by: Vern Uyetake, It was a tough, physical game Tuesday night when Lakeridge met Jesuit in the boys state soccer semifinals. Lakeridge’s Eric Destefano, center, managed to score an early goal for his team before Jesuit turned up the defensive pressure. Jesuit went on to win the game 2-1 after scoring on a free kick with 2:30 left in the contest.

Call it the Jesuit mystique or the Curse of Cronin Stadium. For whatever reason, the ball just seems to bounce the Crusaders' way when they're playing at home.

The Lakeridge boys soccer team found that out the hard way on Tuesday, falling in the 6A semi-finals 2-1 after giving up the winning goal with just two and a half minutes to play in the game.

Throughout the contest, there was no real discernable disparity between the talent level on both teams. In fact, Lakeridge actually had the better scoring opportunities on the night.

But Jesuit's ball control style of offense and stingy defense frustrated the Pacers and the Crusaders made the most of their opportunities.

'It was a great game. Both teams had their chances and you have to tip your hat to Jesuit. They're a great program and this was a fun game to be a part of. If we're going to have to lose I'd rather lose to this team in this environment than any other,' Pacer coach Paul Slover said.

Jesuit's victory avenged the Crusaders' 3-1 loss to Lakeridge in the 2004 state championship game.

In the days leading up to this week's game, most people agreed it would be the real battle for the state championship as the winner would be a heavy favorite in the title game.

That seemed to be especially true given top-ranked South Eugene's loss in the quarterfinals. And it will be difficult for Saturday's championship to rival Tuesday's battle.

Lakeridge has been a notoriously slow starting team all year but that wasn't the case against Jesuit. The Pacers came out fired up and took it to the Crusaders in the early going.

Twelve and a half minutes into the game, Taylor Thompson fed a ball into the box towards Eric Destefano. Destefano beat the Jesuit goalie to the ball and knocked it past him.

He then managed to stay on his feet and get a foot on the ball again to knock it into the open net setting off an exuberant celebration.

Jesuit had a few good chances of its own early as Peter Foster headed a ball just over the net and Danny Maeda fed a ball into the box that was knocked over the crossbar as well.

'Jesuit's a team that focuses on keeping the ball in front of them and they're just very consistent,' Slover said.

Roughly 10 minutes after Lakeridge's goal, Jesuit striker Matt Van Houten executed a perfect give and go, receiving the ball back after a great run from midfield and beat Pacer goalie Jason Dodson to the ball by a split second, firing a pretty volley into the net to tie the game.

That score set off a 15-minute period where Jesuit controlled the pace of the game. Lakeridge avoided disaster just a few minutes after giving up the goal when Dodson came out of the net to corral a loose ball but failed to come up with it.

The Crusaders had 10 seconds to fire a shot on the open net but couldn't settle the ball before Dodson eventually fell on it.

Lakeridge's Corey Rosenfeld, who the team has turned to all year for a spark on offense, had a hard shot miss wide but he picked up a yellow card minutes later on a slide tackle.

The game remained tied at the half but Lakeridge again put the pressure on in the opening minutes after the break.

After earning a corner kick, Facundo Dipascuale hit a perfect cross, which Destefano headed towards the top left corner of the goal. It was a perfectly struck ball but the Jesuit goalie made the save of the night, deflecting the ball just enough to hit the crossbar.

It was a heart-breaking missed opportunity for Lakeridge. Jesuit then settled into the style of soccer it plays best. The Crusaders controlled the ball through their defense and midfield and failed to yield many significant scoring opportunities by Lakeridge.

'They did a good job pressuring us. I thought we would get more opportunities tonight than we did,' Slover said.

When the Pacer forwards did receive the ball deep in Jesuit territory, the Crusader defenders refused to let them turn for an open shot.

Dipascaule fired an 18-yard shot just a few feet wide of its target midway through the half and Jesuit nearly took the lead on a free kick from just outside the box but the game appeared destined for overtime.

In a fairly physical contest the referees called a relatively loose game, cracking down on pushing and jersey tugging but letting hard, clean tackles go without a whistle.

With two and a half minutes to play in regulation, Van Houten received a dangerous ball just inside the goal box. In the ensuing battle to control the ball, Van Houten was tripped up.

The referee blew the whistle and, although Van Houten went down a good five yards inside the goal box, the kick was moved just behind the line, avoiding a penalty kick.

On a similar kick 20 minutes earlier, the Crusaders attempted a cross to the far post that was headed just off target.

This time, Andy Wolverton fired a perfect shot around Lakeridge's wall to the near post that was impossible to stop.

'It was a pretty even game and you figured it would come down to something like that. It was either them or us and in this game, tonight, it was them,' Slover said.

It appeared the Pacers were done, especially since Jesuit then proceeded to drop nine players back on defense.

But, less than a minute later, Rosenfeld made one of his signature runs down the left side of the field, and fired a beautiful cross five yards in front of the net. Two Pacers made lunges at the ball but missed by mere inches. Had either player been able to get even a toe on it, it would have been almost a sure goal.

Then, with under a minute to play, Lakeridge worked the ball deep into Jesuit territory again and defender Carson Van Valkenburg had an open shot on goal but he couldn't quite get the shot off at full strength and it was saved.

It was another difficult playoff loss for Lakeridge, which had previously won 16 straight games including its quarterfinal victory on Saturday over Central Catholic. In that game, Destefano recorded a hat trick. Prior to that game, the Rams had only given up four goals all season.

The Pacers graduate 10 seniors this year including six starters and Three Rivers League player of the year Rosenfeld but key players, Destefano, Dipascaule, Thompson and Dodson will return for a team that will, once again, be a heavy favorite to win the league title.

'This was an incredible team. It's going to be real difficult to lose these guys,' Slover said.

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