Cheverus continues surge with win at SP

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Cheverus senior Alex Nason (20) hugs sophomore Marco Giancotti after Giancotti stretches the Stags’ lead during Wednesday’s 11-4 win at South Portland. The victory was Cheverus’ third in a row and its first over the two-time defending Western A champion Red Riots since 2012.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 11 South Portland 4

C- 4 2 2 3- 11
SP- 2 1 1 0- 4

First quarter
10:47 C Curran (unassisted)
7:32 C Giancotti (Walsh)
7:27 C Nason (unassisted)
4:48 SP J. Fiorini (unassisted)
3:44 C Coffin (unassisted)
45.9 SP Adams (unassisted) 

Second quarter
9:33 SP J. Fiorini (unassisted)
4:25 C Giancotti (Nason)
2:32 C Hatch (Pierce) 

Third quarter
11:41 C Curran (Pierce) (MAN-UP)
4:09 C Coffin (unassisted)
1:07 SP J. Fiorini (Mehlhorn) 

Fourth quarter
8:59 C Cawley (unassisted)
5:47 C Curran (Coffin)
31.6 Curran (Pierce) 

Goals:
C- Curran 4, Coffin, Giancotti 2, Cawley, Hatch, Nason 1
SP- J. Fiorini 3, Adams 1

Assists:
C- Pierce 3, Coffin, Nason, Walsh 1

Faceoffs (Cheverus, 13-5)
C- Nason 9 of 13, Hatch 4 of 5
SP- Tierny 5 of 18

Ground balls (Cheverus, 35-31)
C- Nason 8, Hoglund 5, Conzelman, Curran 4, Hatch, Pierce 3, Cawley, Walsh 2, Baker, Conley, Griffin, Ly 1
SP- Mezzanotte 6, Zechman 4, Tierny 3, Adams, Angell, Graff, Mehlhorn, Nappi, Savidge, Vose-Gimble, Watson 2, D. Fiorini, Myers 1

Turnovers:
C- 20
SP- 19 

Shots:
C- 32
SP- 27

Shots on cage
C- 20
SP- 14

Saves:
C (Walsh) 10
SP (Watson) 9 

SOUTH PORTLAND—Cheverus’ boys’ lacrosse team hasn’t gotten a lot of buzz early in the 2016 season, but it’s time to give the Stags their due.

This is a team that not only figures to be among the best in Class A this spring, but if it continues to improve, it might just be the last squad standing.

Wednesday evening, in a rainy showdown at Martin Memorial Field, Cheverus led host and two-time defending Western A champion South Portland from start to finish and served notice to the rest of the state in the process.

Senior Frank Curran’s goal 73 seconds in put the Stags on top to stay and goals from sophomore Marco Giancotti and senior Alex Nason soon after made it 3-0.

The young Red Riots answered and after pulling within 4-2 after one quarter, they cut their deficit to one on senior standout Jack Fiorini’s unassisted goal with 9:33 to play in the first half, but South Portland couldn’t get the equalizer thanks to the stellar play of Cheverus junior goalie Sean Walsh.

The Stags got some breathing room when Giancotti and sophomore Michael Hatch scored before halftime and Curran and sophomore Max Coffin scored in the third period to make it 8-3.

A Fiorini goal late in the third snapped a 20 minute-plus scoring drought, but the Red Riots couldn’t make a run and fourth quarter goals from sophomore Finn Cawley, Curran and Curran once more slammed the door as Cheverus went on to an 11-4 triumph.

Curran led the way with four goals, Walsh made 10 saves and the Stags improved to 3-1, extended their win streak to three, beat South Portland for the first time in four years and dropped the Red Riots to 1-3 in the process.

“South Portland has been great for years and they’ve had our number,” Curran said. “It was the seniors’ last shot at them.”

Changing of the guard

South Portland’s bid to repeat as Class A state champion was denied by Brunswick last June, 13-9, and graduation hit the Red Riots hard. Compounding matters this spring, South Portland had to play its first three games on the road and lost at Scarborough in the opener, 13-10, and after winning at Biddeford, 15-2, fell at Falmouth Saturday, 21-10

Cheverus lost at Thornton Academy, 11-6, to start the season, then held off visiting Deering (8-6) and Kennebunk (9-7).

Entering play, South Portland had beaten Cheverus three straight times (see sidebar below), including a 15-6 triumph a year ago in Portland, to take a 7-6 all-time lead in the series.

Wednesday, amid a steady rainfall, the Stags got a key road victory and beat the Red Riots for the first time since April 21, 2012 (5-4, in South Portland).

Curran set the tone with 10:47 to go in the first period with an unassisted goal.

Walsh then made his presence felt with a pair of saves before taking off down the field, into the Red Riots’ zone before feeding Giancotti for a 2-0 lead with 7:32 remaining.

If that wasn’t staggering enough, Nason won the ensuing faceoff, collected the ground ball and raced in before beating South Portland freshman Quinn Watson for a three-goal lead.

“We came out with high intensity,” Curran said. “That was the key factor. We knew this game meant a lot. 

Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini called timeout and his team began to show life.

Jack Fiorini, who will play at Syracuse University next year, got South Portland’s offense going with 4:48 showing when he finished unassisted, but a little over a minute later, Coffin scored unassisted to make it 4-1.

The Red Riots got back within two when, after a turnover, freshman Mitchell Adams scored unassisted and as time wound down, they had a chance to draw even closer, but freshman David Fiorini shot just wide from the doorstep, keeping the score 4-2 after 12 minutes.

With 9:33 left before halftime, Jack Fiorini scored unassisted to cut the deficit to one and South Portland appeared to have all the momentum.

Walsh didn’t allow the hosts to pull even, however, stopping a pair of shots.

With 4:25 to go in the half, Nason set up Giancotti to push the lead back to two.

After Walsh denied junior Jake Angell, Hatch (from sophomore Jesse Pierce) beat Watson for a 6-3 advantage, which held up until halftime.

Nason and Hatch combined to win eight of 11 first half faceoffs and the Stags had an advantage in ground balls and shots. Six Walsh saves helped preserve the lead.

Cheverus started the second half man-up and extended its lead 19 seconds in when Pierce fed Curran for a 7-3 lead.

After Cawley hit the post and Walsh robbed junior Finn Zechman at the other end, Coffin beat Watson with a scoop shot with 4:09 showing for the Stags’ biggest lead, 8-3.

Finally, with 1:07 to go in the third, after a scoreless stretch of 20 minutes, 26 seconds, Jack Fiorini ended Cheverus’ four-goal run by finishing a feed from freshman Cooper Mehlhorn, making it 8-4 heading for the final stanza.

There, the Stags slammed the door.

With 8:59 to play, Cawley scored unassisted.

With 5:47 showing, Coffin set up Curran.

Then, in the coup de grace with just 31.6 seconds to go, Pierce passed to Curran, who scored yet again to produce the final goal in Cheverus’ 11-4 triumph.

“That was really fun,” said Stags coach Bill Bodwell. “I’ve never beaten South Portland. I’m fired up.”

Curran led all scorers with four goals. Coffin and Giancotti had two apiece and Cawley, Hatch and Nason all tickled the twine once. Pierce had three assists, while Coffin, Nason and Walsh added one apiece.

“I like our offense,” Bodwell said. “You can’t key on one guy. We have a lot of guys who are contributing. We have two new assistant coaches, new guys and we had to replace Tommy Lawson, arguably the best player in the state, so others had to step up this year.”

Walsh made 10 key saves.

“It was all my defense,” Walsh said. “They make it easy for me. Honestly, they do their job and it’s easy for me to do my job. They forced the outside shot. Our slide was ready to take Jack.”

“Sean played lights-out and our defense played lights-out to hold them to four goals,” Curran said. “We’ll beat anyone in the state if we hold them to four goals.”

“Sean has been playing really well,” Bodwell added. “He made some big saves tonight.”

The Stags had a 13-5 advantage in faceoffs.

“Another key factor was possession,” Curran said. “We won faceoffs tonight. That’s been a problem and we fixed that. We held the ball most of the game.”

Cheverus held a 35-31 edge in ground balls (Nason had a game-high eight), ousthot the Red Riots, 32-27 (20-14 on cage), and overcame 20 turnovers.

South Portland, which dropped a total of three games in 2014 and 2015, suffered its third loss in four games this spring despite three goals from Jack Fiorini and another from Adams. Watson made nine saves and senior defenseman Nick Mezzanotte had a team-high six ground balls. 

The Red Riots committed 19 turnovers.

“We came out flat, but we settled in and started to click a little bit,” Tom Fiorini said. “Our defense was better tonight. We forced (Cheverus) to take the shots we wanted them to take, but tonight, our offense didn’t show up. We can’t put a complete game together. That comes with starting five freshmen. Cheverus played a good, clean game. It’s a big win for them. They did everything they needed to do to beat us. I feel like every goalie we play has the game of his life against us.”

Improving

South Portland remains home to meet Marshwood Friday, then goes to Westbrook Wednesday before hosting Cape Elizabeth in a daunting crossover test May 14. Home games versus recent playoff rival Thornton Academy and Portland won’t be easy either.

But don’t write off the Red Riots just yet.

“We do have a lot of games left,” Tom Fiorini said. “It’s not how you start, but where you finish. We’re not giving up on the season. Cape will be tough, but our conference games are all games we can win. By playoff time, I think we’ll be OK.”

Cheverus has another key road test Friday, when it goes to Gorham.

“We lost to Gorham last year, so that’s a key game for us,” Bodwell said.

Next week, the Stags host Bonny Eagle and play a crossover game at Greely. Tests against Scarborough, Westbrook and Portland also remain.

In a year devoid of a Class A favorite, Cheverus has what it takes to play deep into June.

“I think we’re a hidden gem,” Curran said. “A lot of teams overlook us and we’ll come out and punch them in the mouth. It can be like that all year. We’re a young team and we’re getting better every week. We have to move the ball on offense and our defense has to keep playing tough.”

“We’re looking to win a state championship,” Walsh said. “We still have to work on our clear and our ride. We want to be the best clearing team in the state. We showed a little bit of that tonight, but we still have work to do.”

“I think it’s fun in Class A this year,” Bodwell added. “Things are wide open. Anybody can take it.”

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

Cheverus junior goalie Sean Walsh makes one of his 10 saves.

South Portland senior Jack Fiorini fires a shot. Fiorini paced the Red Riots with three goals.

Cheverus sophomore Max Coffin shoots over South Portland junior Patrick Graff. 

South Portland freshman Mitchell Adams is shadowed by Cheverus sophomore Kevin Ly.

Cheverus sophomore Marco Giancotti prepares to shoot past South Portland freshman goalie Quinn Watson.

South Portland freshman Cooper Mehlhorn shields the ball from Cheverus junior Kieran Conley.

Recent Cheverus-South Portland results

2015
South Portland 15 @ Cheverus 6 

2014
@ South Portland 15 Cheverus 10

2013
South Portland 13 @ Cheverus 10

2012
Cheverus 5 @ South Portland 4

2011
@ South Portland 7 Cheverus 6 (2 OT)

2010
South Portland 8 @ Cheverus 3

2007
@ South Portland 14 Cheverus 11

2006
@ Cheverus 9 South Portland 6

2005
@ South Portland 12 Cheverus 11
Western A prelim
Cheverus 17 @ South Portland 5

2004
@ Cheverus 14 South Portland 2

2003
Cheverus 16 @ South Portland 4

2002
@ Cheverus 15 South Portland 3

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