Cheverus boys hold off Deering; Another Brunswick showdown looms

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Cheverus’ boys’ lacrosse team rushes the field after holding off rival Deering, 11-9, in Wednesday’s Class A North quarterfinal. The Stags advanced to meet defending state champion Brunswick in Saturday’s semifinal round.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 11 Deering 9

D- 2 4 0 3- 9
C- 6 0 2 3- 11

First quarter
10:10 C Giancotti (Coffin)
9:32 C Pierce (Coffin)
9:01 D Johnson (Peterson)
7:33 C Giancotti (Pierce)
7:10 C Nason (Coffin)
5:57 D Johnson (Randall)
3:42 C Pierce (Nason)
2:58 C Giancotti (Nason) 

Second quarter
5:34 D Richards (unassisted)
4:06 D Richards (unassisted)
3:12 D Richards (Johnson)
59.2 D James (Randall) 

Third quarter
6:24 C Giancotti (Coffin)
4:20 C Hoglund (unassisted) 

Fourth quarter
11:33 C Giancotti (Pierce)
11:12 C Hatch (unassisted)
9:40 D Johnson (Randall)
7:38 D Johnson (James)
5:56 C Nason (Coffin)
3:08 D Hornblower (unassisted) 

Goals:
D- Johnson 4, Richards 3, Hornblower, James 1
C- Giancotti 5, Nason, Pierce 2, Hatch, Hoglund 1

Assists:
D- Randall 3, James, Johnson, Peterson 1
C- Coffin 5, Nason, Pierce 2

Faceoffs (Deering, 13-11)
D- Hornblower 13 of 24
C- Nason 8 of 17, Verrault 3 of 5, Coffin 0 of 1, Haines 0 of 1

Ground balls (Cheverus, 44-36)
D- Hornblower 12, Castenada 5, Walter 4, Nguany, Randall 3, Harvey, Nussinow, Richards 2, Haines, Johnson, Peterson 1
C- Hoglund 7, Cawley, Pierce 6, Coffin, Ly 5, Hatch, Nason 4, Halverson 2, Baker, Conley, McLain, Thomas, Walsh 1

Turnovers:
D- 17
C- 23

Shots:
D- 29
C- 28

Shots on cage
D- 24
C- 21

Saves:
D (Nussinow) 10
C (Walsh) 15

PORTLAND—The Class A boys’ lacrosse landscape is as unpredictable as ever this spring and every team in the playoff field believes it could win it all.

Thanks to a strong second half effort Wednesday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, Cheverus remains one of those teams.

The Stags, ranked fourth in Class A North, got everything they could handle from No. 5 Deering in a quarterfinal round showdown, but with their season on the line, Cheverus made the necessary plays to survive and advance.

The Stags got off to a sizzling start, as three goals from sophomore Marco Giancotti and five saves from junior goalie Sean Walsh helped produce a 6-2 lead after one quarter.

The Rams then dominated the second period, blanking Cheverus and getting three goals from junior Nate Richards to make it a 6-6 contest at halftime.

But midway through the third quarter, Giancotti ended a 20-plus minute scoring drought to put the Stags ahead to say and senior Mackenzie Hoglund added a goal for an 8-6 advantage.

In the first minute of the final period, Giancotti and sophomore Michael Hatch scored to seemingly put the game away, but Deering twice cut the deficit to two, the final time when senior Max Hornblower scored with 3:08 remaining.

Walsh and his defense refused to allow the Rams to complete the comeback, however, and the Stags went on to an 11-9 victory.

Cheverus got five goals from Giancotti, five assists from sophomore Max Coffin and 15 saves from Walsh as it improved to 9-4, ended Deering’s season at 7-6 and advanced to meet defending Class A champion Brunswick (10-2), the No. 1 seed, Saturday at 2 p.m. in the regional semifinals.

“That was fun,” said Stags coach Bill Bodwell. “I’m very impressed with Deering’s coaching staff and their preparation for this game. They’ve gotten much better. They’re probably as strong as anybody right now.”

Compelling battle

At the midway point of the 2016 season, Cheverus looked like a title contender, while Deering wasn’t in the discussion of top teams, but the Rams closed the gap big-time down the stretch.

Deering opened with losses at home to Westbrook (16-9), at Cheverus (8-6) and at home to Portland (8-6) and it appeared a long season was in store. The Rams first hinted that they could be pretty good when they went to Saco and upset Thornton Academy, a regional finalist each of the past two years, 9-7, on May 6. An 18-10 loss at powerhouse Scarborough followed, but in a crossover, Deering bounced back to dominate visiting Oak Hill, 16-1, then downed visiting Bonny Eagle, 15-3. An 11-5 home loss to two-time Western A champion South Portland dropped to Rams to 3-5, but they sizzled down the stretch, winning at Maranacook (12-6), at home over Massabesic (17-8), at Windham (9-8) and at Noble (25-4) to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2012.

The Stags, meanwhile, lost their opener, 11-6, at Thornton Academy, then came to life, winning five straight. Cheverus held off visiting Deering (8-6) and Kennebunk (9-7), posted an impressive 11-4 victory at South Portland, downed previously unbeaten host Gorham, 9-5, and rolled at home over Bonny Eagle, 15-1. The Stags then let a three-goal second half lead slip away in an 11-9 loss at Greely in a crossover and dropped a home shootout to Scarborough, 14-13. After a 15-2 romp at Noble, Cheverus fell, 9-7, at Westbrook, but closed with wins over visiting Portland (9-5) and Marshwood (15-2) to post a fifth straight winning record.

In the regular season meeting, April 28 at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Coffin and senior Frankie Curran both scored two goals and the Stags held on down the stretch. Deering was paced by two goals apiece from sophomores Nick James and Bryce Randall.

Entering play, Cheverus won all three prior playoff meetings against the Rams (see sidebar, below), with an 11-4 triumph in the 2013 Eastern A semifinals the most recent.

Wednesday, on a terrific day for lacrosse (72 degrees with a 20 mile per hour wind along Back Cove), the Stags did just enough to prevail.

Cheverus got its transition passing offense going in the first quarter and appeared to open up a healthy lead.

Just 1 minute, 50 seconds in, Coffin set up Giancotti for a 1-0 advantage.

With 9:32 to go in the first, Coffin got his second assist, passing to sophomore Jesse Pierce, who beat Deering junior goalie Tanner Nussinow.

The Rams got on the board with 9:01 remaining, as senior Andrew Johnson took a pass from sophomore Jonah Peterson and whistled a shot past Walsh to cut the deficit in half, but after a nice rush from Hoglund, the ball came to Pierce, who set up Hoglund to make it 3-1 with 7:33 to go and 23 seconds later, after a Deering turnover, Coffin set up Nason for a 4-1 lead.

Johnson scored again (from Randall) with 5:57 to play in the frame, but the Stags would score twice more in transition, as Nason set up Pierce with 3:42 left and 44 seconds later, Nason fed Giancotti for a 6-2 advantage.

“We got fastbreaks early on and that gave us wide open opportunities,” Giancotti said.

If Cheverus’ offensive onslaught wasn’t enough, Walsh was stymieing the Rams, making five saves.

But in a microcosm of its season, Deering overcame a slow start and roared to life in the second period.

After neither team scored for over six minutes, Richards first made his offensive presence felt with 5:34 to play in the half, scoring unassisted.

Richards scored another unassisted goal with 4:06 left, finishing after a spin move.

With 3:12 to go, Johnson set up Richards for a shot past Walsh and the Rams were only down one.

Deering then completed the comeback with 59.2 seconds showing, as Randall found James, who tickled the twine to make it 6-6.

The Rams almost took the lead as time wound down, but Randall hit the post and the game went to the break still deadlocked.

Cheverus was shaken, but would regroup.

“At halftime, the guys weren’t happy, but they responded well,” Bodwell said.

It appeared Deering had the momentum as the second half began, but the Rams wouldn’t score at all in the third quarter.

Moments after Deering had a go-ahead goal waved off by a crease violation, the Stags went on top to stay, as in transition, Coffin set up Giancotti for a 7-6 lead with 6:24 left in the third period.

“This is a game of feel and momentum,” Rams coach Jon Dubois said. “We had all the momentum at halftime. We had a wide open look and got called for a crease violation when we were ready to take a 7-6 lead. That’s like a two-goal swing because they came down and went ahead.”

With 4:20 remaining in the quarter, Hoglund, who was all over the field making plays all game, got some room and raced in and beat Nussinow to make it 8-6. 

Nason almost extended the lead further with 3:13 left, but his rocket hit the crossbar and the hosts took a tenuous two-goal advantage to the final stanza.

Lost in the shuffle in the third quarter was the play of Walsh, who made seven saves to help Cheverus right its ship.

“The defense played lights out,” Walsh said. “They gave me good looks to make saves. It took us awhile to get into it. At halftime we made a few adjustments and got our rotation down and that’s why we played well in the third quarter. One of the big things we did today was we didn’t sulk. We came out and won the third quarter and that was big.”

“(Sean’s) like a lot of goalies, a tad-bit crazy, but he shows up,” Bodwell said. “He had a great game tonight. He was the difference in the third quarter. They had some great opportunities.”

Just 27 seconds into the fourth period, Giancotti scored for the final time, off a feed from Pierce, and with 11:12 remaining, Hatch scored unassisted to make it 10-6.

“We’ve put Hatch up top and he’s done well for us,” Giancotti said.

Deering refused to go quietly, as Johnson (from Randall) ended a 15:19 drought with 9:40 to play and two minutes later, James set up Johnson, who made a great catch, then beat Walsh to cut the deficit to 10-8.

Hornblower won the ensuing faceoff, but the Rams turned the ball over and with 5:56 to go, Coffin dove to collect a ground ball, then fed Nason for an insurance tally.

That loomed huge when Deering answered with 3:08 left, as Hornblower raced in and scored unassisted to make it 11-9.

Neither team would score the rest of the way, but the Rams had their chances to make things very interesting.

With 2:36 to play, Hoglund got between a Johnson shot and the goal and his block prevented the score from getting even closer.

With 29.3 seconds remaining, Hornblower had to come off for 30 seconds after a holding penalty, the first and only transgressions of the game, but the visitors had one final look at the goal only to see Walsh deny Randall and that clinched it.

At 5:10 p.m, after a compelling 94 minutes, Cheverus defeated Deering, 11-9.

“We fed off our defense and the offense realized we had to put the ball in the net and we capitalized on our opportunities,” Giancotti said. “Beating Deering is pretty cool. We all expected a tough game like this.”

“I was feeling pretty good early, but zone defenses can be interesting,” Bodwell said. “They can be really good and they can be really bad.”

Giancotti paced the offense with a game-high five goals. He’s helped fill the void after Curran went down for the season with a knee injury.

“Marco’s an unassuming young man,” Bodwell said. “To see him have a game like that has to be huge for his confidence. We went to a more crease-oriented offense when Frank got hurt and Marco has become a weapon on crease.”

Nason and Pierce had two goals apiece and Hatch and Hoglund both scored once.

Coffin assisted on five of the 11 goals. Nason and Pierce both had two assists.

Walsh made 15 stops.

The Stags had a 44-36 advantage on ground balls (Hoglund led the way with seven). Cheverus overcame 23 turnovers.

Enjoyable ride

Deering’s offense was led by Johnson, who had four goals. Richards scored three times and Hornblower and James each tickled the twine once.

Randall had three assists and James, Johnson and Peterson each finished with one.

Nussinow made 10 saves.

Hornblower won 13 of 24 faceoffs and had a game-high 12 ground balls.

The Rams had a 29-28 edge in shots (24-21 on cage) and turned the ball over 17 times.

“We gave up six in the first quarter and there weren’t a whole lot of quarters this season that we gave up six,” Dubois said. “We made an adjustment and gave up only five the rest of the game. It was a little late. We made it 6-6, but we came up a bit short. Their goalie was great today. They transitioned the ball really well. They got easy (goals) standing at the back pipe. When you slide from the crease, it makes it easy for some teams. I preach having respect for the ball, but we made a lot of errors today. It’s tough to win a game like this when you’re sloppy with the ball.”

Deering was under .500 most of the season, but still got to the brink of the regional semifinals.

“This is the best group of kids I’ve ever had in terms of how they approach practice and the game,” Dubois said. “It’s been positive since day one. We’ve gotten rid of negative attitudes. We played with confidence. I couldn’t be more proud of this year’s seniors.”

The Rams should be right back in the mix in 2017.

“We’ll lose four kids, but hopefully we can build on this year,” said Dubois. “We’re losing our top three scorers, but hopefully we’ll find some guys to put the ball in the net.”

Time to slay the Dragons

Cheverus and Brunswick didn’t play this spring, but the teams know each other well from recent postseasons.

The Stags and Dragons have split four prior meetings (Brunswick rolled, 18-8, in last year’s semifinals en route to the championship). 

“We haven’t seen Brunswick play,” Giancotti said. “They lost to Kennebunk and we beat Kennebunk, so we’ll stay positive because of that. I think we have what it takes to make a run. We have to capitalize man-up and play great defense.”

“We can absolutely make a run,” said Walsh. “A state championship is on our mind. We’ve been playing great. We know Brunswick well. We have to play tight defensively and if our offense plays like it did today, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

“It should be fun,” said Bodwell. “I coach hockey there and I know a bunch of the kids. It’s the fifth year in a row we have to go there. Class A is wide open this year. Several different teams could win the championship and that’s fun.”

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

Cheverus senior Alex Nason winds up for a shot.

Deering sophomore Bryce Randall fires on goal through traffic.

Cheverus senior Mackenzie Hoglund tries to get around Deering sophomore Nick James.

Cheverus sophomore Jesse Pierce leaves Deering senior Christian Castenada in his wake.

Deering senior Andrew Johnson goes one-on-one with Cheverus junior goalie Sean Walsh and scores one of his four goals.

Cheverus sophomore Finn Cawley and his teammates celebrate at the final horn.

Previous Cheverus-Deering playoff results

2013 Eastern A semifinals
Cheverus 11 Deering 4

2012 Eastern A Final
Cheverus 4 Deering 2

2002 Northwest Division semifinals
Cheverus 14 Deering 13 

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