Cheverus junior goalie Kat Kane is mobbed by her teammates following the Stags’ 3-0 win over South Portland in Saturday’s Class A South preliminary round playoff game. Cheverus advanced to face Marshwood in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—After a better-than-anyone-expected regular season, Cheverus’ field hockey team wasn’t about to be one-and-done in the postseason.
Saturday afternoon, the seventh-ranked Stags welcomed up-and-coming South Portland, the No. 10 seed, in a Class A South preliminary round playoff contest and as has been the case for two months, Cheverus’ will, desire and ability to make big plays at big times spelled victory.
Play was even much of the first half and the Red Riots had five penalty corners, but couldn’t convert.
Then, midway through the half, the Stags showed South Portland how it’s done, as on a corner, senior Carrie Hight passed to junior Hannah Abbott and Abbott scored for the only goal Cheverus would need.
The hosts got a huge second goal with 56 seconds remaining before halftime, when Abbott scored again.
The Red Riots, who have been fighting through adversity all season, did their best to cut into the deficit in the second half, but never could rattle the cage and sophomore Bella Booth added a third goal with 45 seconds to play and the Stags went on to victory.
Cheverus won its playoff opener for the third year in a row, improved to 11-4, ended South Portland’s season at 6-9 in the process and advanced to meet No. 2 Marshwood (12-2) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 3:15 p.m., in South Berwick.
“I’m really happy how we played,” said Abbott. “Winning our first playoff game like this is awesome. This shows our resilience as a team. We’ve come so far and worked so hard and it’s showing now.”
Neither team was highly touted when the season began, but both have come a long way and deserved to enjoy the postseason stage.
Cheverus, which lost to Thornton Academy in last year’s regional final, was expected to come back to the back in 2016 after losing coach Amy Ashley (now at Yarmouth) and several key players, but the Stags started strong (3-0 and 6-2) and despite a couple tough losses, managed to go 10-4 and earn the No. 7 seed in Class A South (see sidebar, below for links to previous game stories).
South Portland won just three times and failed to make the playoffs in 2015 and when the Red Riots began this season 0-3, it appeared another long year was in store. Instead, South Portland came to life and went 6-5 the rest of the way, making it to the postseason as the No. 10 seed.
Back on Sept. 7, Cheverus won, 4-1, at South Portland behind two goals from sophomore Sophia Pompeo and one apiece from sophomore Bella Booth and junior Caroline Ford (senior Lydia Henderson scored for the Red Riots).
The teams had no playoff history before taking the field on a pleasant but breezy Saturday afternoon where the Stags protected their home field.
South Portland came out with great energy and had the first shot, but senior Sophia Cummings was denied by Cheverus junior goalie Kat Kane.
The Stags’ first bid came in the eighth minute, when Pompeo turned on the jets and went one-on-one with Red Riots’ freshman goalie Maddie Drolet. Drolet made the save, then denied Abbott’s rebound attempt.
On the ensuing penalty corner, Abbott fired a blast which deflected off a defender and rolled wide.
South Portland then returned to the attack, but Henderson’s bid was saved by Kane and a cross to the far post wasn’t cleanly handled by freshman Lauren DiBiase.
With 18:49 left in the first half, Kane had to kick the ball away just before Henderson swooped in.
With 16:27 to go, Cheverus first-year coach Sally Cloutier called timeout and it paid immediate dividends.
The Stags earned a penalty corner and this time, finished it, as Hight, the inserter, got the ball back on the right side and sent a cross right in front to an open Abbott, who rattled the cage for a 1-0 lead.
“It was a nice pass,” Abbott said. “We got the ball in, I saw the ball and just shot. Getting the first goal sets the tone for the game and gets us going.”
“The first goal always gives you the jump,” Cloutier said. “Hannah has been awesome. She’s smart, she controls the field for us. Her leadership is awesome.”
The Red Riots looked to answer, but sophomore Molly Walker’s shot was tipped wide.
After Pompeo lost the ball on a promising rush, South Portland earned a corner and Henderson took a shot, but it was blocked by Booth.
With 6:19 left before halftime, Red Riots senior Amelia Papi redirected a shot off a corner, but this ball too went wide.
After Abbott had a goal waved off with 1:46 remaining in the half (she was ruled out of the circle), she got another chance with 56 seconds to go and this time it counted.
Abbott got the ball in the circle, got around a defender and with room, launched a shot that Drolet couldn’t stop, extending the Stags’ advantage to 2-0.
“On that goal, I had some space and I just went for it,” Abbott said.
South Portland hoped to get back in the game in the second half, but little happened for several minutes before Henderson had the ball knocked away from her in the box by Cheverus junior Taylor McDermott.
With 11:12 remaining, the Stags nearly extended their lead, as a shot got past Drolet and approached the line, but senior defender Jessica Angelova dove at the last second and knocked it out of harm’s way.
Drolet then frustrated Abbott four times on corners before Cheverus ended all doubt.
With just 45 seconds left, Abbott’s shot was saved, Pompeo’s rebound was also kicked aside and the ball came to Booth, who wouldn’t be denied and her goal brought the curtain down on the Stags’ 3-0 triumph.
“I’d heard (South Portland) improved and I agree with that, but we were able to hold on,” Abbott said. “We really brought it. Every girl had their head in the game. It was good for us to play a team that was working hard and going for every ball.”
“It’s always a little sweeter to beat South Portland,” said Cloutier, who once upon a time played for the Red Riots. “They came ready to play and I thought they played a great game. They’ve improved a ton. They played smart, but we just played a little better. We’ve been gearing up and now is when we want to peak. I couldn’t have asked for more from the kids. We stepped to the ball and executed.”
South Portland took eight corners to Cheverus’ seven and got eight saves from Drolet, but as has been the case much of the season, couldn’t get a key goal at a key time.
“This game could have gone either direction,” said Red Riots coach Leslie Dyer. “We had little mistakes here and there, but overall, we were right there with them.
“We spent a lot of time working on corners yesterday. We knew (the Stags) were big and strong and that they had a fast flier, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get hits off. When you have a slow insert and they have a fast flier, it doesn’t work.”
South Portland was a vastly different and better team in mid-October than it was at the beginning of September.
“We are certainly making strides,” Dyer said. “The girls learned how to battle. They got faster and smarter in a game sense.”
The Red Riots have to part with Angelova, Cummings, Henderson, Papi, Phonsavahn Senesombath and Molly Skeffington.
“I have six wonderful seniors who brought this team far,” Dyer said. “The seniors made it a lot of fun. Team dynamics is so big. Coming from where they were freshman year, they’ve changed the culture of the program.”
Next year, South Portland hopes to post a winning record, get back to the postseason and enjoy a longer stay.
“The program’s growing,” Dyer said. “We have 44 girls in the program and more coming from middle school. I’m proud of what we accomplished this year, but we still have business we want to accomplish next year.”
Cheverus and Marshwood are no strangers when it comes to postseason play. They have squared off in three of the past four seasons, with the Stags winning a 1-0 decision in the 2012 semifinals and the Hawks prevailing, 3-0, in the 2013 quarterfinals and 5-1 in the 2014 semis.
On Sept. 23, Cheverus lost, 4-0, at Marshwood.
“None of us have beaten Marshwood,” said Abbott. “It’s a hard game mentally, but there’s not a team that can’t be beat. We have nothing to lose. We just have to prepare.”
“I’m very confident that we’ll have an awesome game Tuesday,” said Cloutier. “I think we can be pleasantly surprised at Marshwood if we play like this. It’s anyone’s game. We’re excited and we want to keep it going.”
South Portland senior Lydia Henderson plays the ball.
Cheverus senior Charlotte Noyes and South Portland senior Amelia Papi fight for the ball.
Cheverus junior Hannah Abbott takes a shot. Abbott scored the Stags’ first two goals.
Cheverus junior Hannah Abbott is congratulated by sophomore Bella Booth as sophomore Anna Sawicki and senior Carrie Hight rush to join in following Abbott’s first goal.
South Portland senior Molly Skeffington sends the ball flying.
Cheverus sophomore Sophia Pompeo rushes up the field.
South Portland senior defender Jessica Angelova dives to keep the ball out of the goal as Red Riots freshman goalie Maddie Drolet and Cheverus junior Caroline Ford look on.
Cheverus junior goalie Kat Kane swats the ball away.