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South Medford captures state title

WILSONVILLE -- The wait is finally over for Wally Hicks and South MedfordHigh.

The Panthers' boys soccer team put an end to years of disappointmentSaturday night with an impressive 5-0 shutout of South Eugene that gaveSouth Medford the first state title in its 11-year history.

The victory was especially sweet for Hicks, who piloted the Panthersinto the Class 4A quarterfinals in five of his first seven seasons beforelaying claim to the crown.

The goal for eight years has been to win the state championship,he said. It's been a long time coming but here we are.

Second-ranked South Medford (15-1-1) avenged its only loss -- a 2-1 defeatagainst the Axemen early in the season -- while pinning the first loss onthird-ranked South Eugene (16-1-2).

Senior forward Tyler Hoffbuhr led the way for the Panthers, scoring thegame's first two goals before watching teammates Bryn Ritchie, Dan Laneand Jason Thompson find the net.

It's what we have been dreaming of for the last few years,Hoffbuhr said. We've had a couple of years of frustration. Last yearwas supposed to be the good team. We were told that we were the best inthe state and didn't get it done. But this year we pulled it out.

The advantage Hoffbuhr gave South Medford was more than enough for astingy Panthers' defense that survived several close calls and recordedits 13th shutout in 17 games. It was the third straight shutout of a playoffrun that saw opponents score just two goals in four games. Both came ina 3-2 overtime win over McKay in the second round that defender Seth Parkssaid galvinized the defense.

After the McKay game, we pretty much made a vow not to let anyonescore against us, he said. And if they did score, it was goingto be a well-earned goal.

No such score came Saturday night at Wilsonville High thanks to somespectular saves by goalie Chad Warren and sweeper Danny Lupes.

The defense stepped up for us big time, said Hicks. Thoseguys play big for us every game. The one thing we do really well is playdefense.

While South Medford's defense kept South Eugene at bay, the Panthers'offense got off to a slow start. Neither team could gain a significant advantageand the two normally high-scoring squads combined for only seven shots ina hard-fought first half.

The half's final shot was the crucial one for South Medford. With justover a minute remaining, Ritchie -- the team's leading scorer and most dangerousforce -- dribbled deep into South Eugene's penalty box, drawing a host ofAxemen. One defender poked the ball free to a wide-open Hoffbuhr, who promptlyslammed it past goalie Brendan Roseta with 1:09 showing on the clock.

It just popped out right in front of me and it was just me andthe keeper, said Hoffbuhr.

The 1-0 halftime edge seemed tenuous in game of such evenly matched teamsbut the Panthers came out firing in the second half, launching six shotsbefore South Eugene could manage one.

The first four shots yielded nothing. But with 28:20 remaining in thegame, Lupes launched a 40-yard bomb right to the streaking Hoffbuhr. Thestocky forward tapped the ball off the inside of his right foot and it sailedover the charging Roseta for the score.

Less than four minutes later, Ritchie gave South Medford a commanding3-0 lead with a gorgeous right-footed rocket from just beyond the 18-yardmark that found the upper left corner of the net.

You probably saw it better than I did because I was falling down,Ritchie said when asked about the long goal.

South Eugene's best opportunity for a goal came just a minute later.Star forward Nate Jaqua made a cross in front of the Panthers' goal thatWarren tried to pounce on, only to see it slip free. But just before Jaquacould reach the ball, Lupes came flying it and cleared it out of boundswith a booming kick.

That was a nail-biter, said Lupes, whose strong play thwartedseveral South Eugene charges.

Warren, who saw few shots during the regular season and the first fewrounds of playoffs, was challenged several times. The senior finished witheight saves -- including five in the second half.

I was really surprised that I was responding so easily to the shots,Warren said. This is the most action I've had all season. It was niceto feel comfortable in the box and make some saves.

After being forced to come out of the goal box several times to counterSouth Eugene threats, Warren thought Jaqua's ball was going to make himpay.

I was afraid my luck was going to run out on that one, hesaid. But when I'm not there to back Lupes up, he's there to backme up.

The Panthers slammed the door on South Eugene's comeback hopes with 7:21left when Lane broke loose and beat Roseta with a low shot to the right.The score brought mass substitutions by both teams. Thompson was one ofthe reserves who came in and he wasted no time, scoring 52 seconds laterto make it 5-0.

South Eugene coach Stephen Studley said the Panthers were clearly thebetter team Saturday night and did what they had to do to win.

We were unable to really get the ball downfield and play the waywe have all year long, he said. They got us on our heels andthen when they got opportunities, they finished.

They finished.

No two words better capture what the Panthers achieved in finally fulfillingthe potential that Hicks said he has seen for years.

It feels great, Hicks said. We've had teams that wethought could do it all along. These guys have a lot of heart.

You get a lot of heart and get a couple of breaks and that's allyou need for a good soccer game.

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