Cheverus weathers storm, rallies to edge Portland

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PORTLAND—Sometimes all you need is a rainbow and a little bit of luck.

Tuesday afternoon at Deering High’s Memorial Field, Cheverus’ girls’ lacrosse team struggled through an error-prone first half against host Portland, didn’t score for over 18 minutes and trailed, 5-2, at halftime.

Then, to seemingly make matters worse, during the break, the Stags found themselves in the middle of a downpour.

Cheverus hung tough in the face of the worst that Mother Nature had to offer and soon after the second half began, as a rainbow appeared on the horizon, the Stags came to life.

Cheverus roared back to pull even, 7-7, on senior Abby Biegel’s goal with 15:08 to play, but the Bulldogs went back on top on junior Isabel Stehli’s goal with 8:29 remaining. The Stags again tied it up, 8-8, when Biegel scored on a free position with 2:52 to go, but 12 seconds later, Portland senior Merritt Ryan scored her sixth goal and Cheverus’ valiant effort appeared to have gone for naught.

Then, the Stags got a dose of good fortune.

With 1:37 remaining, junior Anne Veroneau threw a pass near the goal that somehow was redirected into the net to give the visitors new life.

Then, with 22.3 seconds to play, senior Nicole Pineau scored to give Cheverus its first lead of the game and the Stags managed to hang on for a stirring 10-9 triumph.

Biegel had four goals and Veroneau added three as Cheverus won its third game in a row, improved to 3-2 and dropped the Bulldogs to 2-3 in the process.

“The girls like to age me,” said first-year Stags coach Jennifer Wescott. “The first half was rough. We had way too many turnovers. We simply weren’t playing our game. It started to rain, but the girls didn’t move out of the huddle. They focused on the game. They got excited. We came out strong in the second half and played our game. I had faith in the girls. They stayed composed. They clearly did their job today.”

Up and down

Both teams split their first four outings this season.

Cheverus, coming off consecutive Eastern A titles, has a new look this spring and dropped its opener, 9-6, at powerhouse Waynflete, then dropped an 8-7 home decision to Messalonskee.

“The first two losses were frustrating, because I felt we should have won,” Wescott said. “We weren’t playing our game. We had a lot of turnovers.”

The Stags got in the win column with a 10-8 home victory over Windham, then prevailed by the same score at Bonny Eagle Saturday.

Portland, which lost in the quarterfinals last season, eked out a 9-8 victory at Biddeford in its first game, then lost at defending Class A champion Massabesic (18-11) and at home to powerhouse Scarborough (17-5), but bounced back Saturday with a key 13-7 home win over Cony.

Despite their proximity, the city rivals have only met seven times (including once in the playoffs) over the decade that Cheverus has fielded a varsity team.

Last year, the Stags made it three straight over the Bulldogs with a 12-3 home triumph.

Tuesday, Portland sought its first win over Cheverus since a 9-4 home victory May 2, 2011 and appeared en route to that very thing, but the Stags managed to rally to pull one out.

The Bulldogs got a quick jump when Stehli set up junior Maisie Perkins for a transition goal 28 seconds in.

Portland senior goalie Liz Victor, who had a fabulous first half, first made her presence felt with 20:28 to play in the half, when she denied Veroneau on a free position.

The hosts doubled their lead a little over a minute later when Ryan scored her first goal, finishing a feed from Stehli and beating Cheverus senior goalie Hope Correia.

With 14:33 remaining before halftime, Stehli again set up Ryan and the score was 3-0.

Wescott called timeout, but the Stags kept turning the ball over and being frustrated by Victor, who denied both Veroneau and Biegel on free position shots, then robbed Veroneau again.

With 6:34 left in the half, Ryan converted a free position and the Bulldogs were up, 4-0.

Cheverus finally broke through 19 seconds later, when Veroneau scored unassisted.

With 2:32 to go, Pineau finished a feed from junior Carly Farber to cut the deficit to two, but after Victor saved bids by Veroneau and Pineau, senior Ellis Linsmith eschewed a shot on a free position and passed to Perkins for a goal with 53.6 seconds remaining to give Portland a 5-2 lead at halftime.

“Both teams came out pretty flat,” said Bulldogs coach Cameron McManus. “We were in a daze. It was so hot and muggy. We were lucky to come out and get a lead. It was back-and-forth all game.”

While the Stags had a 6-2 advantage on draws and an 11-9 edge in shots, they trailed largely because they turned the ball over 13 times and on eight occasions, Victor turned aside shots.

Instead of panicking, Cheverus got refocused at halftime, even though it had to do so as the sky opened, as a rainstorm produced hail as it quickly blew through the area.

The Stags were a new team in the second half, scoring 40 seconds in as Veroneau finished unassisted.

With 23:43 to play, Biegel scored unassisted after a spin move and just like that, Cheverus was within one, 5-4.

After Biegel shot just high in an attempt to tie the score, Ryan converted a free position with 21:47 left and Portland was back up two, but 48 seconds later, Biegel scored unassisted to make it 6-5.

The Bulldogs again took a two-goal lead when Ryan scored on a free position with 20:25 to go, but junior Emily Duff set up freshman Kathryn Griffiths with 16:14 left and 66 seconds later, Biegel scored unassisted to pull the Stags even at 7-7.

After Ryan had a free position saved by Correia and Pineau had a shot turned aside by Victory, Stehli put Portland back on top with 8:29 left, eluding a defender, then finishing unassisted.

With 6:49 to play, in a huge momentum swing, a Perkins goal which would have made it 9-7 was waved off due to dangerous propelling.

Cheverus would respond with 2:52 to go, as Biegel converted a free position and the score was tied anew, 8-8.

Once again, however, the Bulldogs went ahead, as off a draw win from sophomore Grace Cox, Ryan got the ball and finished unassisted for a 9-8 lead with 2:40 showing.

The Stags then got their biggest break of the young season.

With 1:37 to go, in a settled offense, Veroneau attempted to pass to junior Allie Scott near the goal, but the errant pass somehow found its way into the net to make it 9-9.

“I definitely wasn’t shooting,” Veroneau said. “It was a pass. It may have bounced off Allie. I have no idea.”

“That was absolute luck,” Pineau said. “I’m very thankful for that.”

“It wasn’t a pretty goal, but it was a goal and we’ll take that,” Wescott added. “That kept us motivated.”

Suddenly, Cheverus had everything going its way and after getting the ball back, it took the lead for the first and only time.

With 22.3 seconds left, Pineau got some space, raced in and beat Victor and the Stags had a 10-9 lead.

“It took me by surprise,” Pineau said. “I saw the space. I knew we needed a goal and didn’t have much time left. I went for it and it happened. I won’t take the credit. My goal may have been the last, but the whole team did the work. We fought until the very end.”

“Nicole’s really stepped up,” Wescott said. “She’s a senior captain. She’s needed in a lot of places this year. She’s had big goals.”

Veroneau won the ensuing draw and Cheverus ran out the clock on a 10-9 victory which had a little bit of everything.

“We’ve had a hard time putting all the pieces together,” Biegel said. “At halftime, the rain brought a wave of intensity. Turnovers have been our weakness. I think as we progressed throughout the game, we learned what we needed to do to get open. We had the momentum and ran with it. It’s important as a team to use all players. We had something to prove and we needed to prove it to ourselves as well.”

“We know our potential,” said Pineau. “That’s where trusting yourself, your teammates and coaches come in. We kept our positivity up and pulled through. Portland’s a good team. Good competition. We had the momentum and positivity and drive to push through.”

Biegel had a team-high four goals for the Stags. Veroneau added three, Pineau had two and Griffiths finished with one. Duff and Farber both had one assist. Correia finished with four saves. Veroneau won 11 of 21 draws and had a team-high six ground balls. Cheverus had a 21-16 shots advantage (20-13 on cage) and overcame 21 turnovers.

Portland was paced by Ryan’s six goals.

“Merritt makes it look easy,” said McManus. “She’s so nonchalant about it. Height definitely works to her advantage. There can be a wall of defenders, but she can weave right though. She translates her basketball skill to the lacrosse field.”

Perkins finished with two goals and Stehli had one goal and three assists. Linsmith also had an assist.

Victor stopped 10 shots.

“She was huge,”McManus said. “I’m feeling for her right now. She’s a senior captain with a great head on her shoulders. She always looks to improve. I’m really happy to have her in net.”

The Bulldogs won the ground ball battle, 49-37, as Ryan had a game-high 10, Stehli collected nine and Linsmith finished with eight. Portland committed 23 turnovers.

“It was tough, but I’m really proud of how the girls played today,” McManus said. “I’m pleased. Cheverus is definitely the best team we’ve seen so far this season. We’ll only get better from here. This is the way we can play every game.”

Playoff jockeying

Portland (seventh in the Eastern Class A Heal Points standings) hopes to get back in the win column Thursday when it plays at South Portland. Home games against McAuley, Windham and Thornton Academy are followed by trips to Bonny Eagle, Edward Little and Deering to close the regular season.

“We have seven left,” McManus said. “We have to move on. We have a deep bench. A lot of girls can score. We’ve seen a lot of great things. I’m happy.”

Cheverus (sixth in Eastern A) has an even bigger test Thursday when it battles Massabesic in a rematch of last year’s marathon state final.

That game has been moved to Cheverus High at 4:30 p.m.

“It’s a good challenge and I think we’re up for the challenge,” Wescott said. “We lost great players and they didn’t. We have to come out and play our game. Pure and simple.”

After hosting Deering Saturday, the Stags visit Thornton Academy Monday. Home games against Marshwood and Gorham and trips to Scarborough and McAuley also remain.

Cheverus is starting to round into championship form once again.

“It’s taken a lot of adjustment,” Biegel said. “We’ve lost some key players, but we see it as an opportunity. We’re doing a nice job working together.”

“It’s taken some time,” Pineau said. “We’re a whole new team and it’s starting to work.”

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

Portland junior Isabel Stehli leaps to shoot as Cheverus senior Abby Biegel defends.

Cheverus senior goalie Hope Correia tries in vain to make a save on one of Portland junior Merritt Ryan’s six goals.

Portland sophomore Grace Cox possesses the ball.

Portland senior Ellis Linsmith shoots past Cheverus junior Caroline Ray (9) and freshman Mackenzie Johnston.

Portland junior Merritt Ryan is confronted by three Cheverus defenders.

Portland junior Isabel Stehli runs past Cheverus junior Colleen Slattery.

Portland senior Liz Victor denies a shot by Cheverus junior Anne Veroneau.

Previous Cheverus-Portland results

@ Cheverus 12 Portland 3 

Cheverus 9 @ Portland 7 

@ Cheverus 10 Portland 3  

@ Portland 9 Cheverus 4 

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

@ Portland 16 Cheverus 15 

Sidebar Elements

Cheverus sophomore Brooke McElman (12) and junior Colleen Slattery celebrate a goal during the Stags’ 10-9 come-from-behind win at Portland Tuesday.

Joe photos.

More photos below.


Cheverus 10 Portland 9

C- 2 8- 10
P- 5 4- 9

First half
24:32 P Perkins (Stehli)
19:09 P Ryan (Stehli)
14:33 P Ryan (Stehli)
6:34 P Ryan (free position)
6:15 C Veroneau (unassisted)
2:32 C Pineau (Farber)
53.6 P Perkins (Linsmith)

Second half
24:20 C Veroneau (unassisted)
23:42 C Biegel (unassisted)
21:47 P Ryan (free position)
20:59 C Biegel (unassisted)
20:25 P Ryan (free position)
16:14 C Griffiths (Duff)
15:08 C Biegel (unassisted)
8:29 P Ryan (unassisted)
2:52 C Biegel (free position)
2:40 P Ryan (unassisted)
1:37 C Veroneau (unassisted)
22.3 C Pineau (unassisted)

C-  Biegel 4, Veroneau 3, Pineau 2, Griffiths 1
P- Ryan 6, Perkins 2, Stehli 1

C- Duff, Farber 1
P- Stehli 3, Linsmith 1

Draws (Cheverus, 11-10)
C- Veroneau 11 of 21
P-  Ryan 3 of 12, Cox 7 of 9

Ground balls (Portland, 49-37)
C- Veroneau 6, Biegel, McElman, Pineau 5, Hannigan 4, Scott, Slattery 3, Griffiths 2, Duff, Johnston, Masselli, Ray 1
P- Ryan 10, Stehli 9, Linsmith 8, Sturgeon 5, Cox, Mermin 4, Perkins 3, Daley, Leavitt 2, Sargent, Zukowski 1

C- 21
P- 23

C- 21
P- 16

Shots on cage:
C- 20
P- 13

C (Correia) 4
P (Victor) 10

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