Kenney's 'perfect 10' leads Portland to 16-12 boys' lax win over Scarborough
PORTLAND — After heading into the 2010 campaign with a dramatically new look, the last word anyone expected the defending Class A state champion Portland boys' lacrosse team to be associated with was perfect.
Yet, as the regular season came to a close Tuesday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Bulldogs stand alone as the only unblemished boys' squad in Class A.
Thanks to a game for the ages from junior Caleb Kenney, who scored five times in the first half and added five more in the second for an unheard of 10 goals, Portland fought off Scarborough's upset bid and completed just the second undefeated regular season in program history with a 16-12 triumph.
Kenney didn't just score 10 times. He also assisted on two goals, won his share of faceoffs and grabbed 18 ground balls, producing a stat line that is a good month or even season for many players.
The Bulldogs trailed 5-2 after one quarter, but rallied, thanks in part to an illegal stick penalty on the visitors. Portland dominated the fourth quarter, taking the lead for good on junior Bronson Guimond's goal with 9:07 to play and pulled away for the victory, winding up 12-0, dropping the dangerous and vastly improved Red Storm to 7-5 as the playoffs loom.
"I was feeling it," said Kenney, in a massive understatement. "We had a lot riding on this game. Homefield advantage. Going undefeated. It's huge for us to go into the playoffs undefeated."
Portland and Scarborough have become big-time rivals since lacrosse split into two classes in 2006.
That year, the Red Storm beat the Bulldogs twice, including in the Western A Final, en route to a first state championship. The next year, Portland earned a measure of revenge, upsetting host Scarborough in the regional final before losing the state game to Brunswick. In 2008, it was Scarborough's turn to go all the way, then, last year, the Bulldogs romped twice over the Red Storm, including an 14-1 decision in the regional final, on their way to a first championship.
Both programs lost a lot of talent to graduation and featured many question marks as the 2010 season commenced.
Portland, to the surprise of even coach Eric Begonia, didn't missed a beat, winning its first 11-0 outings by an average score of 16-6. The Bulldogs were only tested three times, at Kennebunk (an 18-10 win), at Lewiston (a come-from-behind 12-10 triumph) and at home against Messalonskee (a 14-11 victory).
Scarborough, meanwhile, struggled early, blowing a late lead and falling, 8-7, in overtime, at South Portland. After a home OT win by the same score over Cheverus, the Red Storm lost at home to Kennebunk, at Falmouth and at home to NYA. They entered Tuesday night's affair on a three-game winning streak and dominated the first period, hinting that an upset was possible.
Portland got the scoring started when senior Patrick Curran sent a long clear ahead to Kenney who set up sophomore Seamus Kilbride for a shot that beat Scarborough goalie Brett Leighton.
The Red Storm bounced right back with three straight tallies. Senior Tennessee Peters scored from sophomore John Blaisdell to tie the score, Peters set up senior Nick Neugebauer for a go-ahead goal and with 2:44 to play in the first period, junior Nate Hopkins scored unassisted to make it 3-1.
After Kenney scored his first goal (unassisted) 33 seconds later, the visitors got two goals in the final minute of the period as Blaisdell scored after a turnover and Peters set up senior Matt Mayo with 5.9 seconds left to make it 5-2 Scarborough and seemingly give the Red Storm all the momentum.
In-between quarters, Blaisdell's stick was deemed illegal and he had to sit out for three minutes.
Portland took advantage as Kenney scored two man-up goals in 51 seconds and suddenly, it was a 5-4 game.
"That's a momentum-killer for (Scarborough)," Begonia said. "We've been very productive man-up. I knew we'd get at least a couple goals. It would have been nice to get a third. It shifted everything for us."
"It put us on our heels for the rest of the second quarter," lamented Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep. "We had to play a lot of defense. The defense played great, but (the penalty) took its toll."
The Bulldogs weren't able to tie things up before the penalty expired, but did make it 5-5 with 6:28 to play in the second period when Kenney set up senior Kevin Nielsen for a goal.
Blaisdell (from Mayo) answered for Scarborough with 3:24 to go before the half, but Kenney (man-up) tied the score with an unassisted goal with 1:21 left, then, with 27.1 seconds remaining, Kenney scored unassisted (his fifth of the half) for a 7-6 advantage.
First half statistics were close to even and the game remained tight in the second.
Portland got its first two-goal lead when Kenney scored 1 minute, 50 seconds into the third period, but the Red Storm answered and drew even behind goals from freshman John Wheeler (on a shot which hit a defender, then ricocheted past Bulldogs sophomore goalie Ryan Jurgelevich) and Peters (from Wheeler, man-up).
With 5:53 left in the quarter, Nielsen assisted on a goal by senior Gordon Parker, but 15 seconds later, Scarborough drew even again at 9-9 on sophomore Andrew Jones' unassisted goal after a turnover. With 3:20 remaining in the third, Kenney (from Nielsen) scored for a 10-9 edge.
In the final minute, junior Charlie Marr (from classmate Gary McDonald) tickled the twine for the Bulldogs, but Wheeler answered for the Red Storm with an unassisted goal with 2.4 seconds to go and heading for the fourth, Portland clung to an 11-10 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs would finally seize control, not just on offense, but also on defense and most importantly on faceoffs (winning seven of eight) and ground balls.
A Kenney unassisted goal just 27 seconds into the fourth made it 12-10, but Scarborough rallied to tie one final time at 12-12 behind goals from Neugebauer (from Wheeler) and Blaisdell (from Wheeler).
Guimond finally put Portland ahead to stay with 9:07 to go, taking a pass from senior Jason Knight and blasting a shot past Leighton.
With 6:13 left, Kenney showed his dexterity, scoring with his left hand, for a 14-12 advantage. Knight then added a highlight reel goal, taking a pass from Nielsen and flicking a reverse shot into the cage to make it 15-12 with 4:14 remaining.
With just under a minute to play, Kenney scored his 10th, taking a pass from Parker and beating a helpless Leighton to bring the curtain down on his epic performance and the Bulldogs' 16-12 victory.
"Our team's definitely a fast-paced team, but coming into the fourth quarter, we knew we had to slow down, possess and get nice shots off," Kenney said. "I knew (Scarborough would) step up huge tonight. They can run all night. They can score. They're definitely a good team."
"This has become a really good rivalry," Begonia said. "Joe's a good coach. We scouted them at the beginning of the year and knew they'd be dangerous with their athletes. Just as we expected, they were very good. Hats off to Scarborough. I knew they'd be in good shape when they came to see us. We may see them again.
"We knew we had to play the whole game to win. I'm proud of the guys for playing methodically, winning ground balls, faceoffs, running the offense correctly. Faceoffs are huge. We made a couple defensive adjustments and it worked out well for us. We're conditioned to play a fast game. It's one of our strengths, outhustling guys. We win fourth quarters. That's all conditioning."
Kenney factored in 75 percent of Portland's scoring (10 goals, two assists) and left all on hand in awe.
"I stopped counting after the first half," Kenney said. "It was a team effort. My teammates set picks. We had extra passes."
"I'm glad he's only a junior," Begonia said. "He's been a mismatch problem for teams all year. He's a big, physical kid who has an engine that doesn't quit. He's met every challenge. I'm very happy and proud of him. He's right where we want him to be and he's having a good time. He's a great captain. Everyone looks up to him. He said early on he could score and he did."
"We'll just double team next time, the whole game," Hezlep said. "He's just a man-child. He's one heck of an athlete."
Several other Bulldogs also stepped up. Guimond, Kilbride, Knight, Marr, Nielsen and Parker all tickled the twine once. Nielsen set up four goals, while Knight and McDonald each had one assist. Jurgelevich made 10 saves.
The Bulldogs wound up winning 21 of 30 faceoffs and had a 71-61 advantage in ground balls. Kenney led the way with 18.
"At midfield, you have to do everything," Kenney said.
Guimond grabbed a dozen, while Nielsen and Parker both finished with eight.
Portland finished the regular season undefeated for the first time since 2005, a truly amazing accomplishment.
"I thought we had the potential to go somewhere, but it's been a great season for us," Kenney said. "Everyone pitches in for us. Everything's clicking as a whole."
"I'd be lying if I said we had the potential to do this," Begonia added. "I said last June 20 (after winning the state title) that the cupboard was definitely not bare and that there were anchors at every position. The young kids have stepped up.
"We have the guys write goal sheets every year. The one common thing was to be good friends off and on the field and develop chemistry and for everyone to play a part. The team mentality's been established for awhile now and it's nice to see that continue."
Begonia credited the presence of several former standouts, including K.R. Jurgelevich (now playing at the University of Massachusetts), who are serving as assistant coaches.
"Having the alumni here is immeasurable," Begonia said. "Their love for the game is unparalleled and it's contagious. For the young guys to meet K.R. after watching him on TV is pretty cool. It's inspiring. The culture is so much bigger than any one guy, me included."
Scarborough got three goals (and an assist) from Blaisdell. Neugebauer, Peters (two assists) and Wheeler (three assists) all had two goals. Hopkins, Jones and Mayo (one assist) each finished with one. Leighton made nine saves. Jones had a team-high 12 ground balls, Neugebauer and junior Peter Moore both grabbed seven.
The Red Storm forced 36 turnovers (giving the ball away 29 times) and finished with a 40-39 edge in shots (22 on frame, to 25 for the Bulldogs).
"I've never felt this good after not coming out on the winning side," Hezlep said. "We came out and played well. They slowed us down in the midfield in the second half. We kept fighting. We had to take chances and they took advantage, but we played great. Open to close. We have to take out of this game that we can play. We just have to put four quarters together. We kept battling and we'll take this as a positive experience."
Scarborough projects to be the No. 3 seed for the upcoming Western A playoffs. The Red Storm will host a quarterfinal round game Wednesday of next week.
"We have to have had the toughest schedule," Hezlep said. "We cut our teeth. Now it's time to get to work. It should be fun."
Portland, meanwhile, is first in Eastern A (the Bulldogs, along with Cheverus, Deering and Windham were shifted to the East this year to balance the regions). The defending champs won't play another countable game until the semifinals on June 12. They do plan to scrimmage top Western B seed Falmouth next week.
Portland will play on the Fitzpatrick Stadium turf as long as it stays alive in the postseason.
"We have to take it one quarter at a time, one goal at a time," Kenney said.
"We have to keep working hard," Begonia added. "It's a one-game season. Going 12-0 is nice and we'll enjoy it tonight, but we have to go back to work tomorrow. Having homefield advantage is huge. It's always a goal. Having the state game here is definitely an advantage for us."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com