Lions fall 2-0 to Jesuit, snapping a 16-game unbeaten streak

by: VERN UYETAKE - West Linn's Tommy Karabeika tries to win a header against a Century defender during Saturday's 1-0 quarterfinal victory over the Jaguars. 
One of the best seasons in the history of West Linn boys soccer came to an end at the hands of one of the best teams in the state, if not the country, on Tuesday, falling 2-0 to Jesuit in the semifinals.

The magnitude of how truly impressive the Lions were this season can be understood simply by recognizing the streaks that the Crusaders broke en route to victory.

West Linn held 12 consecutive teams scoreless and kept the Crusaders off the board for 60 minutes before Jesuit's relentless pressure finally paid off.

And, when the final horn sounded, it would mark just the Lions' second loss of the year and its first since its season-opener against Wilsonville, one of the top teams in 5A.

The Crusaders were able to take West Linn out of its game on Tuesday. The Lions, who have been tacticians this year at possessing the ball and stringing together passes to set up their attack, simply couldn't find their rhythm against No. 2 Jesuit.

The Crusaders had their own shutout streak going of five consecutive games and hadn't lost to an Oregon opponent all year. Jesuit applied relentless pressure all over the field, jumping into passing lanes and getting to loose balls.

“I think there's something to be said for the fact that (Jesuit) is used to being in spots like this and we're not, and there's a bit of awe that comes with that,” coach Greg Bean said.

West Linn did well to weather the Crusaders' attack for as long as possible and the only goals its gave up came off of corner kicks.

Jesuit's game plan seemed to be to put as much pressure on the Lions' defense as possible and everyone had the green light to shoot with even the slightest opening.

For the game, the Crusaders took 24 shots and racked up 11 corner kicks, with the Lions turning away nine of them before Jesuit broke through.

West Linn's chances were few and far between in the game. Blake Hepburn sent a header wide following a free kick as he nearly replicated his game-winning effort from the quarterfinals against Century.

Jackson Brooke would also get possession deep in Jesuit territory and send a shot wide.

In the final 10 minutes of the first half, Jesuit had multiple opportunities, hitting the crossbar on a hard header but the Lions continued to turn the team away and the game was scoreless at the break.

“(At the half) it was just a lot of refocusing on how to keep the ball. We put our defense under a lot of pressure,” Bean said.

Despite being under siege, West Linn's defense was terrific again, with Lucas Evans turning in a handful of great plays.

The Lions' best chance on offense came on a run from Ryan Barber. He rocketed a shot from near the end line but it was deflected out of bounds.

With 20:35 left in the game, Jesuit finally broke through, knocking in a dangerous corner kick that the Lions couldn't clear.

The goal only sparked the Crusaders who continued to apply heavy pressure and scored again 10 minutes later on an almost identical play.

West Linn's last chance came in the final minutes when Kegan Wesley sent a shot high.

“I just have to say that this has been the best team from top to bottom. It's a group of quality kids. We didn't set out with the goal of winning a state title this year. That goal developed from the work they put in. I've had a lot of teams where, at the end of the season, guys will say they're actually looking forward to the break. No one on this team is looking forward to a break,” Bean said.

The Lions reached the semis for just the third time in school history by knocking off Century 1-0 on Saturday in an entertaining back-and-forth contest.

Century tested the Lions early with goalie Zach Nelson having to make an impressive early kick-save after being drawn away from the net.

The Jaguars had a pair of good chances midway through the first half but couldn't capitalize. Then the Lions started to settle down and establish themselves, controlling the ball more consistently.

Late in the opening half, West Linn started to generate some more chances. Hepburn just missed on a header off a corner kick. Then, just a few moments later, the Lions earned a free kick.

Barber played the ball in and Hepburn connected this time, just a few minutes before the half.

West Linn nursed its 1-0 lead in the second half while continuing to work for possession and searching for insurance.

Century sent a dangerous shot over the crossbar midway through the half and the Lions countered with a pair of near misses.

Ultimately the Jaguars couldn't crack West Linn's defense and the Lions advanced.

West Linn will graduate nine seniors from this year's team but will return another strong corps into what will be a beefed up Three Rivers League next year.

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