Field Hockey: South Portland controls second half to top Windham

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SOUTH PORTLAND—The Riots, on a trio of goals – that’s one apiece by Sara Axelrod, Bonge Lako and Lydia Grant – pushed past visiting Windham on Saturday morning, Sept. 9. The Eagles earned the early lead, thanks to Danielle Libby, but couldn’t maintain that momentum for a full 60 minutes, ultimately succumbing 3-1.

“We’re struggling to find who works well where, who does the best job in what position,” said Windham head coach Cory DiDonato. “And to trust one another, in terms of not doing someone else’s job for them. So we’re struggling to figure out how to do what I know they can do – because, skill-level, they’re very talented. We just need to learn how to stay in our positions.”

“We know Windham always comes out with a good game,” said South Portland head coach Leslie Dyer. “Luckily, my team’s a little bit older. I think that their game sense and knowledge was the difference (today). Just the experience.”

Libby wasted little time putting Windham on top. Her 1-0 goal came just a minute or so in, and juiced up her teammates while draining some of SoPo’s mojo. The remainder of the first half, then, proved a back-and-forth battle, with neither team dominating, though the Riots did manage to even things up around the 10-minute mark, when Axelrod scored on a Libby assist.

“We had a slow start,” Dyer said. “We weren’t running to the ball. (Windham) came out big, fast and strong. For my team so far, we’re still learning that you can’t get scored on in the first minute of the game, that you have to start off strong. (Windham) did, and they capitalized; they got a nice, quick, fast goal.”

“We started strong, the first half was great, and then I don’t – it’s a mystery what happened in the second half,” DiDonato said. “(The first half) was the best we’ve played so far, even though I know we can play a lot better.”

The second half clearly belonged to the Riots. They controlled the attack for long stretches, Windham managing just the occasional offensive foray. SoPo’s constant pressure eventually provided them the points they needed to seize the lead and, in the end, the W. Lako scored on a Grant assist with roughly 11:30 remaining, and Grant made it 3-1 four minutes later.

“My girls finally said, ‘Oh, crap; let’s wake up,’” Dyer said. “So they did. They got hungry; they knew they could do it. We’ve always known we could do it. It’s breaking down that door and actually running through the ball and doing it. They’re hungry, they want to be successful this season, and it came down to heart, like, ‘Why am I not going to the ball?’”

DiDonato noted the opposite mentality among her girls – perhaps a sign of their comparative youth. “I think the biggest thing for us is having the will to want to win,” DiDonato said. “Like, getting to the ball first; we’re not doing that – we haven’t done that in three games, which is why we’ve lost all three. Hopefully, moving forward, they can figure out mentally how to get into a better spot, because I know what they’re capable of, but I’m not the one playing.”

Also noteworthy: Grant nearly had a second goal, this one on a penalty shot – and a great stab it was, too, flying high off the ground and barreling toward the left side of the Eagles’ cage – but Windham keeper Grace Sawyer turned an equally beautiful blocker save in rejoinder.

Dyer praised Grant, a sophomore and the team’s lead center-mid, for her top-caliber stick skills. “We tried her on the forward line,” Dyer said, “because she is my best shooter. But I needed her; I had that missing hole in my center-mid, so we ended up switching her (back).”

Dyer also had kind words for a couple of her other girls, including senior Captain Abby Darling. “She really controls the defense,” Dyer said; “she plays very calm and collected, and you don’t see her get flustered, which is exactly what you need in a defensive end. No matter what’s going on, she doesn’t react; she just continues playing her game.”

Finally, Dyer eagerly applauded Kaylee Whitten: “Kaylee was huge in the defensive end today,” Dyer said. “She had the big hits up the field, and she’s very good at reading what’s going on and finding those holes, and they absolutely capitalized on that today, too.”

DiDonato nodded to a few of her girls as well. “Chloe McVetty is a freshman on the wing, and she’s had a tremendous last game, this game, carrying it, giving us those options. Our goalie, Grace, at this point, she’s had 70 saves.”

The Riots move to 3-1 on the season. SoPo fell 3-1 to Scarborough at the start of their autumn, but then accrued wins over Noble and Bonny Eagle. Next up: a visit to Cheverus on Wednesday the 13th and another home bout, this one against Kennebunk, on Friday the 15th. 

Windham, meanwhile, falls to 0-3; the Eagles have also succumbed to Massabesic and Biddeford. They host Gorham on the 13th before traveling to Falmouth on the 15th.

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

South Portland’s Sydney Sherburne jukes away from a Windham opponent.

Windhamite Jessica Meyer and Riot Lauren Dibiase clash.

Abby Darling chases down a runaway ball for the Riots.

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