SOUTH PORTLAND—Ayla Tartre kept finding herself in the right place at the right time and as a result, the McAuley girls’ soccer team earned a much needed victory Saturday afternoon.
Facing South Portland at Martin Memorial Field, the Lions jumped to a quick 2-0 lead, as Tartre twice finished feeds with excellent placement, but the Red Riots battled back to tie. Then, just before halftime, off a corner kick, Tartre completed her hat trick and put McAuley ahead to stay, 3-2.
After a first half of offensive explosiveness, the game settled down in the second half, and behind a strong defensive effort and the all-around excellence and leadership of senior captain Katherine Lake, the Lions managed to hold on for a 3-2 victory, improving to 2-3, while dropping South Portland to 0-5.
“We had three days of hard practice getting ready for this game,” said Lake, whose foot skills and field vision were unmatched. “It was drilled into us that this one mattered.”
McAuley entered Saturday’s game with one victory, while South Portland was still seeking its first.
The Lions, a 3-10-1 squad in 2012, opened with a 12-0 home loss to Windham, then won at rival Cheverus, 2-1.
“The Cheverus win was definitely a good win for us,” Lake said. “The ‘Holy War’ is always big.”
Home losses to Massabesic (1-0) and Biddeford (4-1) followed.
The Red Riots, who made the playoffs last season and wound up 5-10, opened 2013 with an 8-0 loss at reigning Class A champion Scarborough, then fell at home to powerhouse Thornton Academy (5-0), at Gorham (4-1) and at Westbrook (2-0).
Last year, South Portland eked out a 4-3 win at McAuley. The Lions’ last win over the Red Riots came Oct. 7, 2010 (2-0).
Saturday, the goals came fast and furious before defense took over.
The first good chance came in the 10th minute when Lake fired a long shot on goal, but South Portland junior goalkeeper Emma Russell made the save.
The Lions kept the pressure on and were rewarded with 29:44 remaining in the first half when junior Becca McNamara fed Tartre, who one-timed a blast past Russell and into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
Just 3:31 later, Tartre struck again, this time from freshman Ally Tillitson, on a similar play, this time burying a one-timer while falling to the ground, and McAuley had a 2-0 lead.
“Our teamwork up top was great,” said Tartre. “I just shot the ball hoping it would go in. They were lucky goals.”
“It was pretty awesome,” Lake said. “I told her to just keep shooting.”
Coaches often preach that the worst lead in soccer is 2-0 and the Lions quickly showed why as they allowed South Portland back in the game.
After Tillitson just missed making it 3-0, the Red Riots began to pressure.
With 23:33 left in the half, the hosts’ first good chance came when junior Lillian Larochelle got the ball in front, but she was robbed by McAuley sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Carr (five saves).
With 11:09 remaining before halftime, South Portland broke through as a Larochelle shot forced Carr to make the save, but the rebound sat free and junior Abby Young had an easy tap-in to cut the deficit to 2-1.
A mere 1:57 later, the Red Riots almost drew even as Young fired a 20-yard blast that appeared ticketed for the top of the goal, but Carr made the save.
Then, with 5:20 left in the half, Larochelle crossed the ball to junior Samantha Munson, who was wide open in front and redirected the ball past Carr to tie the game, 2-2.
South Portland wasn’t able to build on its momentum, however, and with 2:30 to go in the half, Tartre struck again.
The goal came on a corner kick, which landed in the box. After Lake couldn’t get anything on a shot, Tartre pounced and completed her hat track to put the Lions ahead for good, 3-2.
“I just kind of went for it,” Tartre said. “I’ve been practicing those and it worked out.”
The Red Riots almost tied the game twice in the final minute of the half, but Carr got to a loose ball in the box a split second before Young and a last second corner kick fell in the box, but did no harm.
South Portland had its chances to tie in the second half, but couldn’t convert.
With 35:34 left in regulation, Munson split two defenders, but her shot was saved by Carr.
Two minutes later, Munson had a great look with Carr out of the goal, but shot just high.
After Tartre just missed on a shot with 30 minutes to play, Young shot wide and senior Shae O’Brien did the same.
McAuley then looked to add to its lead, but on a corner, junior Maddy Wade’s header was saved in diving fashion by Russell and moments later, on another corner (the Lions had an 8-5 edge for the game), Lake got her head on the ball and directed it over Russell, but it bounced on top of the crossbar and went out of bounds.
On yet another McAuley corner kick, South Portland junior Annie Robbins-Sennewald made a defensive save and Russell robbed McNamara on the rebound.
At the other end, the hosts’ last good chance at a tie went by the wayside when a Larochelle cross was snared by a sprawling Carr with 13:04 remaining.
The Red Riots weren’t able to generate another attack and after Lake was just high on a free kick and Russell made her finest save, robbing Wade in front, the Lions ran out the clock and held on for the 3-2 victory.
“This was a big win for us,” Tartre said.
“I think both teams knew that it had to become a defensive game, since it was such an offensive first half,” said Lake. “We needed the midfield to really do all the work, do square passes and stop their transition.”
“I think we did too much ball watching in the first half,” Aceto added. “We corrected that at halftime. We were more balanced in the second half.”
McAuley won by virtue of a team effort, but Lake and Tartre stood out.
“Ayla can really turn it on,” said Aceto. “We wanted her to score three more in the second half. Katherine really controls us. The team follows her.”
South Portland, which got eight saves from Russell, didn’t have coach Andy Pappas on the sidelines. He received a red card in the loss to Westbrook and was forced to miss the game.
South Portland’s slate gets no easier next week, as the Red Riots go to Windham Wednesday and play host to Deering Saturday.
McAuley also has to deal with some heavyweights, as it welcomes Gorham Wednesday and goes to Scarborough Saturday.
“Now that we’re playing against teams more our caliber, we’re taking it up a level,” said Lake. “We made it to playoffs my freshman year. It would be very cool to do it again my senior year. We just need to keep building.”
“Things are going very well,” Aceto said. “We’re progressing to where we want to be. It’s all about development. It’s nice to get back on the winning track. We’ll work on defending Monday and Tuesday. (Gorham will) come at you.”
South Portland senior Shae O’Brien is closely defended by McAuley senior Katherine Lake.
McAuley freshman Claire Reid heads the ball away from South Portland sophomore Hannah Fitzpatrick.
McAuley freshman Ally Tillitson takes a shot while being defended by South Portland junior Clair McHugh.
South Portland junior Aimee LaPlante boots the ball away from McAuley freshman Maddie Beaulieu.
South Portland junior Clair McHugh gets her head on the ball.
McAuley junior Ayla Tartre is congratulated by sophomore Margaret Hatch (17) and freshman Claire Reid following one of her three first half goals in Saturday’s 3-2 win at South Portland.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.