Cheverus junior goalkeeper Katie Boynton is congratulated by freshman Alexandra Hammond after the Stags’ 1-0 win over South Portland Friday afternoon.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—For the Cheverus girls’ soccer team, the 2016 season has been one of growth and fulfillment.
For South Portland, it has been one of close calls and frustration.
Those themes continued Friday afternoon at Boulos Stadium.
The Stags, coming off a tough loss of their own at Gorham, had a lot of good opportunities in the first half, but only managed to finish one, a goal from freshman sensation Emma Gallant in the 26th minute.
In the second half, Cheverus wasn’t able to add to its lead, but the Stags’ defense held the Red Riots at bay and went on to a 1-0 victory.
Cheverus improved to 7-3-1, further solidified its playoff standing and dropped the Red Riots to 3-7-1 in the process.
“The (Gorham) loss was really tough and I was really upset,” said Gallant. “Play didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I think we bounced back. As a whole, we’ve improved so much, even from preseason.”
Friday afternoon brought perfect early fall weather (69 degrees at kickoff) for a game between two teams very capable of competing with everyone in the league.
Cheverus opened with a 3-0 loss at Portland, then got things rolling with a 3-1 home victory over Marshwood and wins over visiting Massabesic (3-0), host Westbrook (3-0) and host Noble (3-2). After settling for a frustrating 3-3 home draw with perennial power Windham, Cheverus bounced back with a 2-0 home victory over Thornton Academy. The Stags then lost, 3-1, at Scarborough, but bounced back to defeat visiting Bonny Eagle, 4-2, Wednesday, Cheverus suffered a 1-0 loss at defending regional champion Gorham in a game which saw the Stags squander some golden opportunities.
South Portland started with losses at Sanford (4-3) and Deering (2-0) and a 3-0 home setback to defending regional champion Gorham, then defeated host Bonny Eagle (3-1). After a 4-0 home loss to Scarborough, the Red Riots beat visiting Biddeford (6-1) and settled for a 1-1 draw at Maine Girls’ Academy. After a 2-1 loss at Portland, South Portland blanked visiting Westbrook, 3-0, then Wednesday, let a late lead slip away in an agonizing 2-1 overtime loss to visiting Thornton Academy.
The teams have played a lot of close games over the years (see sidebar, below). South Portland won the first three meetings before Cheverus upset the Red Riots, 2-0, in the 2004 Western A preliminary round of the playoffs.
Entering play Friday, South Portland was seeking its first win over the Stags since a 1-0 overtime decision in Portland Oct. 20, 2008, but Cheverus instead evened the all-time series, 6-6-2, beating the Red Riots in Portland for the first time (South Portland was 3-0-2 in previous meetings).
The Stags immediately pressured Red Riots senior goalkeeper Zoe Brown, but freshman Lauren Jordan sent a blast high, then had a shot saved by Brown.
In the ninth minute, Gallant got her head on a corner kick and sent it off the upper left corner of the crossbar.
After junior Michaela Jordan shot high on a corner, Lauren Jordan made a great play to get her foot on a Gallant cross, but sent the ball inches over the bar.
After Brown denied senior Emily Turner, South Portland got its first shot in the 22nd minute, as a free kick from about 25 yards out off the foot of senior Callie O’Brien was snared by Cheverus junior goalkeeper Katie Boynton.
With 14:45 remaining in the half, the Stags got the jump.
Senior Katie Gordon won possession, passed the ball to Lauren Jordan, Jordan fed Gallant on the left side and with Brown coming out to challenge, Gallant fired a shot over Brown and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
It was Gallant’s ninth goal of the season.
“Lauren flicked it on with the outside or her foot and I just took a touch and shot it past the goalie,” said Gallant. “This year has been a really good experience. I’m really happy to be here. All the upperclassmen have been supportive of me and the other freshmen. It’s been nice.”
“Emma is really technically strong, but the best thing about her is that she’s coachable,” Cheverus coach Craig Roberts said. “She wants to make her teammates better. She’d be happy having eight assists on the year as opposed to having eight or nine goals. She’s tenacious and has a goal scorer’s instinct. She fits with this group of girls really well. That says a lot for a freshman to play at a high level like she does.”
The Red Riots looked to answer, but freshman Brooklynn Ortiz couldn’t handle a cross from junior Meghan Graff in the box and Graff sent a shot high.
In the 30th minute, Brown robbed senior Meredith Cilley in front, a rebound shot deflected back to Cilley and Cilley then sent a bid just wide of the post.
Play stopped for several minutes when 9:32 remained, as Brown went to boot the ball away, but it ricocheted solidly off a Gallant and back into Brown’s arm. Brown went down and had to leave the game.
“(The goalie) kicked it really hard trying to clear it and it hit off of me and back on her,” Gallant said. “I didn’t even touch her.”
Graff stepped in to replace Brown for the rest of the half (freshman Maria Buck came in on the second half).
“That was costly,” said Red Riots coach Jeff Selser. “I’m hoping she’s OK. Maria is a solid keeper. She’ll be great with more experience. Zoe has experience. They complement each other well.”
After South Portland sophomore back Jenna Leckie twice cleared away Cheverus corner kicks, Graff came out to break up a rush by Gallant.
Boynton preserved the lead with 2:05 left in the half, as she came out to get to a feed from junior Juliana Selser to sophomore Julia Banks.
In the final minute, Lauren Jordan shot just high and the Stags took a 1-0 lead to the second half.
Where there weren’t as many good chances.
Eight minutes into the second half, Selser’s shot was deflected to Boynton for an easy stop.
With 27:33 remaining, a Cheverus corner kick landed in the box and was pinballed around, but didn’t result in a shot.
Lauren Jordan then put a shot on goal, but Buck made the save.
With 23:15 left in regulation, a promising cross from Graff to Banks was headed away at the last second by Michaela Jordan.
Two minutes later, Selser had a good look, but her long shot was just wide.
With 15:27 to go, Graff got some room, but shot high.
After Buck stopped a long shot by Gordon, Lauren Jordan missed just wide.
South Portland’s final chance came with 6:36 showing, as sophomore Bela Cloutier lofted a 40-yard shot which had promise, but it sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
Cheverus slammed the door from there and celebrated its 1-0 win.
“We can definitely improve on adding to leads,” Gallant said. “A 1-0 lead is tough to hold. I’m a little surprised how we’ve done. We’ve come together and that’s a big reason why we’ve played so well.”
“We’ve responded all year after losses and we did it again today, just not with the intensity I hoped we’d respond with,” Roberts said. “We played flat for 80 minutes, instead of building on how we played against Gorham. We played 80 solid minutes against Gorham. It was probably the best complete game we’ve played since I’ve been here, but you can’t turn it off and on.”
The Stags finished with an 11-3 edge in shots on frame and took nine corner kicks (to no avail) to none for South Portland. Boynton made three saves.
Brown made eight saves and Buck and Graff made one apiece for the Red Riots.
“This is the story of our season,” said Jeff Selser. “We’re building. At the beginning of the season, I was super optimistic. I’m still proud of how we’re playing, but we’re just not finishing. We’re getting so many opportunities. Cheverus was more physical in the first half. They’re a good, strong, fast team. They rattled us a little bit, but we built momentum before halftime. We’re doing everything right, just not putting the ball in the net. We still get a little panicky in front of the goal. I think we control the midfield in just about every game we play.”
South Portland (14th in the Class A South Heal Points standings, where 12 teams make the playoffs) is running out of opportunities to get an important win. The Red Riots visit Massabesic Wednesday, host Windham Saturday, then close at home versus Noble Oct. 18.
“We just have to put all the pieces together,” said Jeff Selser. “I’m not saying next year will be great, I’m looking for this year. If we win our last three games, we’ll be in the playoffs. Even if we tie Windham and win one of the other two, it could get us in. I think we have that in us. I believe in this team.”
Cheverus (which has moved up to third in Class A South) is at Sanford Wednesday, hosts Deering next Friday, then closes at Maine Girls’ Academy on Oct. 18.
“We’d love to have a home game in the playoffs,” Gallant said. “I really think we can do well in playoffs if we stay focused and stick together.”
“We’ll take the weekend, practice Monday and hopefully regain our focus,” Roberts said. “We have a tough week coming up. It doesn’t get any easier. Sanford is well coached and plays teams tough at home. They want to move up. Deering is well coached and has tough players. That will be good for us.”
Cheverus junior Michaela Jordan heads the ball away from South Portland junior Sophie Chase as Stags freshman Samantha Belaire looks on.
South Portland senior Callie O’Brien shields Cheverus freshman Grace Elwell from the ball.
Cheverus freshman Emma Gallant, who scored the game’s lone goal, kicks the ball away from South Portland sophomore Bela Cloutier.
South Portland junior Sophie Chase speeds past Cheverus freshman Samantha Belaire as senior Katie Gordon gives chase.
South Portland junior Juliana Selser gets past Cheverus sophomore Tholia Hallett.
Cheverus senior Emily Turner boots the ball as South Portland junior Hannah Yesse defends.
South Portland sophomore Jenna Leckie keeps the ball away from Cheverus freshman Lauren Jordan.
Cheverus 1 @ South Portland 0
Cheverus 3 @ South Portland 0
@ Cheverus 1 South Portland 1 (tie)
@ Cheverus 0 South Portland 0 (tie)
Cheverus 4 @ South Portland 1
South Portland 1 @ Cheverus 0 (OT)
Cheverus 3 @ South Portland 1
South Portland 2 @ Cheverus 1
@ South Portland 3 Cheverus 0
@ South Portland 1 Cheverus 0
Western A preliminary round
Cheverus 2 @ South Portland 0
South Portland 2 @ Cheverus 1
@ South Portland 3 Cheverus 2