PORTLAND—A seemingly easy victory turned into quite the nailbiter for the Cheverus girls’ lacrosse team Tuesday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium, but these Stags have been in their share of close games the past couple seasons and came up with an answer.
After jumping out by scores of 5-0 and 7-2 in the first half, the Stags watched the host Portland Bulldogs twice pull within two goals in the second half and threaten to make things even more interesting, but Cheverus turned to its defense to hold the line and went on to a 9-7 victory.
The Stags got four goals from junior Elyse Caiazzo and three more from do-everything junior Alex Logan as they improved to 2-1, dropping the Bulldogs to 2-2 in the process.
“I think we kept our cool,” Logan said. “(Portland’s) a very good team. We knew that. We knew we just had to play our game. We wanted to keep our level of play. We adjusted very well.”
The rivals entered the game having met just five times previously with Cheverus taking three, including last year, 10-3, in a game played on Deering’s turf field.
Both squads are coming off very successful runs in 2012.
The Stags made it to the Eastern A Final for the second year in a row before losing to Brunswick for the second straight season, 13-8.
The Bulldogs posted a program-best 10-3 mark, but suffered a painful 9-7 overtime loss to Messalonskee in the quarterfinals.
This spring, Cheverus returned plenty of seasoned talent and is viewed as one of the teams to beat in the region. The Stags opened with 7-6 home loss to Massabesic in four overtimes, then dominated host McAuley, 18-5.
Portland, which saw some key players to graduation, also opened with a loss, 16-5, at Kennebunk, then downed host Sanford (8-4) and host Biddeford (7-6).
Tuesday, in the Bulldogs’ home opener, they dug a hole from which they couldn’t extricate themselves.
Logan set the tone with an unassisted goal 62 seconds in, beating Portland junior goalie Abbey O’Brien.
Junior Meredith Willard took a pass from sophomore Nicole Pineau and finished with 21:46 to play in the first half to make it a 2-0 game.
Logan and Caiazzo each scored unassisted in a 43-second span to make it 4-0 and force Portland coach Kait Johnson to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Caiazzo scored unassisted again with 13:12 left in the half for a 5-0 advantage.
The Bulldogs finally broke through with 11:22 to go, when junior Hallie Alex set up junior Erin Mahoney for a goal, but after a Logan draw win, Willard scored unassisted to make it 6-1.
Portland senior Gabi Cardona, a one-time Stag, scored unassisted with 9:46 remaining, but 35 seconds later, Caiazzo scored unassisted once more to make it 7-2.
The Bulldogs began to chip away when senior standout Drew Barry scored unassisted with 5:40 showing.
Junior Laura Frank then scored unassisted with nine seconds to go and despite its slow start, Portland was only down three at the break, 7-4.
When Caiazzo scored another unassisted goal 1 minute, 26 seconds into the second half, Cheverus appeared in good shape, but it wouldn’t score again for nearly 18 minutes and the Bulldogs drew ever closer.
First, Barry fed Alex for a goal with 15:07 to play.
Then, with 13:22 to go, Barry picked up a rebound and fired a shot past Stags freshman goalie Emily Duff to make it an 8-6 contest.
Over the next seven-plus minutes, the hosts hung tough thanks to several key saves by O’Brien, then had their opportunities to draw closer, but couldn’t hold on to the ball.
With 5:40 left, Caiazzo found Logan in front, who beat O’Brien with a low shot to push the lead back to three, 9-6.
“Elyse made a great pass,” Logan said. “We adjusted as a team and it was perfect. We knew she was a taller goalie, so we had to fake high and shoot low.”
“We all work really well together,” Caiazzo said. “We had good cutting. The passers were great. Portland played hard D. It’s good to play against that. It challenges us and makes us be more sharp. It was just a simple play. I saw Alex and luckily she got that last goal.”
A free position goal from junior Lizzy Landry pulled Portland back within two, 9-7, with 2:32 to play.
Logan won another draw and Willard collected the ground ball, allowing Cheverus to run more time off the clock.
The Bulldogs got the ball one final time, but the possession resulted in yet another turnover and the Stags were able to finish off their 9-7 triumph.
“Defense wins games,” Logan said. “Our defense really stepped up and forced a lot of turnovers. We denied them the ball. It gave the offense a break.”
“It was good competition,” Caiazzo said. “It’s good experience for the new girls. We had to start well and end well. This shows the newbies you have to work as hard as you can the whole game.”
“The city rivalry always comes into play,” added Cheverus coach Jamie Chamberlain. “It doesn’t matter what sport. Fortunately for us, we got out to a good lead. They came back. We knew they were that kind of a team. They put a lot of pressure on us. It always seems for us, it’s bend, but don’t break. The defense held strong at the end. The offense made enough plays to give us a cushion. We’ll take it.”
Caiazzo paced the offense with four goals and an assist. Logan had three goals and Willard had two.
“Obviously, those players who have played since freshman year at crunch time, we want the ball in their hands,” Chamberlain said. “Elyse, Alex and Meredith, we needed them to step up and make a play on attack and they did.”
Pineau also had an assist, while Duff made five saves.
Portland got two goals from Barry and one apiece from Alex, Cardona, Frank and Mahoney. Alex and Barry both had an assist. O’Brien finished with seven saves.
“Our goalie had some awesome saves,” Johnson said. “Some huge ones in the second half. That’s a testament to her.
“I think we’re going to be good. We dug a little bit too big of a hole to come back from. It was a gut check. I think we just ran out of time. If we had a few more minutes, we could have put it away. We just struggled with the fast break at the start. Then, we figured it out. We’ve been a second half team recently. We’re trying to fix that too. I’d say we dominated possession-wise, but we just couldn’t finish. We beat ourselves. Our turnovers have been a struggle.”
Portland hopes to get back on track when it welcomes Windham Thursday. Next week, the Bulldogs go to Bonny Eagle and host Thornton Academy and McAuley.
“We’ll get it going,” Johnson said. “I think we’re in for an exciting season. We got a taste of the team we’re going to be from now on.”
Cheverus hopes to continue its win streak Friday, when it hosts Deering. Next week brings a pair of huge tests, at home versus Marshwood and at three-time defending Class A state champion Scarborough
“We’re putting it together,” said Logan. “We have a bunch of new girls. Each team has strengths and weaknesses and I think this year’s team has a lot of strengths.”
“We still have the newer players meshing with the veteran players,” said Chamberlain. “It’s a learning experience. We saw some things today we hadn’t seen before. That will help us make adjustments.”
@ Cheverus 10 Portland 3
@ Portland 9 Cheverus 4
@ Cheverus 12 Portland 8
Eastern A quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 9 Portland 6
@ Portland 16 Cheverus 15
C- 7 2- 9
P- 4 3- 7
23:58 C Logan (unassisted)
21:46 C Willard (Pineau)
18:58 C Logan (unassisted)
18:15 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
13:12 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
11:22 P Mahoney (Alex)
11:08 C Willard (unassisted)
9:46 P Cardona (unassisted)
9:11 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
5:40 P Barry (unassisted)
9.0 P L. Frank (unassisted)
23:34 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
15:07 P Alex (Barry)
13:22 P Barry (unassisted)
5:40 C Logan (Caiazzo)
2:32 P Landry (free position)
C- Caiazzo 4, Logan 3, Willard 2
P- Barry 2, Alex, Cardona, L. Frank, Mahoney 1
C- Caiazzo, Pineau 1
P- Alex, Barry 1
C- (Duff) 5
P- (O’Brien) 7