PORTLAND—One year after missing the playoffs for the first time this century, the Cheverus boys’ lacrosse team is in position to be one of the last teams standing.
In a wide-open Eastern A, the Stags proved Wednesday evening in a quarterfinal round takedown of Messalonskee, that they have an ideal combination of scoring prowess and smothering defense and goaltending.
Cheverus scored twice in the game’s opening minutes and never looked back, opening up a 5-0 advantage at halftime and a 7-0 bulge after three periods en route to an 9-2 win over the Eagles.
Freshman scoring sensation Thomas Lawton scored five times and added an assist and the Stags improved to 9-4, ended Messalonskee’s season at 8-5 and advanced to meet top-ranked and undefeated Brunswick (12-0) in Saturday’s semifinal round.
“We’ve been building up all year and we just came out big tonight,” Lawson said. “Everything came together.”
Cheverus has been one of the state’s most competitive programs since coach Deke Andrew established it at the varsity level back in 1999. The Stags missed the postseason that first year, but qualified 11 years in a row before missing in 2011 with a 5-7 mark.
Even though there are a lot of new faces this season, Cheverus’ youth has served it well and the Stags produced their best record in eight seasons.
The Stags opened with a 4-2 home loss to Deering, but turned around and won six straight: 5-2 at Thornton Academy, 5-4 at South Portland, 17-0 over visiting Noble, 10-9 in overtime against visiting Waynflete, 12-8 at Massabesic and 13-5 at home over Westbrook. After losses at Cape Elizabeth (12-2) and Portland (7-2), Cheverus downed visiting Gorham (13-1) and Windham (10-0) before closing with a tough 10-9 double-overtime loss at Marshwood.
The Stags don’t play Messalonskee in the regular season, but the teams did meet in the 2010 Eastern A quarterfinals (a 9-6 Eagles’ victory).
This time around, Cheverus seized control early and never let up.
Just 1 minute, 44 seconds in, Lawson broke the ice with an unassisted goal and the Stags were on top to stay.
Lawson struck again with 9:25 remaining in the first period and Cheverus had a 2-0 lead after one.
The Stags got some breathing room in quarter number two as senior Colie Walsh scored unassisted with 10:31 to go before halftime, Lawson set up senior Spencer Amberson for a goal at 5:29 and with 2:11 left, Lawson scored unassisted to give Cheverus a 5-0 advantage at the break.
Throughout, the Stags’ defense didn’t let Messalonskee’s offense breathe and the Eagles began to commit unforced turnovers.
An unassisted goal from senior Cam Olson with 10:11 left in the third period pushed the lead to 6-0. Lawson scored a fourth goal with 2:01 remaining in the quarter, off a feed from Amberson, and Cheverus was firmly in control, up, 7-0, at the start of the fourth quarter.
Two minutes in, sophomore Patrick O’Hanlon scored unassisted to make it 8-0.
The Eagles finally broke the ice with 8:50 remaining as Luke Vigue scored on a feed from Nate DelGuidice.
Eleven seconds later, Jordan Holmes scored an unassisted goal to cut the deficit to 8-2, but Messalonskee would draw no closer and with 2:54 left, Lawson scored unassisted to bring the curtain down on the 9-2 triumph.
“The guys kept the momentum from our last regular season game and I think they ramped it up,” said Andrew. “I think defensively we put a lot of pressure on early and controlled the middle of the field. That gave us some good possession and some good momentum. I think we did a lot of things well. It’s a nice step. We missed the playoffs last year. As coaches, you talk a lot among each other. You talk to other coaches and try to get some insights on how to play (a team you don’t normally see).”
Lawson continued his dazzling freshman campaign with five goals.
“I had some dodging and feeds,” Lawson said. “There was great passing on the offense. (The upperclassmen have) been a really nice group of kids to play with. Everyone gets treated at the same level. There’s no seniority.”
“When you don’t have a lefthander on attack and you can put a freshman on the left side in a fastbreak situation, that’s pretty unique,” Andrew said. “He’s developed his left hand to where it’s on a level beyond any of the other juniors and seniors on the team. He’s a lot more patient with his dodges than he was earlier in the year when he was forcing things. He has the instinct of when to go. He’s exceptional. A first-class kid. A hard worker. Everything you’d ever want. I think he’s going to be something special.”
Amberson, O’Hanlon, Olson and Walsh also tickled the twine.
Amberson and Lawson each added one assist.
Senior goalie Colm Pusey made eight saves.
“Colm came up huge,” said Lawson. “He was awesome. Our senior defense has been great.”
Cheverus won 11 of 15 faceoffs.
For the Eagles, Holmes and Vigue had the goals. DelGuidice had one assist in his swan song, which gave him 300 points for his career. Goalie Jake Smith made 20 saves.
Cheverus didn’t see Brunswick, a perennial contender, this spring and the teams have no playoff history.
The Stags will go into that contest respectful of the Dragons, but confident as well.
“There’s good teams in Class A,” Lawson said. “We don’t much about (Brunswick). They’re a good team. We’re a good team. It should be a good game.”
“Brunswick’s outstanding,” Andrew said. “They’re 12-0. I’ve seen a lot of their guys play over the years. They’re a high class group of characters and they play well. They have an above average player at every position on the field and have guys on the bench who can jump in.
“I think we’ll play our game. We’ll have to possess the ball better offensively. We’re forcing the ball to the net after one pass and that doesn’t win games. We’re looking forward to it. It’s nice to go somewhere else. It’s refreshing to play new teams and go up there. I think Class A in general is to some degree wide open. We have an advantage down here playing a better schedule. At the same time, Brunswick is well skilled and well coached.”
M- 0 0 0 2- 2
C- 2 3 2 2 -9
10:16 C Lawson (unassisted)
9:25 C Lawson (Kane)
10:31 C Walsh (unassisted)
5:29 C Amberson (Lawson)
2:11 C Lawson (unassisted)
10:11 C Olson (unassisted)
2:01 C Lawson (Amberson)
10:00 C O’Hanlon (unassisted)
8:50 M Vigue (unassisted)
8:33 M Holmes (unassisted)
2:54 C Lawson (unassisted)
M- Holmes, Vigue 1
C- Lawson 5, Amberson, O’Hanlon, Olson, Walsh 1
C- Amberson, Lawson 1