Deering dazzles, dominates Portland, 8-4
PORTLAND—You can argue that it was the greatest regular season victory in the history of the Deering boys' lacrosse program.
Friday evening, in front of a large and raucous crowd, amid a postseason environment at Memorial Field, the host Rams welcomed fierce rival Portland, a team which has set the bar for city lacrosse excellence over the past several seasons.
On this night, however, Deering showed the way, leading virtually from start to finish.
The Rams featured a balanced scoring attack, led by three goals from senior Zach Poulin, smothered the Bulldogs defensively, saw Poulin dominate in the faceoff circle and went on to an 8-4 victory, their first over Portland in exactly seven years.
Deering didn't just earn eagerly desired city bragging rights and a passel of Heal Points as it trailed for less than three minutes and held Bulldogs senior All-American Caleb Kenney goal-less, it also improved to 9-1 and dropped Portland to 8-2, hinting that it still has many triumphant mountains to climb in the weeks to come.
"It's very sweet," said Rams' sixth-year coach Bob Rothbart, who'd lost his prior six encounters against the Bulldogs. "This was probably for the No. 1 seed (in Eastern Class A). This puts us in the running. The last time we beat these guys was out here on natural grass and my assistant coach (son Adam Rothbart) was a sophomore at 115-pounds. Some of these kids were in second grade the last time Deering beat Portland and had never heard of lacrosse. It's a huge win for everyone, the school, the kids. We've had some great games in-between, but this was good."
On May 20, 2004, the young Deering and Portland programs were on relatively equal ground, both still finding their way.
That evening, the Rams (then coached by Andy Jones) were 8-5 winners over the Bulldogs in the regular season finale.
The programs then went in different directions as Deering was competitive most years, but never advanced beyond the semifinals, while the Bulldogs became an elite team the following season, played for a state title in 2007 and won it all in 2009 before finishing runner-up last spring.
Along the way, Portland beat the Rams five times in the regular season (by a composite 68-18 margin) and in the 2005 (6-4), 2006 (8-6) and 2007 (16-9) semis.
The past two seasons, the Bulldogs humbled Deering by 19-0 and 16-1 margins.
It's been clear from the get-go this spring, however, that the Rams are a vastly improved team. After going 7-6, losing by the improbable score of 3-0 to Lewiston in last year's Eastern A quarterfinals, Deering has lived up to the preseason hype, winning eight of nine coming in, outscoring the opposition by an 111-29 margin in the victories. The Rams opened with wins over host Marshwood (10-4), visiting Thornton Academy (9-6), South Portland (18-5) and Cony (16-1) and never looked back. The lone setback came May 11, 6-4, at Kennebunk.
Portland, meanwhile, has been its usual stellar self. The Bulldogs, 8-6 losers to Scarborough in last year's state final, also won eight of nine to start the year, but Portland has had its share of challenges in recent weeks. After pounding Bonny Eagle (14-2) and Noble (17-1) to start, the Bulldogs eked out an 8-7 home win over Kennebunk, then had to go to overtime to edge visiting Lewiston, 9-8. After a 15-3 home victory over Marshwood, Portland escaped at Massabesic, 9-8. A 14-0 home win over Biddeford was the Bulldogs' seventh in a row to start the year, but last Saturday, they fell at Messalonskee, 8-5. Wednesday's 18-5 home triumph over Gorham gave coach Eric Begonia his 100th career win.
He wasn't able to get No. 101 Friday as Deering quickly announced that it was on a mission and that perhaps a changing of the guard was at hand.
Poulin set the tone by beating Portland senior Pat Cormier to win the opening faceoff, but the visitors got on the board first as senior Theo Darvin scored unassisted with 9:40 to play in the 12-minute opening quarter.
The Rams drew even with 6:46 to go as one of their myriad weapons, diminutive, but deadly senior Cody Marcroft beat Bulldogs junior goalie Ryan Jurgelevich for the tying goal.
Poulin looked to put Deering on top with 3:22 showing in the stanza, but his rocket hit the crossbar.
Finally, with just 13.6 seconds remaining and the Rams playing a man-up, Poulin took a pass from senior Carleton Allen and scored to put Deering ahead to stay.
Portland was hindered by four first period penalties and the game remained physical in the second quarter, leading to a critical juncture in the contest which had serious ramifications for both squads.
Just 59 seconds into the new quarter, Rams senior Noah Whiitenburg scored unassisted for a 3-1 lead. The Bulldogs got back to 3-2 wih 10:10 to play before the half when Kenney set up junior Jason Webster for a shot which eluded Deering senior goalie Nick Holton (ending a nearly 12-minute drought, which wouldn't even come close to the longest dry spell Portland would be subjected to).
With 7:39 to go, again playing man-up, the Rams made it a 4-2 game when Allen threw a pass to Poulin, who threaded a blast through two defenders and past Jurgelevich into the net.
"Coach told me to change my shot," Poulin said. "I was shooting sidearm before and I'm shooting overhand now, which is much more accurate."
The Bulldogs answered with 5:17 remaining as senior Gary McDonald picked up a ground ball, turned and fired past Holton.
Some 30 seconds later, the game turned as after a whistle, a scrum broke out.
Initially, it appeared to be like so many other relatively harmless pushing and shoving exchanges that you see in a boys' lacrosse game, especially among rivals, but after whistling the play dead, the officials determined that Portland junior Seamus Kilbride, one of the team's top offensive weapons and Deering senior defensive leader Karl Rickett had thrown punches and ejected both from the game.
While the Rams would be without a key defensive component the rest of the way, ultimately it was the Bulldogs' loss which loomed larger.
"When they got kicked out, it changed the whole complexion of the game," Begonia said. "(The officials) said they were throwing punches, but they weren't, they were just pushing and shoving. That's what happens in a scrum. (Bob) and I agreed it wasn't the right decision. It's unfortunate since Seamus is a big part of our offense. A big part of our strategy is him getting the ball. That made a big difference and shifted every attack and middie line we had. It was a huge turning point."
Deering managed to stay focused and keep it business as usual, staying confident that it's defensive depth would overcome Rickett's departure.
"I only caught a piece of (the scrum) at the end and it looked like a pushing and shoving thing, but they said punches were thrown and therefore it's fighting and an ejection and (they have to miss next game) and it hurts them for postseason accolades," Rothbart said. "I put the next person in and told them to keep doing what we were doing. Karl is a great shutdown, takeaway, ground balls guy, but with Zach eating up every faceoff, we didn't need Karl on faceoffs. Because of Zach, we didn't miss Rickett on ground balls as much as we might have."
Neither team scored the remainder of the first half, thanks in large part to 13 saves from Jurgelevich.
In the second half, the hosts would get some breathing room as Portland's offense went completely stagnant.
The Rams ended their 10:45 drought when Poulin scored unassisted with 8:54 to go in the third period. With 6:23 remaining, junior Matt Flaherty got in on the scoring act, beating Jurgelevich unassisted for a 6-3 lead. With 2:57 to go, after a turnover, junior Anthony Verville tickled the twine and Deering took a 7-3 advantage to the fourth.
There, the Rams went up 8-3 on another unassisted Verville goal 56 seconds in.
The hosts wouldn't score again, but they didn't need to as their defense made life miserable for the Bulldogs' attack. Kenney tried to get something going, but every time he touched the ball, he was swarmed by multiple defenders and Portland turned the ball over time and again, took poor shots and when it got good looks, saw them denied by Holton.
"They pressured Caleb, but we had guys who were stagnant, not moving on the crease," Begonia lamented. "They watched Caleb themselves, which made it a one-man game rather than a team game."
"Our team this year is just amazing," said Deering senior defensive standout Jake Farrell. "Our defense is the strongest part of our team right now. We played Caleb like we play anyone else. We put a little extra pressure, maybe, but we slid hard and played hard and executed. We've been working as hard as we can every day, pushing it to be the best defense we can be."
"We knew we just had to play the game," Rothbart added. "The kids stepped up. We're really deep on defense, that's why we play aggressive defense. That's just evolved. We have good athletes, big kids with good sticks. There's six of them. We're able to keep high tempo on the defense and go out and pressure teams and make them make plays. Our two short stick defenders, (junior) A.J. (Asbury) and sophomore Brett (Harmon), we put them on Caleb. We're not afraid to put them on anybody. We knew we had to stop him and stop their break. We knew if we stopped their fastbreak we'd win. We knew we could stop their settled offense. We wanted to swarm anyone trying to drive."
Finally, with 1:18 left, Portland junior Anthony Bowden found senior Bronson Guimond for a goal, ending a 27 minute, 59 second drought, but that would be it.
With the clock showing 9:19 p.m., the horn sounded and Deering was able to shed seven years of frustration as pandemonium broke loose on the turf field.
"Finally, in my senior year, after going through all my years of high school and being destroyed to finally come back and be on the other end feels amazing," said Farrell. "We've all worked so hard for this year. It shows how well we can play together. It's a big confidence-booster for all the seniors who have gotten beaten into the ground against Portland."
"I knew it was a big rivalry," added Poulin, who transferred to Deering from Connecticut this school year. "We played great as a team today. It was a big deal for me because my Dad lived in Portland and I decided to move to Deering. It was a good move for me. I had no clue how good this team was."
Poulin's three goals were a game-high. Verville added a pair, while Flaherty, Marcroft and Whittenburg each had one. Allen, one of the state's most prolfic scorers, didn't have a goal, but set up a pair.
"Carleton loves giving the ball up," said Rothbart. "He draws a lot of attention. We knew they'd focus on him. We have a lot of guys who can finish. We could have had four or five more. Ryan made some huge saves and we missed quite a few on the doorstep."
Poulin had a game-high 10 ground balls (most of them coming off faceoff wins), while Allen added eight and Flaherty seven. Holton's strong effort got lost in the shuffle, but his 11 saves helped the hosts maintain a healthy lead in the second half.
"We were great on defense, which caused transition," Poulin said. "Cody was shooting well. Verville shot well. We did great on assists and worked the ball around."
For Portland, Darvin, Guimond, McDonald and Webster had the goals. Bowden and Kenney each had an assist. Kenney led the team with nine ground balls. Guimond had eight. Jurgelevich stopped 22 shots.
"It's the story of our season," Begonia said. "We've struggled in the second half against a lot of teams in a lot of games which is troublesome. It's getting late. We shouldn't be playing like that this time of year. We demand more of ourselves and we didn't have it tonight.
"We played well enough defensively, but on offense, guys got shuffled around. We didn't take very good shots. Their goalie made great saves. We played defense most of the game. Our offense got rattled for the first time in a long time and got back on their heels. We kept throwing the ball away. Deering was ready for what we wanted to do. They lost their best defender, but their poles played well. We had trouble clearing the ball all night and gave them extra opportunities."
In the faceoff circle, Poulin beat Cormier on 11-of-15 occasions and helped his team dominate possession.
"I practice faceoffs every day and I played for Team Connecticut and all I did was faceoffs," Poulin said.
"Faceoffs killed us," Begonia said. "Possession time just killed us. When you possess that much more, you'll win games."
Deering finished with a 54-53 edge in ground balls, forced 26 turnovers (while giving the ball away 20 times) and outshot the visitors by a whopping 45-22 margin (30-15 in shots on cage).
Portland (third entering the game in the Eastern A Heals) goes to Westbrook Wednesday, then closes the regular season with a state final game rematch at sizzling Scarborough June 1.
"It's a tough stretch," Begonia said. "We're on the road the rest of the year."
Deering (which was fourth in the Heals prior to Friday night, but certain to move up) hosts Gorham Wednesday and finishes at Bonny Eagle June 1.
"Gorham's worth some points and they're dangerous," Rothbart said. "The last thing I want to do in the playoffs is travel to Messalonskee. I don't even know where that is. I want to be a 1 or a 2 seed."
"This game was our stepping-stone," said Poulin. "We need to crank it up in practice now, run more and work hard. Our next goal is play against Scarborough (in the state final). We're excited."