 11-6 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Lions continued to battle despite the difficult task in front of them. Freshman Ryan Klose scored early in the quarter, his second goal of the contest to make it 11-7 but that's as close as West Linn would get.

Lakeridge played even better defense in the fourth quarter than it had for the first three and continued to get some terrific saves in front of the net as the Pacers steadily closed West Linn out.

Despite the loss in their finale, it was still a fantastic season for the Lions who ended a 10-year drought from the Final Four.

Not only that, West Linn advanced to its first title game since 2003 after drubbing Jesuit in the semifinals 17-9 in a game that many figured would be an even match.

The Lions showed that wouldn't be the case just seconds into the game. After winning the opening face-off, Aaron Nelson scored on an assist from Jack McMenomey and the Lions were off and running.

McMenomey and Klose each scored twice more in the first five minutes of the game as West Linn led 5-0.

“When we watched tape on (Jesuit) we felt like their strengths played right into ours. We put Colin Squires on their good middie and he shut him down,” Flood said.

Jesuit answered with three unanswered goals but the Crusaders simply had no answer for West Linn on the other end.

Klose scored again with just seconds to play in the half, bolstering the Lions' lead to 9-4 at the break.

West Linn would put the game on ice shortly after halftime. The Lions upped their effort on defense and kept the ball on the Crusaders' side of the field for the majority of the period.

Dalton Tuor took over in the quarter, winning face-offs and also scoring goals. He had two of his team's four in the quarter and the Lions started making substitutions early.

West Linn didn't let up in the fourth quarter, getting contributions from everyone it put in the game and building a double-digit lead at one point.

“That's about as well as we can play,” Flood said.

Jesuit would score three goals late but not until the game was well within hand.

The Lions are hoping that this season is a stepping stone in another run of dominance. West Linn, despite losing a crop of talented seniors, is still relatively young, fielding three freshmen on the varsity squad this year and expecting a talented freshman class next year.

“This was just a really feel-good team. They all really enjoyed each other and there was a great feeling of unity,” Flood said.

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