PORTLAND—For a month, Cheverus’ field hockey team tried everything in its power to rediscover its scoring and winning touch.
Turns out, the Stags simply needed a little rain dance.
Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Cheverus, mired in a nine-game winless streak, took on host Portland, seemingly poised for a deep playoff run, in a Western Class A preliminary round game that took longer than anyone could have imagined.
After the start was delayed 30 minutes, the 10th-ranked Stags withstood some early pressure from the No. 7 Bulldogs, then, with 16:15 to play in the first half, got the jump when junior Becca Archer scored on a rebound for a 1-0 lead.
But then, seven minutes later, Mother Nature made her presence felt by delaying the game nearly an hour after thunder was heard in the vicinity.
That lull could have turned momentum in Portland’s favor, but Cheverus, which spent the delay hardly obsessing about the task at hand, soon ended the competitive phase of the contest.
After spending the break, “dancing and having fun,” in the words of Stags junior sparkplug Emily Michaud, they had even more fun when Archer scored her second goal just 31 seconds after play resumed.
When senior defender Kelsey Masselli, who helped neutralize dangerous Bulldogs junior Lauren McIntyre all game, scored her first career goal on a penalty corner with 1:35 to play before halftime, Cheverus had a commanding 3-0 advantage.
Archer completed her first hat trick of the season with a goal out of a scrum with 26:12 remaining and even though Portland got on the board two minutes later when junior Ashley Paisley scored on a penalty corner, that was a mere hiccup as the Stags got one more goal, a rebound tally from freshman Hannah Abbott, and went on to a most impressive 5-1 victory.
Cheverus earned its first victory in exactly a month’s time, improved to 6-7-2, ended the Bulldogs’ fine season at 9-6 and most importantly, advanced to meet second-ranked Gorham (13-1) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Gorham.
“I think today we did as well as we possibly could,” said Stags coach Amy Ashley. “I’m really proud of them.”
Cheverus and Portland are separated by only a few miles, but until Saturday, they had never squared off in the postseason.
They did meet Oct. 6 in a historic contest, which saw the Bulldogs beat the Stags for the first time in exactly 10 years, 3-2, in double overtime.
That was part of a 9-5 regular season for Portland, which earned the No. 7 seed.
Cheverus started 5-0, then failed to win again, going 0-7-2 down the stretch to drop to the No. 10 spot.
But Saturday, everything finally clicked for the Stags, who stayed loose and reaped the rewards.
After a youth football game delayed the start of this one for a half an hour, the Bulldogs were chomping at the bit and it took only 80 seconds for the hosts to earn a corner, but a feed from senior Georgia Drew just got past the stick of classmate Renata Serio in front.
After Michaud sent a shot wide for Cheverus and Portland senior Gabby Wagabaza broke up the Stags’ first corner, the Bulldogs got a shot from Wagabaza and two from McIntyre, but Cheverus senior goalie Casey Simpson stopped all three of them, setting an early tone and suggesting that this game would be different.
After Michaud had a blast saved by Bulldogs junior goalie Gianna Gaudet, the Stags broke through.
On a corner, Archer had a shot saved by Gaudet, but she got the ball back and her second bid smacked off the board for a 1-0 lead with 16:15 to play before halftime.
“I shot it and then I just tried again,” said Archer.
To outsiders, it simply appeared as if Cheverus was fired up for the playoff game, but in truth, some behind-the-scenes soul searching helped cleanse the disappointment of so many close calls.
“We’ve done a lot of team bonding and we realized that we’re a family and that team comes first,” Masselli said. “We realized we had to pick each other up and tell each other we believe in each other.”
“We’ve been struggling, but we had the best week of practice,” Ashley said. “We had some internal issues and we sat down in a circle and let everything fly. The girls love each other. Even though we lost so many in a row, they were all close games. We had some moral victories in there. Sanford, Scarborough, the last Portland game. We knew if we played like that and lost, we could do even better.”
The skies then darkened and with 9:25 showing in the half, thunder was heard, necessitating a halt in play for all on hand to take shelter.
Maine Principals’ Association rules dictate that if lightning is seen or thunder is heard, play can’t be resumed until 30 minutes after the last instance.
It would take 55 minutes for play to begin again, but it’s safe to say that Cheverus made the most of its time in the depths of the Portland Exposition Building.
“Sitting for an hour helped us a lot,” Archer said. “We went in the locker room, we put on music, we danced, we got loose, then we came out ready to go.”
“We had a dance-off,” Masselli said. “We just had fun. I’d say (junior) Elise (Bourassa) probably won. That made us push harder. It lit our fire.”
“I’ve learned a lot about this team,” Ashley added. “(The coaches) let (the girls) be by themselves. I know they were dancing. I’m just happy they’re having fun with each other.”
When play resumed, any hope of a Portland comeback was immediately dashed.
Cheverus won possession, transitioned to the offensive end and junior Abby Ford fed the ball across to Archer, who fired it past Gaudet for a 2-0 lead with 8:54 to play in the first half.
“It was nervewracking coming back because we knew Portland would want to score,” Archer said. “For us to score gave us confidence to keep pushing.”
While the Stags had benefited from the delay, the Bulldogs did not.
“I actually think it hurt us for a couple reasons,” Portland coach Beth Arsenault lamented. “One, we had two players who were supposed to work at 5:30. We were already delayed at the start. Then, (junior) Holly (Hinchliffe), one of my strongest mids (who did a terrific rendition of the National Anthem in pregame), is in ‘Les Miz’ at Portland Players. We knew we had to get going. There was also a fear that if we only got nine more minutes in and didn’t score, it would be an official game. It was a possibility. We’re just not experienced enough to be able to overcome those kinds of things.”
McIntyre tried to get her team going, but she had a rush broken up by Masselli and moments later, another McIntyre rush was broken up by sophomore Charlotte Noyes.
Then, at the other end, after Gaudet saved a shot by Archer, Cheverus earned a corner and Masselli, after inserting the ball, got it back from Abbott, and finished for not only her first career varsity goal, but also a 3-0 lead.
“We’ve practiced a lot of corner formations,” Masselli said. “We have to score on corners. It was all my team. The ball just came to me. Hanna set me up perfectly.”
“Kelsey never had an opportunity to score, but lately, we put her in the inserting position and she’s done an excellent job,” Ashley said. “I knew one of these days she’d get one. She’s clutch in the back on defense too.”
In the first half, the Stags enjoyed an 8-4 shots advantage and scored on one of their two corners.
Portland could have made a game of it had it scored first out of the break, but Cheverus got the first goal of the second half to end all doubt.
It came with 26:12 to play, again on a corner. Ford got things started with a feed to freshman Hannah Abbott, who had a shot blocked. A scrum then ensued and eventually, Archer was able to get to the ball and send it into the cage for a 4-0 lead, giving her a hat trick.
“Corners have been killing us all season,” Archer said. “We’ve practiced them all week. Today we perfected them.”
“Becca got her game back,” Masselli said. “She realized she loves the game. She was playing for our seniors.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better kid to have a game like this today,” Ashley added. “Becca’s our hardest worker. She loves field hockey so much. She’d been frustrated. She really deserved this performance today.”
To its credit, Portland didn’t fold and with 24:34 remaining, broke through on a corner, as Drew set up Paisley for a long shot which eluded Simpson, cutting the deficit to 4-1.
Ashley called timeout to make sure her team didn’t panic and the Stags didn’t as they instead kept the pressure on.
Less than a minute after Archer’s bid for a fourth goal was saved by Gaudet, Ford tried on a corner, only to have her shot turned aside.
Cheverus did eventually make it 5-1 with 11:59 to play, as an Archer shot off a corner hit the post, but Abbott was there to bang home the rebound.
The Bulldogs never seriously threatened from there and the Stags went on to a most impressive 5-1 victory.
“Coach Mac has told us in practice and after games that we’re a very dangerous when we play together,” Archer said. “We came out and came together today. We didn’t know what to expect since we’re not a turf team and they are, but we knew it was a new game, 0-0.”
“The first time, they came to play and we didn’t,” said Masselli. “Today, we came to play. We didn’t really have one person we were worried about. We just tried to mark all the time.”
“We couldn’t catch a break all season, so we were due,” Ashley added. “Since Scarborough, our defense is a lot more confident. After this week, I’ve gained a lot of hope.”
Cheverus outshot Portland, 20-8, and had eight corners (scoring on three of them) to the Bulldogs’ six. Simpson only had to make four saves.
Portland got nine saves from Gaudet, but there were several other shots she could do nothing about.
“(The Stags) weren’t our first choice to play,” Arsenault said. “We knew how they played us the first time. It was the difference between a team that has perennial playoff runs and a team that goes every four years. The game was decided in the first few minutes when we had good opportunities and didn’t convert. We weren’t able to mentally overcome that and then we played with some fear. That’s not our game. When we play completely relaxed, we have fun and we play well. We didn’t take Cheverus lightly and that’s why when we didn’t score early, we were worried.”
The Bulldogs’ season ended earlier than hoped, but it was one of the program’s best of recent vintage.
“I really hope the girls have the perspective that they had an amazing nine-win season after 3-10-1 and 3-11 seasons with basically the same team,” Arsenault said.
Portland seems to be annually decimated by graduation and that will happen again in the spring, but next year’s squad has a lot of key players back and that should help the Bulldogs remain competitive.
“I’m going to lose Georgia, which is huge,” Arsenault said. “Losing Meg Parker is huge. Gabby Wagabaza, huge. Tara O’Neal, huge. Renata Serio, huge.
“But my junior class is pretty robust. I have two sophomores playing up now. I’m very pleased with our JV team this year. They worked hard. The future is looking bright. We want to get playoffs in our culture. This is what happens when you don’t. We’re getting there.”
Cheverus lost at home to Gorham, 1-0, back on Sept. 23.
The Stags lost to the Rams in the 2007 quarterfinals (5-0) and beat them in the 2009 semifinals (1-0) and again in the 2012 quarterfinals (2-1).
Cheverus is playing with house money, has rediscovered its scoring touch and will be a very dangerous out.
“We expect the unexpected,” Archer said. “We’ll go into it with a clean slate.”
“We have to go out and play and hope for the best,” Masselli said. “We have confidence now. We believe.”
“Coming into this game, we really felt that we had a great opportunity,” Ashley added. “We really loved our bracket. We’re excited to play Gorham. We played them well. As long as we believe in each other, anything can happen. From here on out, we’ll see if we can spring an upset again. I love being in this position with this team.”
Saturday’s hero, Cheverus junior Becca Archer, plays the ball up the field. Archer had three goals in the win.
Portland sophomore Taylor Sargent and Cheverus freshman Hannah Abbott fight for possession.
Portland junior Kate Brewer prepares to shoot as Cheverus sophomore Charlotte Noyes defends.
Portland senior captain Georgia Drew fires a shot.
Cheverus junior Carrie Hight runs down a loose ball.
Portland junior Holly Hinchliffe hits the ball away from Cheverus sophomore Charlotte Noyes.
Dangerous Portland junior Lauren McIntyre is stymied by Cheverus senior Kelsey Masselli.
Cheverus junior Emily Michaud tries to dribble past Portland senior Georgia Drew.
Portland senior Meg Parker tries to keep up with Cheverus junior Becca Archer.
Cheverus senior goalie Casey Simpson is mauled by junior captain Abby Ford and senior Quinn Snyder (16) as the rest of the team rushes in to join the celebration of the Stags’ 5-1 win over rival Portland in Saturday’s Western A preliminary round field hockey game. Cheverus snapped a nine-game winless streak and advanced to meet Gorham in the quarterfinals.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.