SCARBOROUGH—For four seasons, when the calendar struck June, the Scarborough boys’ lacrosse team kicked it into gear, made plays and had no peer in Class A.
All good things must end, however, and Saturday morning at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex, the Red Storm’s reign came to a close courtesy a team that played close to a perfect game.
Hosting Thornton Academy in a Western Class A semifinal, Scarborough, nine days removed from a stunningly decisive home victory over previously undefeated South Portland, found itself on the other end, as the Golden Trojans raced to a 4-0 first quarter lead and never looked back.
Behind a highly-functioning transition offense, a smothering defense and a red-hot goalie, senior Jack Grondin, who stopped almost every shot that came his way, Thornton Academy opened its lead to 7-1 at halftime and effectively ended all doubt by stretching that advantage to 11-2 after three periods.
While the Red Storm, as always, fought hard to the end, it just wasn’t to be and behind four goals apiece from senior Cody Falton and junior Isaac Sinclair and 19 saves from Grondin, the Golden Trojans went on to a 13-4 victory.
Thornton Academy improved to 11-3, extended its win streak to seven, set up a regional final showdown at South Portland (12-1) Wednesday evening and ended Scarborough’s season at 10-4 in the process.
“TA earned this one,” said Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep, who, for only the second time in his seven seasons, won’t be celebrating a state title. “They’ve been coming for us. (Golden Trojans coach Ryan) Hersey does such a good job and those kids play with class every time. As hard as it is to say, I’m almost glad it’s them. They earned it. They executed their game plan. You can’t win them all.”
For most of the season, Scarborough didn’t appear to have what it took to contend for a fifth straight title, but as all great programs do, it peaked when it mattered most.
The Red Storm had no trouble in their first two games, rolling at Marshwood (13-2) and Westbrook (16-7), but visiting Thornton Academy gave Scarborough a scare before it prevailed, 8-7, in double overtime. The Red Storm rolled at Portland, 14-2, and crushed visiting Deering, 21-2. Scarborough then lost three straight: 10-5 to visiting Cape Elizabeth, 13-8 at Cheverus and 15-11 at Falmouth, before getting back on track by defeating visiting Windham (16-4), visiting Gorham (14-4) and host Biddeford (12-5). The season finale served notice that the Red Storm were back, as they led visiting, undefeated South Portland from start to finish in a decisive 14-8 triumph.
Scarborough wound up ranked second in Western A and had no trouble ousting No. 7 Bonny Eagle Wednesday in the quarterfinals, 16-1.
Thornton Academy turned heads early, downing visiting, two-time defending Eastern A champion Cheverus, 9-8, and blanking visiting Marshwood, 12-0, before taking Scarborough to overtime in an 8-7 loss. After a 14-7 home win over Deering and an 8-3 triumph at Portland, the Golden Trojans were upset by visiting Greely, 7-6, and were doubled up at South Portland, 12-6, before closing on a five-game surge, downing visiting Waynflete (9-2), host Biddeford (13-3), visiting Bonny Eagle (13-4), visiting Westbrook (11-3) and host Gorham (11-8).
Thornton Academy eliminated No. 6 Biddeford Wednesday in the quarterfinals, 15-1.
Entering play Saturday, the Red Storm had won all three previous playoff meetings (see sidebar, below), but this time, the result was different and was quite shocking to boot.
Grondin set the tone in the second minute, denying a bid from Scarborough senior Christian Neelon.
Thornton Academy then got some chances, as senior Taylor Browne had a man-up shot saved by Red Storm senior goalie Jordan Flannery, senior Tyler LaPointe shot wide after splitting a pair of defenders and Sinclair had a shot saved.
Then, 6:27 to play in the first period, the Golden Trojans went ahead for good, as Sinclair took a pass from senior Ian Carrier and finished.
Grondin preserved the lead when he robbed Scarborough senior Austin Doody and after some nice goaltending from Flannery, who saved shots from Thornton Academy junior Zachary Bryant and sophomore Gregory Ruff, Red Storm senior Chris Cyr attempted to tie the score with a high shot, but Grondin made the stop.
With 2:12 to go in the stanza, sophomore Charles Katz fed Bryant in front, who backhanded a shot past Flannery to make it 2-0.
After Neelon was denied by Grondin at one end, Bryant took a pass from Falton on a fastbreak and scored with 1:34 to play and the lead was up to 3-0.
And the Golden Trojans weren’t done.
Playing man-up in the final minute, Falton scored his first goal of the day, finishing a feed from junior Christian Michaud, and Thornton Academy had a comfortable 4-0 lead after one period.
The Red Storm were severely hindered by nine first quarter turnovers.
When Scarborough freshman Sam Neugebauer was ruled to have an illegal stick to start the second quarter, things went from bad to worse for the hosts.
Neugebauer had to sit out for three minutes and his stick was out for the game and the Golden Trojans took advantage, scoring twice.
Eleven seconds into Neugebauer’s penalty, a cross-check penalty on Flannery put the Red Storm down two players and with 11:29 to go in the half, Michaud fed Falton for a 5-0 lead.
After Falton had a shot saved by Flannery, Falton scored again man-up, this time from sophomore Justin Masteller with 9:10 remaining and the advantage was six. The ball hit the post and deflected away, but after consulting, the officials ruled the ball had barely gone in inside the pipe.
Sinclair then put on a clinic, abusing a defender before going one-on-one with Flannery and beating the goalie through the five-hole to make it 7-0 with 5:30 to go in the half.
Thornton Academy had scored as many goals in 19-and-a-half minutes as it had total in three prior playoff losses to the Red Storm.
Finally, with 4:34 showing, Scarborough got on the board.
Senior Andrew Farrington did the honors, finishing a pass from senior Cam Loiselle and after 19 minutes, 26 seconds, the Red Storm had their first goal, but still trailed by six.
The score would remain 7-1 at halftime after both goalies came up huge.
With 4:13 to go in the half, Grondin robbed Neelon.
A minute later, at the other end, Flannery denied a back-handed bid from Bryant.
In the final minute, Scarborough had possession and a chance to gain a little momentum, but Neuguebauer shot wide and Loiselle did the same.
In the first 24 minutes, Katz won five of nine turnovers and Thornton Academy enjoyed a 21-13 shots advantage.
Those on hand couldn’t help but wonder how big an effect the absence of Red Storm junior faceoff specialist (away at a Naval Academy summer seminar) had on the team’s struggles.
“Nate’s done so many things so well, it’s really hard to quantify,” Hezlep said. “It doesn’t always show up on the scoreboard, but he’s a table setter for us. Their faceoff guy had a tremendous day today and Nate might have slowed that down, but we had guys step in and they did very nicely. They just got quick offense off the faceoffs, which doesn’t usually happen to us.”
While the Red Storm possessed the necessary firepower to pull off an epic comeback, it wasn’t to be, as the deficit continued to grow in the third period.
Right off the opening faceoff, Katz won possession and set up Sinclair, who raced in on Flannery, but the goalie came up big with a timely save.
Seconds later, Sinclair dropped a pass on the doorstep, but the persistent Golden Trojans were finally rewarded with 10:04 to go in the frame, when Michaud bounced a long shot past Flannery to make it 8-1.
After Loiselle shot wide at one end, Thornton Academy went on another fastbreak and Falton set up Sinclair for a goal and a 9-1 advantage.
Scarborough tried to answer, but Grondin saved shots from senior Matt Murphy, Farrington, Neugebauer and Loiselle, even racing to the end line first on the last shot to win possession for his team in the process.
Flannery kept holding the Golden Trojans at bay at the other end, denying both Masteller and Falton, but with 3:26 to go, Falton scored unassisted to make it 10-1.
The hosts scored just their second goal (and their first in 13:17) when Murphy won the ensuing faceoff and set up Neelon, but after Grondin robbed Farrington in close, senior longstick Dan Giroux raced into the offensive zone and effectively delivered the coup de grace with an unassisted tally with 34.5 seconds remaining, making it 11-2 Thornton Academy with just 12 minutes to go.
Fifty-nine seconds into the fourth period, on yet another fastbreak, Falton set up Sinclair for a goal and the lead was double digits.
Neelon got a goal back for Scarborough (unassisted) with 7:27 to play, but with 4:14 left, Bryant finished a feed from Carrier for the visitors’ final tally.
With just 28.7 seconds left, Murphy (from Cyr) scored and that accounted for the 13-4 final score.
“It is beyond our wildest dreams,” Falton said. “This is the hump we’ve been trying to get over for four years. We felt very confident. We had a lot of fastbreaks today. A lot of that came off faecoffs. Katz was killing it. I think the biggest reason we won was going up early, putting up a lot of goals in a hurry. Our settled defense stopped their settled offense every time.”
“This is our first time ever beating Scarborough and it feels good,” said Grondin. “We prepared and the whole team came out and executed great.”
“We were 0-for-9 (against Scarborough) since (my brother, assistant coach, Michael Hersey, and I) took over,” Ryan Hersey said. “It was our best overall performance in five years. Coming out and scoring first got us to believe. It kept on going and the kids kept working harder and harder. We have started to spend a good portion of our practices working on our transition game because we have the athletes and the ability to get out there and go. I used an Eddie Vedder quote at halftime, ‘If you spend too much time reliving the past, you don’t live in the present.’ What we tried to do was reset every quarter and I think we won every quarter. That’s what we have to do going forward, play 12 minutes at a time.”
Thornton Academy isn’t known for its offensive firepower, yet it put on a show Saturday, as Falton and Sinclair both had four goals, Bryant scored three and Giroux and Michaud each had one. Falton added three assists, while Carrier and Michaud both had two and Katz and Masteller one.
Katz had a game-high nine ground balls. He only won half his faceoffs, but seemingly set his team up for far more possessions than the opponent.
Grondin dazzled with 19 saves.
“Jack stepped up huge today and deserved the game ball,” Falton said. “He was a stone wall in the net.”
“We have two really good goalies,” Hersey said. “(Junior Chris Camire) is just as good on any given day. Jack takes it personally and wanted to make sure everyone knew why he’s our starter and why he’s our leader.”
Grondin credited his defense.
“The defense prevented the shots they could and forced them to take bad shots,” Grondin said. “They’re some of the hardest working guys on the field and it showed.”
“They kept it packed in tight,” Hezlep said. “We got shots off and if they went in, the game would have been tighter, but it didn’t happen.”
The Golden Trojans turned the ball over 24 times, but most of those came long after the game was decided.
Thornton Academy now has just one team standing between it and a first-ever trip to the state final.
South Portland has a prolific offense, a tremendous goalie in junior T-Moe Hellier and homefield (grass) advantage, but the Golden Trojans are flying high and believe they can reverse the regular season result.
“I know personally, I’m more confident and want to work harder in practice to get a state championship,” Falton said. “We need to come out intense, play defensively like we did today and play well offensively as well.”
“It’s a whole new game for playoffs,” Grondin said. “It’s nice being the underdog. It gives us more to work for and makes us work harder. That first game means nothing. I’s going to be a great game.”
“We have to have movement Wednesday,” Hersey added. “To be honest, I don’t think our zone defense will work against them, because they move off-ball better and thread it into the middle. We’ll have to play some aggressive man. We’ll try to do emulate what Scarborough did and not let them get it to the open person. We have the athletes to be successful.”
Scarborough two goals from Neelon in his swan song and one apiece from departing seniors Farrington and Murphy. Cyr, Loiselle and Murphy all had one assist. Flannery stopped nine shots.
The Red Storm won the ground ball battle, 46-38, as senior defensive standout Brendon Smith led the way with seven and Farrington, Loiselle and Neelon each collected six.
Scarborough had a 40-31 shots advanage (23-22 on cage) and overcame its early nine turnovers by only committing nine the rest of the way.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” Hezlep said. “The scoreboard didn’t read the way we wanted it to, but the things they’ve done and the lives they’ve affected, that will carry on for years to come. I told the boys after the game, every time in the four-year run, we had games down the stretch that could have gone one way or the other. You can’t look back on one day and say just because the ball didn’t go in the net, the season wasn’t a success. We came out and played hard until the end.”
A very accomplished senior class (15 total) will depart and they will be greatly missed.
“The seniors have done so much with the program, whether it’s working with youth or the things they’ve done with (autistic team members) Austin (Pietras) and Teddy (Prosack) to make them feel part of the group,” Hezlep said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
While the program has lots of shoes to fill, it has plenty or returning talent and even more on the way.
It’s only a matter of time before Scarborough is back at the top.
“This may be the most quality minutes-wise we’re graduating,” Hezlep said. “We have holes to fill, but we have kids who are waiting to go.”
Scarborough junior Kevin Caldwell plays defense.
Scarborough senior Chris Cowie defends Thornton Academy senior Taylor Browne.
Scarborough senior Chris Cyr gets a step on Thornton Academy senior Jesse Meikle.
Scarborough senior Austin Doody and Thornton Academy senior Jesse Meikle go for a loose ball.
Scarborough senior Cam Loiselle goes for a loose ball.
Scarborough freshman Sam Neugebauer fires a shot.
Thornton Academy junior Isaac Sinclair prepares to shoot past Scarborough senior goalie Jordan Flannery. Sinclair had four goals.
Scarborough senior Brendon Smith plays keep-away from Thornton Academy senior Cody Falton, who scored four times in the win.
2012 Western A semifinals
Scarborough 7 Thornton Academy 1
2011 Western A Final
Scarborough 8 Thornton Academy 3
2010 Western A Final
Scarborough 5 Thornton Academy 3
Scarborough senior Andrew Farrington is defended by Thornton Academy junior Christian Michaud during the teams’ Western Class A semifinal Saturday morning. Michaud and his defensive mates were superb and the Golden Trojans ended the Red Storm’s four-year title reign, 13-4.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.