Cheverus girls continue streak with narrow win at Portland

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Cheverus senior Brooke McElman (22) receives congratulations from junior Adrienne Willard after scoring one of her four goals in Tuesday’s 7-6 victory at Portland.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 7 Portland 6

C- 5 2- 7
P- 3 3- 6

First half
24:46 C McElman (MacDonald)
23:56 C Johnston (Flaherty)
17:07 C Johnston (McElman)
15:18 P Moran (unassisted)
12:28 P Leavitt (free position)
4:58 P Kierstead (unassisted)
2:44 C Flaherty (Willard)
40.9 C McElman (free position) 

Second half
23:14 C McElman (Flaherty)
19:16 P A. More (I. More)
17:28 P Kilbride (Girsch)
8:25 C McElman (free position)
32.6 P Cox (free position) 

Goals:
C-  McElman 4, Johnston 2, Flaherty 1
P- Cox, Kierstead, Kilbride, Leavitt, Moran, A. More 1, 

Assists:
C- Flaherty 2, MacDonald, McElman, Willard 1
P- Girsch, I. More 1

Draws (Cheverus, 8-6)
C- Johnston 6 of 8, Booth 2 of 6
P- Kierstead 3 of 7, Cox 3 of 4, Green 0 of 2, Smith 0 of 1

Ground balls (Cheverus, 38-31)
C- Johnston 14, Booth 5, Briggs 3, Guenther, Keating, MacDonald, McElman, McGarrity, Willard 2, Adams, Flaherty, Griffiths, Sessler 1
P- Kierstead 8, Edwards, Krieckhaus 4, Cox 3, Bryan, Girsch, Green, Leavitt 2, A. More, I. More, Smith, Stoddard 1

Turnovers:
C- 24
P- 17

Shots:
C- 19
P- 27

Shots on cage:
C- 14
P- 17

Saves:
C (McGarrity) 11
P (Krieckhaus) 7

PORTLAND—Regardless of their records or the circumstances, when the Cheverus and Portland girls’ lacrosse teams get together, you can count on a tight battle that will last a minimum of 50 minutes and almost certainly be settled by one goal.

Tuesday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, form held again in the teams’ lone scheduled matchup this spring as the surging Stags led virtually the whole way, but the Bulldogs pushed them to the final horn.

After senior Brooke McElman opened the scoring just 14 seconds in, junior Mackenzie Johnston scored twice to give Cheverus a quick 3-0 lead.

Back came Portland, behind goals from junior Caitriona Moran, senior Sophia Leavitt and junior Morgan Kierstead to tie the score, but late in the first half, the Stags got goals from freshman Aisling Flaherty and another from McElman to take a 5-3 advantage to the break.

Early in the second half, McElman scored again for a three-goal lead, but again, the Bulldogs responded, getting goals from freshman Annika More and sophomore Chloe Kilbride.

This time, however, Portland couldn’t pull even, as Stags sophomore goalie Maeve McGarrity made several big saves.

McElman’s fourth goal, on a free position with 8:25 to play, gave Cheverus an insurance goal and the visitors would need it, as with 32.6 seconds remaining, senior Grace Cox pulled Portland within one.

The Bulldogs won the ensuing draw and had a chance to tie, but Kierstead’s shot was off-target and the Stags held on for a 7-6 victory.

Cheverus got four goals from McElman, two goals and 14 ground balls from Johnston and 11 saves from McGarrity as it won its third game in a row and improved to 3-2, capturing the fourth straight one-goal decision between the rivals and dropping Portland to 1-4 in the process.

“It was a good game,” McElman said. “We knew they were scrappy on defense, but we kept it up on offense and our defense did a great job in the second half.”

Down to the wire

Portland and Cheverus have played some memorable games in recent seasons, none more dramatic than the Bulldogs’ 16-15, four-overtime victory, on Ella Coose’s game-winner, in the 2015 Eastern A quarterfinals, a victory which propelled Portland to its first-ever regional final.

Even last year, when the Bulldogs missed the playoffs with an 1-11 record and the Stags made it to the Class A North quarterfinals before being ousted by eventual state champion Messalonskee, the teams were only separated by a goal, as Cheverus won at home, 10-9.

This season, both teams started slowly, but have shown signs that they will be in the hunt before all is said and done.

Cheverus, which welcomed new coaches Bill Fenton and Bethany McAuley, started with a narrow 11-10 home loss to Windham, then fell at home to Messalonskee in a playoff rematch, 17-6, before getting in the win column at Bonny Eagle (13-11) and at home versus Deering (16-3).

Portland, which also has a new coach this spring in former assistant, Beth Broderick, lost its opener, 18-2, at Biddeford, then rallied late to stun visiting Scarborough, 9-8, its first win over the Red Storm in 13 seasons. The Bulldogs dropped their last two outings, both on the road, 8-3 at Lewiston and 15-1 at defending Class A South champion Massabesic.

Entering play Tuesday, the Stags held a 7-3 all-time lead in the series (see sidebar, below) and had taken five of the past six.

Cheverus then went out and did it again.

By the skin of its teeth.

Again.

It appeared as if the Stags were going to have an easy time of it when Johnston won the opening draw to sophomore Terryn MacDonald and MacDonald set up McElman for a shot which eluded Portland junior goalie Abby Krieckhaus for a 1-0 lead just 14 seconds in.

Johnston won the next draw too and Cheverus would score again, although it took a little longer.

With 23:56 left in the first half, Johnston finished a feed from Flaherty to make it 2-0.

After the Bulldogs were stymied when Leavitt’s free position hit the post, McElman set up Johnston for a three-goal advantage with 17:07 remaining before halftime.

Portland then awakened and got right back in the game.

With 15:18 left, Moran beat a defender, then shot past McGarrity to get her team on the board.

With 12:28 to go, Leavitt finished a free position shot to cut the deficit to one.

Then, with 4:58 to play in the half, Kierstead rolled the crease, beat a defender and shot the ball into the net to tie the score, 3-3, forcing Fenton to call timeout.

It worked, as Cheverus retook the lead.

First, Leavitt was sent off with a yellow card after what was deemed to be a dangerous hit.

The Bulldogs managed to hold the Stags at bay in the two minutes they had to play down one, but with 2:44 left before halftime, in transition, junior Adrienne Willard put the ball right on Flaherty’s stick and Flaherty finished for a 4-3 lead.

In the final minute, McElman took a free position shot which was blocked, but McElman pounced on the loose ball before beating Krieckhaus with 40.9 seconds to go for a two-goal advantage.

As time wound down in the half, Portland hoped to answer, but after beating a defender, Leavitt wasn’t able to get a shot off before the horn and compounding matters, she shot the ball anyway and received a second yellow card, which by rule, ended her afternoon.

In the first half, Cheverus won seven of nine draws and while the Bulldogs put 10 shots on cage to seven for the Stags, seven saves from McGarrity kept Cheverus on top.

As was the case in the first half, the Stags started the second half strong as well, as with 23:14 to play, Flaherty set up McElman for a 6-3 lead.

Following the first half script, Portland came right back, as freshman Isabella More set up her twin sister, Annika More, for a goal with 19:16 to go and with 17:28 remaining, sophomore Sydney Girsch fed Kilbride and just like that, the deficit was 6-5.

The Bulldogs then had a pair of chances to draw even, but Annika More’s free position was denied by McGarrity and sophomore Isabella Edwards’ free position was blocked by a defender.

With 8:25 left, McElman gave the Stags a little breathing room, as she was able to finish on a free position.

“I just try not to look at the goalie,” McElman said. “I look at the net. If I look at the goalie, the ball goes right to the goalie.”

After McGarrity preserved the two-goal lead with a nice save on a Kierstead shot, Portland kept the pressure on and was rewarded with 32.6 seconds to go, as Cox earned a free position and tickled the twine to again cut the deficit to one.

Cheverus could have clinched the victory by winning the ensuing draw, but Kierstead managed to get possession for the Bulldogs.

Then, after Stags junior Kate Sessler was sent off with a yellow card, Kierstead got a look, but she shot just wide with 5.1 seconds showing.

Portland retained the ball and Girsch hoped to feed Kilbride in front, but the ball was knocked away and after 78 real time minutes, Cheverus could finally celebrate its 7-6 victory.

“It was a tough one,” Fenton said. “We got a win, but we had way too many turnovers today. We didn’t play our game. It was physical and we overreacted. We have a lot of work to do still. Starting off that fast wasn’t necessarily a great thing.”

McElman was the offensive star, scoring four goals and assisting on another.

“In the beginning, we forced the ball a lot,” McElman said. “As the game went on, we talked and passed the ball around.”

“Brooke is so tall,” Fenton said. “She’s a beacon in the middle out there.”

Johnston scored twice, while Flaherty also found the net. Flaherty added two assists, while MacDonald, McElman and Willard finished with one apiece.

McGarrity, who wasn’t even on the radar as a possible goalie entering the spring, made 11 clutch saves.

“I broke my ankle in soccer and for lacrosse, I was still out and we didn’t have a goalie,” McGarrity said. “I said I’d go in for a couple games and it’s turned into a couple more games. I think I’ll keep doing it. I like it more now than I did. I was afraid of the ball, but now I don’t dodge it as much. I was nervous at the end, but we pulled through. I have the best defenders in the state. They’re doing really well.”

“Maeve gets a little scared, but she’s gotten really good and really confident,” McElman said.

“The only reason she’s playing goal is because she couldn’t run at the beginning of the year,” Fenton added. “She’s had no goalie coaching, but she has the mentality. She came up big. We’re having fun with her.”

The Stags had an 8-6 edge in draws and a 38-31 advantage in ground balls, as Johnston easily had a game-high with 14.

Cheverus was out-shot, 27-19 (17-14 on cage), and committed 24 turnovers, but found a way to prevail.

Portland had six different goal scorers, as Cox, Kierstead, Kilbride, Leavitt, Moran and Annika More all did the honors. Girsch and Isabella More had one assist apiece.

Kierstead had a team-high eight ground balls and Krieckhaus made seven saves.

“That was a good game for us,” said Broderick. “We just got unlucky a couple of times. I’m proud of how we kept our composure. Our attack is still coming together. We were very fortunate to have (100-plus career goal scorer) Merritt (Ryan) last year. This year, we’ve got good depth, but it’s very spread out. We’re trusting each other and moving the ball.”

Big tests remain

Portland hopes to bounce back Thursday at South Portland. After hosting Gardiner Saturday, the Bulldogs welcome Windham and Maine Girls’ Academy next week.

“We’ve got some tough games ahead,” Broderick said. “Cheverus isn’t the best team we’re going to play this season. A lot of what we’re working on and talking about is supporting each other and going to goal. I think we’ve got one of the strongest defenses out there. If our attack can put it together, we hope to be there.”

Cheverus’ quest to keep its win streak alive will face a mighty challenge Thursday, when Massabesic pays a visit. The Stags then go to perennial contender Waynflete for a crossover game Saturday. The road gets no easier from there, as Marshwood pays a visit next Tuesday and Cheverus then goes to Thornton Academy and Scarborough.

“We’re definitely improved from last year,” McGarrity said. “I’m pretty excited. I have faith in the team.”

“We’ve gotten a lot closer as a team and we’re communicating more,” McElman said. “I’m happy how things are going. Everyone gets along. It’s just fun. I think we’re ready for those games.”

“We have a tough one against Massabesic, then Waynflete,” Fenton added. “We’ll find out where we are. I love this group. These guys are awesome.”

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

Portland senior Grace Cox and Cheverus sophomore Bella Booth take a draw.

Cheverus junior Mackenzie Johnston takes a free position as Portland sophomore Isabella Edwards looks on.

Cheverus sophomore Margaret Keating carries the ball.

Portland junior goalie Abby Krieckhaus saves a shot from Cheverus freshman Aisling Flaherty.

Portland junior Morgan Kierstead gets away from the defense.

Portland senior Sophia Leavitt is robbed by Cheverus sophomore goalie Maeve McGarrity. McGarrity made 11 saves.

Previous Cheverus-Portland results

2016
@ Cheverus 10 Portland 9 

2015
Cheverus 10 Portland 9 (@ Deering)
Eastern A quarterfinals
@ Portland 16 Cheverus 15 (4 OT) 

2014
@ Cheverus 12 Portland 3 

2013
Cheverus 9 @ Portland 7 

2012
@ Cheverus 10 Portland 3  

2011
@ Portland 9 Cheverus 4 

2010
@ Cheverus 12 Portland 8
Eastern A quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 9 Portland 6 

2006
@ Portland 16 Cheverus 15 

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