PORTLAND—Maybe talk is cheap, but the Portland Bulldogs boys’ lacrosse team has no immediate plans to start buying any of that.
The defending Class A state champions have come to realize when they keep the verbs flowing more often than not, the other team’s getting stuck with the bill.
Saturday morning, the Bulldogs made the Deering Rams pay in full, taking control of the game early and refusing to give it back with an opportunistic, pass-first attack that moved with purpose to stretch the field. Junior Caleb Kenney netted four goals in the first half and senior Jason Knight scored four of his own, pacing the unbeaten Bulldogs (10-0) to a 16-1, running-time victory at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
“Deering lost its best player and we’re undefeated this time,” said Portland coach Eric Begonia, now 88-25 in his eighth season. “But this is still a rivalry game and we wanted come out and play well. We’ve always liked to invert middies to attack and have a lot of players that can pass and shoot. That makes it hard for teams to find six matches that work for them.”
Kenney scored his first two goals in the opening moments as Portland jumped out to a four-goal lead after one period, then, the Bulldogs piled on six more in the second. Knight spread his scoring out more evenly with a goal in each period, starting with his team’s fourth and final score of the first.
Knight’s goal with 2:15 left in the second period was the second of three the Bulldogs poured in over a one-minute, nine-second span to close out the half. Sophomore Seamus Kilbride sandwiched Knight’s score with both of his goals, extending Portland’s eight-goal lead to 11-0 at the break.
“We’ve started to keep the pressure on teams for the whole game,” Kenney said. “All week we’ve been talking about our spacing and getting a lot of movement. Everyone got involved. Everyone got a touch. We forced their defense to make a lot of reads and found the open cutters.”
Deering (6-4), on the other hand, suddenly finds itself down an entire line of starters at middle-attack, just this week adding senior Riley Asbury and junior Connor Kelly to an injury report that already lists junior midfielder Carleton Allen, the Rams best player and one of the league’s best at his position. Deering still has the benefit of a healthy Karl Rickett, the sophomore faceoff specialist, who has emerged as one of the league’s best on the draw.
There aren’t many teams in the league that could withstand the loss of three starters at midfield and the Rams are no different. Deering struggled in transition and when it did get settled, ran into more trouble finding open spaces against the Bulldogs’ experienced back line. After that, the Rams still had to deal with the prospect of finding a section of netting that couldn’t be covered by all or parts of Portland sophomore goalie Ryan Jurgelevich. By game’s end, only Jackson Sewall could provide any insight, the senior attack put Deering on the board with 8:43 left in the fourth quarter.
“We have a lot of guys out with injuries,” said Deering coach Bob Rothbart. “We had a full line of three middies go down last week, including our fastest player. We already lost our best midfielder earlier in the season. That and Portland is the best team we’ve played. They moved the ball well. They executed well. And they have good players. They beat us in every facet of the game except faceoffs.”
Portland came out blasting against the Rams. Kenney scored twice in the game’s first three minutes, junior Bronson Guimond stuffed one five-hole past Deering junior goalie Nick Holton, the first of his three, and by the time Knight got in the act with his first on a settled possession, Portland had built a 4-0 lead that would stand after one.
The Bulldogs survived two-minutes down a man to start the second, before Guimond scored on a little flip to make it 5-0. Portland senior captain Kevin Nielsen, a skillful distributor Begonia calls “a great leader,” caught the Rams thinking pass and got one for himself with a nice individual effort to make it 6-0. Kenney got his third from Knight on a bounce-job across the crease that settled in the lower-left corner, and his fourth goal moments later gave the Bulldogs an 8-0 lead with four minutes still left before the break. It wasn’t looking good for the Rams, and it didn’t get any better when Portland ripped off three straight to close out the half.
“We found a lot open looks today,” said Nielsen. “We had guys cutting and we were finding them. We have a lot experienced players that know the offense, but the younger players are starting to learn how to get open.”
The Bulldogs continued to roll after the break, tacking on three goals highlighted by a pretty exchange, Knight to Guimond, before senior Josh Mohr buried a pair for a 14-0 lead after the third. In close, Knight flipped to Guimond on a bang-bang, pass-and-shoot for a score, Guimond’s third.
“Coming in we felt this was a game we should win,” said Guimond. “But we prepare the same way and can’t afford to take any team lightly. We have a lot of guys on offense that can produce. When we communicate, we usually play well.”
In the fourth, Knight scored his fourth goal and the Bulldogs put up one more after Sewall finally put one home for the Rams, closing the book on a long day for anyone in purple.
Deering heads to Gorham on Wednesday before hosting the Bonny Eagle in the season finale June 2. The Rams were fourth in the latest Eastern A Heal Points standings. The top six teams qualify and Deering still has some work to do to make it back to the postseason after two years away.
Portland (first in Eastern A and third in the latest coaches’ poll) plays home on Wednesday against Westbrook and closes out the season at home with rival Scarborough on June 1. The Bulldogs have every reason to believe they make a run at a repeat title, especially if their playoff road consists of playing every game at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
“We still have some young guys out there and they make young mistakes,” said Begonia. “We’re learning how to win games and do it efficiently. It’s contagious. The guys that we’re here last year saw how hard that team worked. They know the type of effort it takes to play at that level.”
Deering sophomore Alex Stiphen races away from two Portland defenders during Saturday’s contest.
Deering junior Noah Whittenburg absorbs a hit from a Portland’s Lenny Schwartz during Saturday morning’s inter-city battle. The Bulldogs scored early and often and remained undefeated with a 16-1 triumph over the Rams.
Portland’s Gordon Parker and Evan Michalski defend Deering sophomore Alex Stilphen during the late stages of Saturday’s contest.