Field hockey intrigue grows as playoffs near

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A captivating and unpredictable field hockey regular season is coming to a close and there figures to be even more drama for local teams in the days to come.

In Western Class A, Scarborough learned last weekend that it isn’t invincible, but the Red Storm bounced right back and reminded everyone why they’re the favorite.

South Portland, by virtue of an upset home win over Scarborough, its third huge victory over a higher-rated foe this autumn, is now smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt and could make life miserable for the rest of the field.

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth appears postseason-bound and has been very competitive all season.

Giant killers

South Portland hoped to be a playoff contender in 2010, but it lost its first four contests. The Red Riots turned their season around with a 2-0 win at Cheverus, the beginning of a four-game streak, then lost a 3-2 (overtime) decision at Portland last Thursday (despite goals from juniors Bri Bower and Olivia Edwards).

They came out fired up Saturday, looking to beat Scarborough for the first time since Sept. 15, 2003 (3-1).

Just 1 minute, 29 seconds in, junior Maraka Soule rattled the cage for a 1-0 lead.

“We wanted to get some corners and get some shots off,” South Portland coach Heather Seavey said. “Maraka’s goal set the tone. I don’t think (Scarborough’s) been scored on much.”

Undaunted, the Red Storm came right back and made it 1-1 when senior Sarah Bunting set up classmate Rachael Millett for a goal with 25:25 to go in the 30-minute first half.

With 5:49 remaining before the break, Bower found a way to release a shot out of a scrum in front of the Scarborough cage and beat Red Storm junior goalie Rebecca Mitchell for a 2-1 lead.

“(The ball) was just right in front of me,” Bower said. “It wasn’t getting past me.”

As expected, the potent Red Storm came out guns ablazing in the second half and had ample opportunities to pull even, but they just couldn’t finish.

Early in the half, Edwards made a kick save on a shot off the stick of Scarborough senior standout Kristen Felt. Moments later, senior Christine Nguyen came up huge on a corner, kicking away a sure goal with Edwards out of the play. With 11:30 to play, off another Red Storm corner (they had a 12-1 edge for the game), Nguyen and senior Michelle Callow were there to make the defensive save.

In the final 10 minutes, Scarborough had two shots deflect wide of the goal and junior Kelsey Howard’s rush was broken up at the last minute. Down the stretch, the Red Riots were able to keep the Red Storm at bay and even gain possession on the Scarborough side of the field, eating up valuable seconds. When at last the final whistle sounded, South Portland exulted, celebrating its improbable 2-1 victory.

“We wanted this since the beginning of the season,” said Bower. “We’ve worked for it. It was hard in the second half. They’re a good team and we respect that. We came out and played our hearts out.”

“It feels so amazing to win against the best team in our region,” said Edwards (four saves). “I knew we could do it. Our defense kept it together. The offense came down and played defense. We didn’t start out great this season, but we knew we had talent and skills and we definitely have heart. The team loves each other so much. We’re a huge family. We support each other through everything.”

“It’s my senior year so everything I’ve worked for, I let out in this game,” Nguyen added. “Same for the other seniors. We’ve come a long way. We’re such a close team now. We play with all our heart.”

Seavey was almost speechless after her biggest victory in five seasons as Red Riots’ head coach.

“I’m still amazed,” she said. “I’m just so happy right now. I think my kids play with a lot of heart this year. I think that’s the difference. We know we can be in every game and compete this year. We’ve come a long way this season and a long way in four years.

“Scarborough’s still a strong team this year. They didn’t make it easy on us. At halftime, I said, ‘Let’s act like we’re down 2-1 and we need another goal.’ We had to be focused for 30 minutes. We played our best field hockey for 30 minutes. This gives us confidence that we can play with any team. It will be huge Heal Points-wise.”

The Red Storm (who last dropped a regular season game Sept. 14, 2007, 3-0 to Sanford) finished with a 7-5 advantage in shots on frame and Mitchell made four saves, but it wasn’t enough as their win streak ended at 26 games..

“If we’re going to lose, this is the time,” said Scarborough coach Kerry Mariello. “It’s a learning experience. We’ll take it and move on. It’s a bit of a reality check. South Portland came to play today. They’re a good team and they deserved to win. I knew it would be a fight. They packed in the defense and we had few holes. We beat ourselves by not executing opportunities that were given to us. It would have been nice to fight through being down and overcome, but it’s OK.”

South Portland took a step back Monday with a 4-2 loss at Thornton Academy (Soule and senior Victoria Brookings had the goals) and is now 5-6. The Red Riots (fourth in the Western A Heal Points standings) hosted Windham Wednesday, go to Bonny Eagle Friday and finish the regular year at home versus Deering Tuesday.

If it takes care of business, South Portland has a shot at playing at least one postseason game at home.

“I just wanted to make the playoffs, but now we could get homefield advantage,” Seavey added. “That would be nice.”

Bouncing back

Scarborough, which outscored its first eight foes by a composite 42-2 margin before losing at South Portland to end a 26-game win streak, was back in action Monday at home versus dangerous Westbrook and showed that its loss was just a hiccup.

Scarborough got the jump with 19:45 to play in the 30-minute first half when junior Lindsay Dobecki took a pass from senior Kristen Felt and beat Westbrook junior goalie Maryssa Arsenault.

“I was on the goalie and just tipped it in,” Dobecki said. “It was a great pass from Kristen. It was very important to come out strong. It shows we’re still a strong team and that we can come back after a loss.”

With 13 minutes left, the Red Storm doubled their advantage, courtesy sophomore Stephanie Felt. On a penalty corner (Scarborough had an 8-6 edge for the game), Dobecki sent a pass to Felt, who launched a blast into the cage for a 2-0 lead.

“It’s important to get a lead in big games, especially coming off a loss,” Mariello said. “It showed a lot of character and gave us our confidence back.”

Undaunted, the visitors answered with just under 2 minutes to go before halftime. On a corner, senior Sarah Howard passed to senior Olivia Marsden, whose shot eluded Red Storm junior goalie Rebecca Mitchell, making it a 2-1 game at the break.

At the start of the second half, sophomore Shannon Hicks was in goal and despite some close calls, she and her defensive mates helped preserve the victory.

“We were ready for momentum to change, but we held tough,” Mariello said. “Aggressiveness is the key. Shannon is an aggressive player. That’s what she brings for us.”

Westbrook had an 11-5 edge in shots. Hicks made seven saves, Mitchell three.

“There were a lot of blank stares after we lost, but it does take a lot of pressure off,” added Mariello. “(The girls) thought they had to be perfect. Now we can just play.”

Scarborough (first in the Heals) was at Biddeford Wednesday, then has another home showdown Friday against No. 2 Cheverus (9-2), in a rematch of last year’s regional final. Tuesday of next week, the Red Storm close at Gorham.

Scarborough hopes to win out to secure the No. 1 seed and play at home through the regional final.

“We’re used to playing on turf so it’s important to get homefield advantage,” said Dobecki. “We’re coming together. If we keep talking, we’ll do great.”

“Playing on turf is ideal for us,” Mariello added. “It’s a predictable game. It’s the way the game should be played and fits well with how we play.”

Capers in the mix

Cape Elizabeth fell short of the postseason in 2009, but are looking good in their quest to return in 2010. The Capers dropped to 6-5-1 after recent losses at York (3-0) and Greely (1-0), but were sixth in the Western B Heals as of Wednesday (the top seven teams get into the postseason).

Cape Elizabeth goes to Falmouth Friday and closes Tuesday at Wells. The Capers need at least one more win to secure a playoff date.

Postseason

The playoffs start Oct. 16 with the preliminary round. The quarterfinals are Oct. 19 and 20. The semifinals will be contested Oct. 23. Each of those rounds will be played on the field of the higher seed. The regional final is at Scarborough High Tuesday, Oct. 26. This year, the state finals are at the University of Maine-Orono on Saturday, Oct. 30.

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

Sidebar Elements


Scarborough’s Lauren Sullivan and South Portland’s Maraka Soule battle for a loose ball as Victoria Brookings (3) looks on from behind Saturday morning. Soule opened the scoring just over a minute into the game and the Red Riots went on to a stunning 2-1 win.

Led by Katie Murphy (13), players from the South Portland sideline rush the field at the conclusion of the Red Riots’ win.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.