Breathtaking drama highlights soccer playoffs-Portland edition

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Triumph, heartbreak and palpitating contests have been the rule so far in the soccer playoffs.

At press time, the Portland boys and Waynflete girls were still alive and several other teams were lamenting great chances that got away.

Cinderella run

Portland, despite its 9-3-2 regular season record, wasn’t given much thought heading into the Class A South boys’ playoffs, due in large part to its No. 6 ranking and the fact that the region was littered with quality teams.

Despite being overlooked, the Bulldogs battled their way to the regional final.

Last Tuesday, Portland went to No. 3 Deering, a team the Bulldogs played to a 1-1 draw in the regular season finale Oct. 18 on the Rams’ home turf. 

The teams had met just once previously in the playoffs, a 1-0 Deering victory in the 1981 Western A preliminary round.

This time around, neither team could score until the final minute, when Alex Frank tickled the twine to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 victory.

“It was a very even game,” said Portland coach Rocco Frenzilli. “It went back and forth and we dodged a couple bullets, then we were fortunate to get one from Alex at the end.”

Portland advanced to meet No. 2 Falmouth in the semifinals Saturday and the teams engaged in one of the more memorable postseason contests of recent vintage.

The teams don’t play in the regular season, but split two prior playoff meetings.

The Bulldogs fell behind, 1-0, at halftime, but rallied in the second half behind goals from Zekariya Shaib and Alex Millones to lead, 2-1. Portland couldn’t finish it off in regulation, however, as the Yachtsmen scored with just 46 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Thirty minutes of “sudden victory” OT couldn’t settle matters and the teams went to penalty kicks, where the Bulldogs prevailed, 4-3 (Frank, Shaib, Manny Yugu and Quinn Clarke converted), to win, 3-2, and advance to Wednesday’s regional final.

“That game was as good as it gets,” Frenzilli said. “When Falmouth scored with 46 seconds left and even in overtime, it didn’t look good, but (goalkeeper) Rowan (Daligan) found a way to get in front of some shots. In PKs, it’s all up to the goalie gods and the net gods and we were fortunate to survive. The guys were so excited. They’re riding a wave. As a coach and a team, it was the kind of week you dream about. I’m so pleased for kids and the effort they’ve put forth.”

At press time, Portland was awaiting its foe, as it will go to either No. 1 Gorham (14-0-1) or No. 4 Scarborough (12-3) Wednesday for the Class A South Final.

The Bulldogs knocked off the visiting Red Storm, 2-1, Sept. 30 and lost, 3-0, at the Rams Oct. 6. Portland and Gorham split two prior playoff meetings with a 2-1 Bulldogs’ victory in the 2010 regional final the most recent encounter. The Portland is 1-4 all-time against Scarborough, with a 4-0 regional final loss in 2013 the most recent.

“It doesn’t matter to us who we play,” said Frenzilli. “We have to continue to do what’s been successful for us and if we have a chance to score, hopefully we’ll make it count. Chances are precious in the playoffs. We hope to keep it going. We’ll show up and do the best we can. It’s been a dream ride.”

If the Bulldogs are able to reach their third all-time state final Saturday, they will play on their home field against Bangor, Camden Hills or Mt. Ararat. Portland lost, 1-0, to the Eagles in the 1994 state final and dropped a frustrating and controversial 3-2 decision to the Rams in the 2010 state game. The Bulldogs have no history with the Windjammers.

Deering was left heartbroken by its quarterfinal round loss to Portland. The Rams had two goals called back and lost in the final minute to wind up 11-2-2.

“A lot of thought and hard work went into preparing for the game,” Deering coach Joel Costigan said. “Our coaching staff thought it was one of the best games we have played all year, but Portland is a tough matchup—they are the matchup I want least every year—and Rocco’s kids wanted the win too.

“Offensively, we had several quality scoring chances, but Portland’s goalkeeper played a great game and Portland’s back four did a great job closing space quickly. Part of our game plan was to target Iessa (Ramadan) at the center attacking midfield role and then have our wing players rotate wide in order to quickly transition to attack the goal, but Portland’s center-backs did a good job closing space, forcing us into some poor passes.

“Defensively, I thought our guys followed the game plan really well first half, but Portland made some adjustments second half and we failed to adjust to those changes. I think fatigue set in late in the game. After a goal was called back for the offsides, our guys lost focus and I didn’t make the appropriate adjustments to settle play and calm the storm. Ultimately, the pressure of the game got to us late, leading to the breakdown in the middle of the field and Alex’s goal.

“I’m disappointed that we have once again failed to get through the second round, but I am still optimistic about the players we have returning and I think there is a lot that both our players and our coaches have learned from this experience. Our key focus next year is going to be on mental toughness. Our guys have the skills to get there, we just struggle to find the mental toughness we need to get us to that state game.”

Deering will have big holes to fill next fall, but the Rams should again be a top contender.

“We graduate six starters and we lose an amazing group of captains and other upperclassmen, but we have a lot of talent returning and I see several players who have the potential to step up into leadership roles,” Costigan said. “I predict Portland will once again be our biggest rival, but I think we have learned a lot from this season and we will be better prepared in 2017.”

Waynflete got to the Class C state final last season and had no shortage of playoff drama en route. The Flyers had more of the same this fall and this time, they couldn’t quite reach the big stage.

Waynflete, ranked seventh in Class C South, sprung a 3-2 upset at No. 2 Wiscasset in its first playoff test, the quarterfinals, last Tuesday, as Ilyas Abdi scored all three goals, giving him 15 for the season, and Luca Antolini made seven clutch saves.

The Flyers advanced to meet No. 3 Lisbon in the semifinals Saturday. Neither team could score in the 80 minutes of regulation or 30 minutes of overtime and the game went to penalty kicks. Christian Brooks, Max Winson and Mykel Henry all scored in the first round (out of five attempts) and Lisbon also made three of its shots, so another round was necessary. There, the Greyhounds made three kicks while Waynflete only converted one (Ian McClure-Chute) and the Flyers’ season ended at 8-6-2 with a 1-0 (6-4 PK) setback.

“Their keeper was experienced and guessed right a few times in PKs,” said longtime Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “We still almost won it. We practiced PKs for a month, but you can’t replicate the pressure of the real thing. It’s a tough way to end the season, but we had chances to score and didn’t, so we have to give them credit. They executed their game plan.

“Everything I asked from this group they came through with. It’s hard to be upset with the loss when they played their guts out and came up just short.”

The Flyers graduate just one starter, captain Jack Meahl, and should be in a very strong position to begin 2017.

“The guys are excited about next year already,” Salway said. “We’ll have some freshmen who will battle for playing time. We’ll be starting from a strong place.”

Still Flying high

Waynflete’s girls’ team lost in the state final last year and this fall, after a solid 8-4-2 regular season, earned the No. 5 seed in Class C South.

The Flyers went to No. 4 Lisbon for a quarterfinal Wednesday. The teams don’t play in the regular season. Waynflete won the lone prior playoff meeting, 4-0, in the 2012 semifinals and did it again this time around, as Ava Farrar scored twice in a 2-0 victory.

Saturday, the Flyers went to top-ranked Monmouth Academy for the semifinals and needed more than 80 minutes to advance.

The teams don’t play in the regular season. Waynflete had won three of four prior postseason encounters, including a 3-2 overtime victory last fall.

This time, the Flyers trailed, 1-0, at halftime, but drew even when Lydia Giguere scored with just under 10 minutes left in regulation. Elisabeth Lualdi had the assist.

“The ball was out on the wing with Elisabeth Lualdi and she beat a defender, she managed to get her head up,” Giguere said. “She was able to find my head and, yeah, I did intend it to go into the direction of the goal. I was luckily enough because the goalie had taken a step towards the other direction, because I don’t think she noticed I was there. I had the perfect lane.”

Giguere then struck again in overtime for a 2-1 victory.

“I saw it hit off a couple of people and it kind of bounced out to me,” Giguere said. “One of our players was also there, but her back was to the goal, so I called her off it. And we practice those types of shots in practice. I had confidence and I knew if I hit it in this one spot it could go in.”

“Once we got the first one, we knew we could get that second one,” Waynflete coach Todd Dominski said. “It seemed like we grabbed a good amount momentum with that first goal. It took forever. It took formation changes and all sorts of stuff, throwing numbers to get there.”

The Flyers advanced to their ninth regional final in 11 years, where they will travel to No. 2 Madison (15-1) Wednesday afternoon. The teams don’t play in the regular season. Last year, in the teams’ lone prior playoff meeting, Waynflete won, 4-1, in the semifinals.

If the Flyers reach the state final again, they will face either Orono (12-1-3) or Houlton (13-1-2) Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Waynflete is 2-1 in previous state games versus Orono, including last year’s 3-2, double overtime, setback.

In Class A South, Cheverus, ranked fourth, hosted No. 5 Windham in the quarterfinals last Wednesday and went down to a 3-1 defeat. Emma Gallant scored for the Stags, but the Eagles scored twice in the second half to end Cheverus’ fine season at 10-4-1.

“I thought we competed hard,” said Stags coach Craig Roberts. “The game was fairly even in the first half as neither team really found a rhythm. We felt good being 1-1 at the half. We controlled play for the first 10-15 minutes of the second half, but just couldn’t find the back of the net. 

“Personally, the loss was tough. Our seniors have been excellent leaders and led the way in setting high expectations for this group. (Katie Gordon, Emily Turner and Meredith Cilley) have been four-year starters who have persisted through four- or five-win seasons and playoff beatings with the hopes of turning the corner this year. We came in together and I had hoped to do enough to help them get there, but in the end we came up just a little short. Overall though, if you’d told me four years ago that we’d ever be 10-4-1 and competing with Windham, Scarborough, Gorham, and TA, I would’ve said you’re crazy.”

Cheverus has a lot of talent returning in 2017 and should again be in the hunt.

“To build and not simply be a one-year wonder, we have to fill the void Katie Gordon will leave, develop depth in the midfield and find our next leaders in the program. Our freshman class is outstanding. If our freshmen are invested starting in June and learn from their experiences this year, I feel pretty good about our prospects.”

Sun Journal staff writer Nathan Fournier contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.