Scarborough takes Class A boys' lax title, 8-6, over Portland; Bulldogs honor fallen teammate, play valiantly
PORTLAND — The Scarborough boys' lacrosse team won its third Class A state championship in five seasons Saturday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
But that was just a sidebar.
Prior to the contest and throughout, the Portland Bulldogs pulled together in the wake of tragedy and impressed all involved with their resolve and commitment to honor a fallen teammate.
Thursday night, Garrett Cormier, a sophomore (injured this season) and the younger brother of junior Pat Cormier, was killed in an automobile accident in Falmouth. Cormier's family encouraged the Bulldogs to play the contest (even though the Maine Principals' Association offered a week's delay) and after a pregame moment of silence, they did, with Pat Cormier taking and winning the opening faceoff.
Unfortunately for Portland, that's as close as it got to a Hollywood ending.
The Red Storm completed their stunning late-season surge, grabbing an early 5-1 lead, then, after the Bulldogs drew even on a three-goal third period flurry by junior standout Caleb Kenney, Scarborough went ahead to stay on sophomore John Blaisdell's goal and held on for an 8-6 victory, ending the year 11-5, while handing Portland, the defending champion, its first loss in 15 tries.
"All the credit in the world to Portland today," said Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep. "I can only imagine what they're feeling. They came out and played well. We felt the best way to honor them was to play the best game we could."
"Everybody left it on the field," said Bulldogs coach Eric Begonia. "We came from behind and tied the game. This hurts, given it's a championship game, but games come and go and life events like this don't."
Portland has run the gamut of emotions the past 12 months.
A year ago, the Bulldogs had no peer and could make a convincing argument that they were the finest team in the state regardless of class after going 14-1 and winning a first-ever championship (9-3 over Brunswick).
Despite graduating a ton of talent, Portland didn't skip a beat in 2010 as a young core continued the dominance. The Bulldogs drubbed visiting Noble, 18-2, in the opener and didn't look back. After rolling, 17-4, at Bonny Eagle, Portland trailed for awhile before blowing past host Kennebunk, 18-10. Easy wins over visiting Massabesic (16-4) and host Marshwood (19-6) were followed by a scare at Lewiston May 8, but the Bulldogs scored the game's final five goals to win, 12-10. A narrow 14-11 home victory over Messalonskee was followed by victories at Biddeford (10-6), at home over Gorham (18-4), Deering (16-1) and Westbrook (20-5). In the regular season final, June 1, against Scarborough, Kenney erupted for 10 goals and Portland held on for a 16-12 victory to wind up 12-0, good for the top seed in Eastern A.
Both playoff games were struggles. The Bulldogs met up with No. 5 Lewiston again in the semifinals and this time didn't have to play from behind, leading virtually the whole way in a 9-5 triumph. Wednesday, in the regional final, Portland held off No. 3 Messalonskee's upset bid, as Kenney's late goal broke a tie and the Bulldogs went on to a 10-8 victory.
The quest for consecutive championships then took a backseat to real life late Thursday night/early Friday morning.
"I had to receive one of those calls you never want to receive at 1:30 in the morning," Begonia said, alluding to Cormier's passing. "We did have an early-morning practice. I made the captains aware. The good thing was we were together. It was tough because a lot of kids didn't know upon arrival. Usually, as the coach I'm the rock, but I have a long-standing relationship with his family and knew the kids since they were young. Garrett used to hang out in my class. It was very difficult for me.
"Garrett's the classic second-born son, everyone's friend, kind of a jokester. That's who he was. I'm one myself. He was a fantastic friend. He wasn't on the team this year, but many of the guys were close friends with him."
Portland pushed on and prepared to take on a Scarborough team that was anything but dominant in the regular season and didn't even come close to resembling a championship squad until the late stages.
The Red Storm blew a late lead and fell, 8-7, in OT, at South Portland (their first-ever loss to the Red Riots) in the opener, April 17. Six days later, Scarborough had to rally late to force OT before edging visiting Cheverus by an 8-7 margin. After rolling, 18-4, at Noble, the Red Storm were upset, 13-11, at home by Kennebunk. The win-one-lose-one trend continued with a 6-4 victory at Thornton Academy, followed by an encouraging 4-3 setback at Falmouth, a 14-5 home win over Bonny Eagle, then a penalty-plagued 8-6 home loss to NYA. Scarborough beat host Windham (12-8), visiting Gorham (11-2) and Massabesic (6-2) before playing very well in the 16-12 loss at Portland in the finale, which left the Red Storm 7-5 and third in the region.
After beating No. 6 Bonny Eagle (9-6) in the quarterfinals, Scarborough avenged its regular season loss with a satisfying 10-4 semifinal round win at second-ranked South Portland. Wednesday, the Red Storm had enough to hold off No. 4 Thornton Academy, 5-3, in the regional final.
The teams had played in three of the past four postseasons, with the Red Storm winning the 2006 regional final (8-7) and the Bulldogs taking the 2007 regional final (12-10) and last year's regional final (14-1).
Scarborough was hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 2006 (14-2 over Lewiston) and 2008 (8-6 over Brunswick) squads and win Class A titles in even-numbered seasons.
The Red Storm would accomplish their goal, but as expected, it wasn't easy.
Emotions were high during pregame introductions and the moment of silence. Pat Cormier then went to midfield and won the faceoff before running off to the embraces of his coaches and teammates on the sidelines before he went into the stands to share a moment with family members.
"I'm so proud of Pat to take and win that first faceoff," Begonia said. "He's a champion to us."
Just 2 minutes, 27 seconds into the game, Portland went ahead when senior Kevin Nielsen passed to classmate Gordon Parker, who sent a shot past Scarborough junior goalie Brett Leighton.
That would be as good as it got for the Bulldogs as the Red Storm scored the next five goals to seemingly take command.
Just 39 seconds after Parker's goal, Scarborough drew even when Blaisdell set up standout freshman John Wheeler for the tying score.
It took Kenney until the 2:20 mark of the first period to get a shot off. It went wide. With time winding down in the first, the Red Storm went on top when junior Nate Hopkins scored after a rebound with just 16.8 seconds showing.
Scarborough continued to play strong, poised, team lacrosse in the second quarter.
With 8:28 to go before halftime, senior Nick Neugebauer (hinting at a huge day to come) intercepted a clear off the stick of Portland sophomore goalie Ryan Jurgelevich, raced in and easily beat the keeper to make it a 3-1 game.
"I just read the play and picked it off and kind of ripped it and hoped it would go in," said Neugebauer. "I just set my feet and go."
Two minutes later, Peters scored unassisted and it was 4-1. When Neugebauer went top shelf to beat Jurgelevich with 4:55 remaining in the half, the Red Storm were up 5-1 and the Bulldogs appeared on the brink of getting blown out.
Begonia called timeout with 3:25 to play and Portland responded. With just 7.3 seconds left in the half, after a Scarborough penalty, the Bulldogs ended a 21 minute, 26 second drought when junior Bronson Guimond found senior Jason Knight for a man-up goal, giving Portland some momentum entering the second half.
Midway through the third period, Kenney finally got some room to do his thing.
Playing man-up, Kenney took a pass from sophomore Seamus Kilbride and scored with 7:01 left, cutting the deficit to 5-3. At the 4:33 mark, Kenney (set up by Knight) found the net again and suddenly, Portland was only down a goal.
With 3:45 to go in the third, Kenney struck once more (again from Kilbride) and just like that, the Bulldogs had roared back to tie the score.
The next goal would be crucial for momentum and the Red Storm got it as after senior Sam Parenteau saved a wide shot that was heading out of bounds, Blaisdell forced his way in and shot past Jurgelevich with 1:05 left in the quarter, making it 6-5 Scarborough.
"We were up 5-1 last time and they scored the next five goals," Hezlep said. "They only got four goals this time. We stopped the bleeding and got back to playing the way we were. Sam Parenteau has backed up more shots than any long pole in the state. He saw it was coming and backed it up and that led to us going up 6-5. He played his heart out this year."
The final stanza would be close throughout, but the Red Storm did just enough to survive.
Forty-nine seconds in, Guimond looked for the equalizer, but his shot was saved by Leighton. Two minutes later, Guimond had a great bid, but shot wide of the open net. With 7:30 remaining, Parker was flagged for tripping and Scarborough took advantage, extending its lead to 7-5 as Neugebauer scored man-up (from Peters).
Portland pushed hard to answer, but Leighton denied Guimond and Nielsen. After a slashing penalty on Parenteau, Knight set up Guimond for a goal with 3:36 left and the Bulldogs were back within one, 7-6.
Portland won the ensuing faceoff, but turned the ball over. The teams then traded turnovers and Scarborough took timeout. There, Hezlep encouraged his team to run time off the clock, but to take a shot if one was there.
Peters got the opportunity with 2:20 to go and didn't hesitate, racing in to beat Jurgelevich and make it 8-6.
"We were supposed to run clock, but I saw a one-on-one situation, had an open shot and took it," Peters said.
"One goal against Portland wasn't enough, so we didn't keep the brakes on the offense," Hezlep added. "An opportunity arose and it worked out."
Kenney raced in off the ensuing faceoff, but Leighton turned his shot aside. With 1:39 to play, another Kenney bid was saved. The Red Storm ran off most of the remaining time and completed their stirring rise with an 8-6 championship win.
"We really just came together as a team," said Neugebauer. "It takes a team effort to win a state championship. We had changes on offense and on defense. We all worked together to get this far."
"This is my fourth state title in my high school career, but this means the most to me since I was most involved with this one," said Peters, who won twice in soccer and also in lacrosse in 2008. "We started off the season slow and we had a new offense. We had to get to know each other. Once we got our offense going, we were pretty much unstoppable after that. We kept our eye on the prize."
"We really came along," added Hezlep. "The Falmouth game was huge and the game here with Portland at the end of the regular season was huge. We didn't win, but we did the right things and we knew soon enough good things would happen and that happened today. The kids who were waiting in the wings (in previous seasons) grew into a team in 12 games and played like a veteran team in the playoffs."
Neugebauer had the game of his life with four goals.
"We had to step up to win this one," Neugebauer said. "I did my part and everyone else did theirs. We played them the last game of the year, but we had to finish this time. This is awesome. There are no words to describe this."
"Coming in, (Nick) had 12 goals," Hezlep said. "For him to score four, is amazing. I knew he had it in him."
Blaisdell (one assist), Hopkins, Peters (one assist) and Wheeler all had one goal. Leighton made eight saves. Scarborough had a 36-26 edge in shots (17-14 in shots on frame), forced 29 turnovers (while committing 26) and won 55 ground balls to 50 for the Bulldogs. Neugebauer and Hopkins both grabbed nine. Wheeler had seven.
Scarborough loses 10 seniors, led by Matt Mayo, Neugebauer, Peters and defenders Parenteau and Nick Prince. After this year's run, there's no reason that the Red Storm, who will be led by Wheeler, can't repeat in 2011 for the first time.
Kenney led Portland with three goals. Guimond and Knight both had a goal and an assist. Parker scored once, while Kilbride had two assists and Nielsen finished with one. Jurgelevich stopped nine shots. Nielsen and Parker led the team with eight ground balls. Guimond and Kenney both had seven. The Bulldogs won 10 of 18 faceoffs.
"Fortunately, we have a lot of leadership on the team," Begonia said. "It's been a tough 36-, 48-hours. The fact we played competitively today speaks volumes. Joe's a good coach and made some nice adjustments. I don't think we were flat. Scarborough's just a good team. We saw them peak at the right time.
"We showed our true grit and character in the third quarter. It was just hard to find open shooting lanes. Their defense did a good job. It wasn't meant to be today. We knew it would be close. The seniors are disappointed, but we wouldn't have gotten back here without their heart. They're great guys."
Portland will graduate six seniors, most notably defensive standout (and Academic All-American) Pat Curran, Knight, Nielsen and Parker, but led by their All-American Kenney, will come back strong in 2011, hoping to get back to the top.
After the experiences of this spring, the Bulldogs figure to be mentally stronger than anyone and will certainly have enough talent in place to do great things.
"The future's bright, for sure," Begonia said. "We're not a one-hit wonder. We want to be competitive every year. We'll be back."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org