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Portland advances with 1-0 win over Cheverus; Scarborough next

Sports

Portland advances with 1-0 win over Cheverus; Scarborough next

PORTLAND—Six years ago, the Portland boys' soccer team lost to Scarborough in a Western Class A semifinal round epic.

This weekend, the Bulldogs will return to that round and get another
crack at the Red Storm, thanks to Wednesday night's hard-fought 1-0
home win over Cheverus in the quarterfinals.

Three weeks after drubbing the Stags 6-1, Portland got a much
sterner test on a windy night, but midway through the second half,
junior standout Fazal Nabi got free to head home a corner kick from
sophomore Paley Burlin and the Bulldogs held on to improve to 10-3-2
with their eighth successive victory.

"We knew we'd be up against it," said longtime Portland coach Rocky Frenzilli. "I'm very happy for the boys. They've
worked hard to get to this spot. We knew it wouldn't be 6-1. Cheverus
came out very aggressive in the first half. We matched it. It was nice
to have the wind at our back in the second half. It's a great team win."

Toe to toe

The Bulldogs weren't a certainty for the postseason back on Sept. 24
when they lost 2-0 at home to Gorham to fall to 2-3-2, but Portland
saved its best for last, ripping off seven successive victories to wind
up 9-3-2, good for the No. 4 spot in the Western A standings.

"I told them to buy into our concept of team," Frenzilli said. "When
things were down, they could have folded or rose to the occasion and
they rose to the occasion. They played for each other. They won't be
denied."

Cheverus started 5-1, then went just 3-4-1 the rest of the way, but its 8-5-1 mark gave it the No. 5 seed for the playoffs.

The longtime rivals had met just twice previously in the postseason.
In the 1994 quarterfinals, the Bulldogs enjoyed a 4-1 victory. Two
years ago, in the preliminary round, the Stags came away with a 1-0
win.

On Oct. 6, Portland hosted Cheverus at Fitzpatrick Stadium and
cruised to a 6-1 victory behind three Nabi goals. This time around, the
wind dictated play as the Stags had it at their backs in the first half
and had the better of the chances before the Bulldogs took over in the
final 40 minutes.

Just 2 minutes, 20 seconds into the game, it appeared as if the
hosts had the lead when Burlin converted a pass from junior A.J.
Hasanovic and fired a shot past Stags junior goalkeeper Peter Pothoff,
but an off-sides call negated the score.

In the seventh minute, Cheverus sophomore Nick Melville fired a shot
that Portland senior goalkeeper Jason Knight grabbed while sprawling on
the turf. In the 15th minute, senior Max Miller stole the ball for the
Stags and fired a shot wide. With 14:28 to play in the half, Bulldogs
freshman Tim Rovnak's bid hit the post. With 4:06 to go, Cheverus
senior standout Thomas Mourmouras' free kick was deflected high.

At the break, the Stags had a 2-1 edge in corner kicks, but the game remained scoreless.

Portland then began to press for the lead.

With 38:25 left in regulation, a header off a corner kick was
denied. A minute later, a high, lofting shot was tipped by Pothoff over
the crossbar. With 36:47 to go, Mourmouras threatened to put the Stags
on top, but Bulldogs junior goalie Taylor Mannix (Frenzilli has split
the goalies' time all year)  made a sliding save.

With 34:47 remaining, Portland senior Zahid Abid's header was saved.
Five minutes later, Nabi's boot was deflected, but trickled wide.

Then, with 20:11 left in regulation, the Bulldogs finally struck
when Burlin lofted a corner kick (Portland's eighth of the half and
ninth of the game) that Nabi was able to get to and head past Pothoff
into the net.

"Paley crossed the ball and I fought my way through and hit it top
left," Nabi said. "I made pretty solid contact. It was getting kind of
nerve-wracking. We played hard. It was a lot tougher tonight. They marked us tighter this time. I saw
a lot more double teams."

Portland still had a lot of time to kill, but its defense rose to
the occasion. With 17:56 to play, Mourmouras' header went high. With
4:20 to go, senior Ian O'Malley sent a free kick high. Then, with just
16 seconds left and Cheverus pressing, Nabi headed the ball away from
the box and the Bulldogs were able to run out the clock on their 1-0
triumph.

"I cannot be happier for these guys," said Frenzilli. "They competed. That's all we've
talked about, is to compete. They competed in the second half. We made
a couple quick adjustments at halftime and challenged them to just
compete and see what happens. We had a nice little feed from Paley to
Faz for the goal. At the end, we weren't going to be denied. I was
hoping one goal would hold up."

End of the line

Despite its solid effort, Cheverus' season ended at 8-6-1.

"We played hard," said Stags coach Bill LeBlanc. "We came to play. It was two halves. In the first, we
jammed it down their throat and had some chances. We knew we needed to
score in the first half or we'd have to get through until overtime. We
didn't have any quality chances in the second half. It was hard to make
passes or head the ball with the wind. Fazal's a great player. We
changed up how we played him. We man marked him and made sure we double
teamed him. He got loose once.

"(The season was) about what I expected. Losing a couple guys to graduation and my
nephew (Nat LeBlanc) back to Greely affected us leadership-wise. The kids played hard. We
lost a couple games we shouldn't have, but we wound up about where I
thought with our seed."

Cheverus graduates eight seniors, but several key players return in 2010. Expect the Stags to be right back in the hunt.

"It's been a stellar four-year career for Mourmouras," LeBlanc said. "He's been a great
player for us. He'll be missed big-time. We have some good players
coming back. My sophomore class is really good. We'll be all right."

Big test awaits

Portland (10-3-2) moves on to meet undefeated, top-ranked and
defending state champion Scarborough (15-0). The Red Storm dispatched
No. 9 South Portland 4-0 in their quarterfinal Wednesday night for
their 33rd consecutive win. The teams will face off either Friday night
or Saturday (game time had yet to be established).

On Sept. 8, the Bulldogs lost 3-0 at Scarborough, but they're a
vastly different team now. The 2003 semifinal was the last
playoff meeting. The Red Storm took that one, 3-2, in triple overtime. Portland downed Scarborough 2-0 in the 2002 preliminary round.

"It's going to be a tough game," Nabi said. "Scarborough's a real good team. We'll put up a fight and see what happens."

"It's such a joy to watch these kids play," Frenzilli added. "I look
forward to it. I relish practicing with them. The road goes through the
Scarborough. They're the defending state champs. We're honored and
privileged to have a chance to go out and play them."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net