(Ed. Note: For the complete Cheverus-Messalonskee and Deering-Portland boys’ lacrosse game stories, with photos and box scores, please visit theforecaster.net)
It took a little extra time to make it happen, but the Cheverus and Deering boys’ lacrosse teams will meet for the Eastern Class A championship Wednesday evening.
Each team won twice last week, including once in overtime, to reach the brink of a first-ever trip to the state final.
The Rams entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed after a 7-5 regular season and earned a very difficult quarterfinal round draw, No. 6 Portland, which was peaking.
As expected, the quarterfinal was tight throughout and had a dramatic ending.
Deering was up 3-2 at halftime, but the Bulldogs scored three third period goals to go ahead, 5-3. The Rams fought back to tie at 5-5, but Portland, behind Max Pierter’s fourth goal, went up 6-5. That lead held until 15.6 seconds remained, when Deering’s Matt Flaherty scored his fourth goal to make it 6-6 and force overtime.
“Coach drew it up on the chalkboard and it worked out perfectly,” Flaherty said. “I was getting pretty nervous, to be honest. We were basically running the same thing all game. It just opened up and I took a shot and it happened to work out.”
In OT, Deering faceoff specialist Karl Rickett ensured the hosts would get possession. After two Flaherty shots missed the mark, the ball came to junior Rick Murray and with 2:26 left in the first “sudden victory” overtime, his shot was true to give the Rams a 7-6 win.
“(JV coach Adam Rothbart) drew up the play for us and we just executed it nicely,” Murray said. “I got the pass from (Anthony Verville). I passed it to (Bailey Koch) up top. He faked and passed it right back. I was wide open. The whole defense slid over. That’s probably the best shot I’ve ever taken. It was my only good one of the game. It was my biggest goal. It’s extra special to beat Portland.”
“It’s always fun to be a part of a game like this,” said Deering first-year coach Jon Dubois. “It’s a great game to coach or be in. This is what you want. We wanted a tight game and to get a test going forward. I think it builds you up and makes you a tougher team.”
Portland’s season ended at 6-7.
“In overtime, you have to get possession, it’s that simple,” Bulldogs coach Eric Begonia said. “You have to have that one good possession and they got it. They did a good job. Our guys did a great job. I’m proud of them. Our defense was steadfast, we just didn’t put the ball in the net enough times. I felt like we could have gone a couple more steps. This game could’ve gone either way. I can’t take anything away from my guys. It was an overtime game. Someone had to win. Someone had to lose.”
With the loss, Begonia’s 10-year run as Bulldogs’ coach also culminated. Begonia won 108 games, three regional titles and the 2009 Class A championship.
“It’s tough to go out like this,” Begonia said. “It’s been a good ride. We’ve made playoffs for 10 years. For me, the family pull is overwhelming and more important. You see all these young guys. They’ll try to come back and do it next year, but it’s my last one and it’s tough.”
“Eric has been instrumental in the development and success of our program,” said Portland athletic director Mike McCullum. “We’ve been fortunate to have him for 10 years. His dedication and commitment to our kids and the lacrosse community as a teacher and coach is second to none.”
Deering got a break and earned a home semifinal when No. 7 Lewiston upset second-ranked Mt. Ararat. The Rams didn’t play the Blue Devils in the regular season, but were eliminated by them in both the 2010 quarterfinals (3-0) and 2011 regional final (9-5).
An unassisted goal from Flaherty with 9:38 left in the third period put the Rams ahead to stay and a pair of man-up tallies broke it open. Deering closed the second half on a 5-0 run and beat the Blue Devils for the first time, 6-1.
Flaherty led the way with three goals, Rickett won 7 of 10 draws and assisted on two goals and senior goalie Nick Martin had his best performance to date, stopping six shots.
“We had to possess the ball,” said Flaherty. “That’s been a problem in games past. We moved the ball around and had quick dodges.”
“Once we started possessing and got quality shots, it got better on the scoreboard,” Rickett said. “We knew defensively we were set. We were playing great. We just had to get better shots.”
“We just kept chopping,” Dubois added. “I keep telling the kids to keep chopping and the shots will fall. We missed the cage a lot with shots early. Once we put shots on cage, we got a few. I think we probably possessed the ball for 70 percent of the first half. Usually, that’s conducive to scoring, but we weren’t taking good shots.”
As for Cheverus, the No. 4 seed, its playoff run began with a surprisingly easy 9-2 home victory over fifth-ranked Messalonskee last Wednesday. The teams didn’t meet in the regular season. The Eagles won the only prior playoff meeting (9-6 in the 2010 quarterfinals).
This time, 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 the victory. Freshman scoring sensation Thomas Lawton scored five times and added an assist.
“We’ve been building up all year and we just came out big tonight,” Lawson said. “Everything came together.”
“The guys kept the momentum from our last regular season game and I think they ramped it up,” said Stags coach Deke Andrew. “I think we did a lot of things well. It’s a nice step.”
Cheverus then went to top-ranked, unbeaten Brunswick Saturday for a first playoff meeting between the schools. The teams went back and forth for four quarters and a late Lawson goal forced overtime. There, Lawson scored the winner and the Stags prevailed in one of the biggest victories in program history, 9-8.
“I just saw the opening and took it,” said Lawson. “It was a great team play getting the ball up the field.
“The guys were playing with a lot of confidence,” said Cheverus coach Deke Andrew. “The bottom line was they were loose and having fun. There’s no question Brunswick is the best team we faced this year. It was fun. I knew it would be close. Even in the first quarter, I knew it would go until the end. It’s one of our most dramatic wins. I didn’t go there expecting to lose. Brunswick’s very good, but I was confident.”
The Stags advanced to their first regional final since 2003.
Deering hosted Cheverus way back on on April 13 and the Stags won, 4-2. The teams have just one prior playoff encounter, a 14-13 Cheverus triumph in the 2002 divisional semifinals.
Both squads expect a memorable battle.
“Cheverus is a lot better (than the first time we played them),” Flaherty said. “I love playing them. It’s a good matchup.”
“I watched (the Stags) play their last game and they’re doing a few different things offensively they weren’t doing the last time against us,” Dubois added. “They’re playing as well as any team in the state right now. We’ll do what we do and try to stick to fundamentals and hope we play good position defense and try to possess the ball on offense.”
“Deering’s excellent,” Andrew said. “They have three defenders who are big, fast and strong and have a lot of reach. They have outstanding attackmen. Rickett’s a significant scoring threat who strikes fear into opponents’ hearts. The biggest thing will be coming out ready. It’s been a long wait (to get back to a regional final).”
Freelance writer Nathan Fournier contributed to this story.
Deering junior Rick Murray fires a shot in overtime that Portland seniors Nick Higgins (24) and Zack Lane, along with senior goalie Ryan Jurgelevich, cannot stop, as the Rams beat the Bulldogs in last week’s Eastern A quarterfinal, 7-6.