PORTLAND—The hard-charging, up-and-coming Falmouth boys’ lacrosse team almost earned its biggest win to date Friday afternoon, giving powerhouse host Portland everything it could handle before succumbing, 8-7.
The Yachtsmen were down 6-2 at halftime, but erupted for five straight goals to stun the Bulldogs, before a pair of unheralded Portland youngsters: freshman goalie Ryan Jurgelevich (who surrendered just one goal down the stretch), and sophomore Bronson Guimond (who scored the tying and winning goals) helped save the day for the hosts.
Portland improved to 8-1. Falmouth, which earns more respect and admiration by the minute, is now 6-3.
“(Falmouth) is very, very close,” said Bulldogs coach Eric Begonia. “They can play with anyone. I told the guys that for the first time all year, I was a little disappointed in our senior leadership. We didn’t play a team game. It took some underclassmen to get us back.”
Closer than expected
Portland and Falmouth have been two of the most entertaining and successful teams this spring.
The Bulldogs won their first seven games with ease, then dropped an epic 11-9 decision at Yarmouth Monday night, in one of the most memorable contests in this or any other season. Portland got back on track in a mighty big way Wednesday with a 23-1 home romp over Gorham.
Falmouth, meanwhile, was expected by most to be a year away, but has been arrived ahead of schedule, entering Friday’s contest with a 6-2 mark. The Yachtsmen dropped close games to defending Class A champion Scarborough and defending Western B champion Cape Elizabeth earlier this season, but were coming off a stunningly decisive 12-4 home victory over North Yarmouth Academy Wednesday.
The teams last met three years ago. Falmouth sprung a home upset, 10-8. Friday, the Yachtsmen almost did it again.
Falmouth hinted that it meant business in the first period, taking a 2-0 lead on goals from promising sophomore Nick Bachman and talented junior Dan Hanley. The Bulldogs didn’t get on the board until 3:16 remained in the first period when senior All-American standout K.R. Jurgelevich scored unassisted after a steal. After one, the Yachtsmen had the advantage, but Portland would erupt in the second period and seemingly seize control.
With 10:15 to go in the first half, senior Tyler Sandler (from classmate Kyle Roberts) beat Falmouth sophomore goalie Jay Hurdman to tie the score. A little over a minute later, Sandler struck again, this time from Jurgelevich. With 7:13 left in the second, senior Sam Guimond scored unassisted. Jurgelevich added an unassisted goal with 2:25 to play and with 1:07 left, Jurgelevich did it again to make it 6-2 Bulldogs at the half.
While the Portland offense was having its way (outshooting the visitors 10-1), the Bulldogs’ defensive unit (keyed by seniors Erik Casparius, Dylan Kenney and Jason Smith) completely smothered the Falmouth attack.
Everything changed in the third period, however, when in a two-minute span, the Yachtsmen struck three times to get right back in it.
With 6:17 left in the quarter, Bachman scored unassisted to end a 24 minute, 1 second drought. Bachman (from freshman Jack Cooleen) scored again a minute later and with 4:17 to go, freshman Mitchell Tapley (from Hanley) beat Portland senior goalie Nick Sterling to make it 6-5.
With 3:05 to play in the quarter, Cooleen took a pass from Tapley and scored to tie the game at 6-6 and influence Begonia into changing goalies.
The game would go to the fourth period tied at 6-6.
Now playing with infinite confidence, the visitors took a 7-6 lead with 8:05 to play when Cooleen (from Hanley) fired home a shot from in close.
Suddenly, an upset looked eminently possible.
But the Bulldogs would bounce back.
With 7:01 to go, Bronson Guimond tied the score (ending a 18 minute, 6 second drought) when he grabbed a rebound and fired a shot into the net. Just 35 seconds later, Guimond did it again, this time taking a pass from senior Andrew Holt before firing to make it 8-7.
That would be the final score, but Falmouth came mighty close to tying it on a couple occasions.
With 5:11 left, Hanley’s shot hit the post. With 2:45 to play, a shot off the stick of junior Mike Kane was saved by the younger Jurgelevich. Then, with 25 seconds to go, Kane maneuvered for a shot, but was stripped by Casparius, who ran downfield and allowed Portland to finally run out the clock and hang on.
“(Kane) came around top and was looking to shoot,” Casparius said. “I saw his stick hanging and went over the top and knocked the ball free. I got the ball and ran as fast as I could.
“They’re a good team. They were ready to gun it after the first half. We didn’t have it together in the second half. Our defense has been solid most of the year. We didn’t come ready to play in the second half. We have to make some adjustments and get through it.
“Down the stretch, I think everybody didn’t want to have the same feeling we had after the Yarmouth game. We dug deep and some younger kids came up big for us. Ryan came in and was ready to play. Bronson Guimond did a great job for us. I think it’s good for us to see how everyone reacts when we have a tough game. That’s when you know who will step up.”
The Bulldogs knew they had dodged a bullet.
“We were stagnant,” Begonia said. “I told the guys to remind themselves what happened last year (when Portland stumbled down the stretch and was then upset by Cheverus in the quarterfinals). We didn’t stick to the game plan. We threw the ball away a lot, which is very uncharacteristic for us. They have 12 or 15 guys that can run up and down the field and they have young legs. We don’t go as deep as they do. A couple quick changes made the difference for us.”
Falmouth was left to lament what-if.
“I thought we were in big trouble there at halftime just because the first two goals were scored were really tough to get,” said Yachtsmen coach Mike LeBel. “They came early and then we went for quite a spell without a goal. We outscored them in the third and got back into it. The kids just kept on digging. Our depth just keeps wearing teams down. We didn’t even have (junior) Kyle Lucas today. He’s one of the most athletic kids in the state of Maine.
“The defense did a good job. I don’t care what anyone else says, but Jay Hurdman’s one of the very best goalies in the state. No one’s scored double-digits on us this year. We’ve played some prolific offenses.
“(The Bulldogs are) a great team. They’re very well-coached. I was very pleased with their sportsmanship. There was no chippiness. Portland obviously has far more experience than we do. They worked into our weaknesses. K.R. had a great game. He really exposed our inexperience and they took advantage of that. It was an outstanding game to be a part of. We never gave up. I’m so proud of the guys. It’s just fun to play good lacrosse. It’s fun to watch and fun to coach. We just have a great group of kids that I love working with.”
K.R. Jurgelevich led the Portland offense with three goals, an assist and also had eight ground balls. Bronson Guimond and Sandler each scored twice. Sam Guimond had the other goal. Holt and Roberts had assists. Kenney led both teams with nine ground balls. Sterling made one save. Ryan Jurgelevich stopped five shots in his period-plus stint.
“It was great to play in that situation,” said the younger Jurgelevich. “It was pretty scary at first. I was trying to get myself pumped up. Duty called. The game was tied. It was just like starting a regular game. It was really tough. It got my heart pumping. It’s good for me to play in these games. It gets me ready for next year.”
“Ryan was outstanding,” Begonia added. “I didn’t think Nick was seeing the ball well. Ryan went in and showed great leadership and was a motivator. Ryan stood on his head for a little bit there. He’s laid back. He’s not your typical goalie. Nothing phases him. It’s easy to go to a kid like that.
“Bronson Guimond was another one who stood out. Sometimes the older guys learn from the younger guys. The older guys were a little flat.”
For Falmouth, Bachman scored three times, while Cooleen had two goals and an assist. Hanley (who also had two helpers) and Tapley (one assist) also scored. Hanley was tops in ground balls with a half-dozen. Senior Sam Dunwoody grabbed five. Hurdman made 11 saves.
For the game, Portland had a 14-5 edge in faceoffs won and a 51-40 advantage in ground balls. The Bulldogs also outshot the Yachtsmen, 29-22. Turnovers were dead even, 30-30.
Falmouth (which was second in the latest Western B Heal Points standings) still has an outside shot at leapfrogging Cape Elizabeth and finishing first. The Yachtsmen are home with defending Class B champion Yarmouth Wednesday afternoon. They go to Greely, hoping to avenge last year’s semifinal round overtime playoff loss next Friday, then close at home against Cheverus on June 3.
“It would be a huge advantage to have homefield, but we’ll play teams anywhere,” LeBel said. “The grass helped us against NYA. I know that because I coached a team that played on turf. Whenever we had to go on grass we didn’t play well. That helps us. It’s hard. Your legs just feel different on grass than turf. Our mantra this year is ‘no excuses.’ We just go out there and whatever happens happens. We’re the only ones to blame. We take accountability. We’re having fun.”
Portland (first in the Western A Heals) suddenly appears mortal and still has some work to do to get to championship caliber. The Bulldogs host Deering Tuesday night, then close the regular season at North Yarmouth Academy (May 29) and Thornton Academy (June 1).
“We have to play our game and everyone needs to keep their heads focused,” Casparius said. “We can’t have distractions. The seniors especially need to stay focused. One of my goals was to keep everyone focused all season.”
“We like where we’re at right now,” Begonia added. “We’re healthy, which is the most important thing. I think we’re in a good situation unless we falter, which we know we can. Deering’s always tough. NYA’s away. Thornton can be tough. We won’t take anything for granted.
“We want to be home for the playoffs. With a couple more wins, we should be able to do that. I said all year, this team would go as far as the seniors take us. They didn’t take us very far today. They’re probably more disappointed than I am, so that helps.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mhoffer
Portland senior Kyle Roberts and Falmouth sophomore John Goodrich vied for a loose ball during the first half. (Brandon McKenney photo)
Portland senior Sam Guimond found out that the Falmouth defense (led by senior Sam Dunwoody) was a formidable unit. The Yachtsmen held the Bulldogs scoreless for 18 minutes in one stretch Friday, but Portland got the game’s final two goals to eke out the win. (Brandon McKenney photo)