By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– The wind was blistering, swirling around the black turf at West Salem High School like a snow globe during the holidays with pollen floating around like snow.
With the threat of one of the biggest storms of the year that canceled several events across the west side of the Cascade’s, West Salem High School Lacrosse and Bend were still warming up for their match-up Saturday regardless of the weather.
The Lava Bears, who entered the game in the Top 15 in the State of Oregon, have had the upper-hand in their match-up with West Salem. Having defeated West Salem for the better-part of a decade. 10 years since the Titans last win over the Lava Bears.
When Andy Moreno lined-up for the opening face-off, the roughly five-seven or so and looks about 160 pounds Moreno found himself going up against a Bend Face-off guy that was about six-one and about 190 to 200 pounds as both teams got the starting whistle.
The Lava Bears have their fair share of size to go with their athleticism, but the grit of the Titans showed as they scored five quick goals on Bend behind three goals by Simon Smith in the process.
“It was very awesome because we actually lost to them my sophomore year in play-offs and we’ve never actually beat them so it was pretty cool to come out here and whoop on them,” said Smith as West Salem led 5-1 over a Bend team expecting to compete well versus the Titans Saturday. “It was fun.”
Timeout was called as a coach from the Lava Bear sideline was heard yelling in trying to pump up his team, ‘They’re up four on you! Four!” and West Salem knew that Bend wasn’t just going to roll over on them as they were expecting a battle as they caught the Lava Bears off guard to start the game.
If that wasn’t the most of it, the game in-between the blue lines looked like a college Lacrosse match or a Royal Rumble match with body checks and healthy stick hacks that sent players to the penalty box as often as players were coming on-and-off the pitch in subsitutions.
Crap, it got so physical that the Lava Bears goalkeeper had to venture out being two-men down on the defensive side of the grid and Smith met him at midfield and put the old saying of ‘hit-stick’ into full affect as Smith de-cleated the Lava Bear goalkeeper to cheers from his team and yells for a flag from Bend’s sideline as time was called.
“I think this is our most physical game ever actually,” said Smith as the hit was deemed legal as his teammates met him to celebrate the hit, on the physicality of the game. “Because our practices, our coaches have been getting on us about hitting each other. No one wants to hit their friend but once we get to hit someone that we don’t know, it’s kind of cool.
“Not be cocky, just stay there and just play good,” Smith said on how they can continue the physicality moving forward.
In goal for West Salem, making his Varsity debut, was freshman Cameron Van Leuven and Van Leuven had his hands full with the Lava Bears attackers and midfielders though with Bend beginning to chip away at the lead.
By the third quarter, it was a 6-4 Titan lead with the Lava Bears looking for further damage on the scoreboard.
“That third quarter, I was kind of afraid that they were going to start shooting more shots at me and they were going to go in, but our defense gave it to them,” said Van Leuven as him and his defense as they met the challenge head-on.
And they succeeded as the West Salem defense only permitted one goal in the final quarter, feeding off that defensive mindset that their Head Coach has instilled in them and that they’ve been improving upon during the last month.
“You know playing defense in college and that’s one of the things we pushed really hard on, everyone plays defense here,” said Litrakis. “I’m super proud of them, working real hard the last four weeks. We went down to Arizona and really played some really high quality teams. Number one in Arizona and number 47 in the country (in Norte Dame Prep) and it was a good gut-check for us.
“And so we came out and work on some things. We’ve been working hard and the kids are really responding. They’re really playing some tough D.”
The Titans got two more insurance goal to match that one that Bend got in the fourth to seal the 8-5 victory and their first program win over the Lava Bears in 10 years.
“That feels really, really good right now,” said Van Leuven. “This is my first Varsity game and as soon as I go in, we beat them for the first time in program history, it feels amazing.”
“It’s a great feeling, we’ve never beat them before. We’re 1-8 against them now and it’s a great feeling to beat them,” starts Smith as West Salem turns their focus to Canby Tuesday night. “Whenever you beat a really good team, you get really hyped over it. But we just got to keep going up and don’t think we’re the shit, we just want to keep our focus. We got Canby on Tuesday, so that’ll be a tough game.”
By Jeremy McDonald