Deering rallies for OT win over Portland
PORTLAND—It was everything a Deering-Portland boys' lacrosse playoff game was supposed to be.
Hard hitting, close throughout and dramatic to the very end.
And when the dust settled amid the raindrops Tuesday evening at Memorial Field, the host Rams had barely enough to survive the Bulldogs in arguably the most memorable Deering-Portland contest to date.
The third-ranked Rams appeared en route to a commanding win when they dominated the first quarter-and-a-half of play, but the sixth-seeded Bulldogs were only down 3-2 at halftime.
Then, in the third period, Portland seemed to assume to control with three unanswered goals, but Deering rallied to tie the game at 5-5 with 8:10 to play.
The Bulldogs went back on top, 6-5, when junior Max Pierter scored his fourth goal of the game with 4:26 to go and Portland clung to the lead inside the final minute, but the Rams would force overtime when senior Matt Flaherty scored for the fourth time with just 15.6 seconds showing.
The game went to overtime and there, Deering senior faceoff specialist Karl Rickett ensured the hosts would get possession. After two Flaherty shots missed the mark, the ball came to junior Rick Murray and with 2:26 left in the first "sudden victory" overtime, his shot was true.
The Rams won the Eastern Class A quarterfinal in stirring fashion, 7-6, in OT, getting three goals and 14 ground balls from Flaherty and 15 wins in 17 faceoff chances from senior Karl Rickett and improved to 8-5, advancing to host Lewiston in Saturday's semifinals, while ending the Bulldogs' year at 6-7.
"It's always fun to be a part of a game like this," said Deering first-year coach Jon Dubois. "It's a great game to coach or be in. This is what you want. We wanted a tight game and to get a test going forward. I think it builds you up and makes you a tougher team."
To the wire
Deering made it to the Eastern A Final last year, which it lost to Lewiston.
The Rams were up-and-down in 2012. They opened with a 4-2 victory over Cheverus. After dropping a 7-4 home decision to Marshwood, Deering beat Portland, 9-5. Wins at Westbrook (9-4) and Bonny Eagle (18-5) followed. After almost upsetting host two-time defending Class A champion Scarborough (falling, 7-6), the Rams dominated visiting Windham, 15-2, but in the victory, Rickett was hurt and he'd miss four games with an injured collarbone. Deering was blanked at defending Class B champion Falmouth, 18-0, bounced back to beat visiting Gorham (15-3) and Greely (8-6), then ended the regular year with losses at Thornton Academy (9-4) and at home to Kennebunk (10-4) to end up 7-5 and third in the Eastern A Heal Points standings.
Portland played in the Class A Final in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Last season, Portland reached the Eastern B semifinals, but lost at Lewiston, 15-6. Graduation the past two years has taken a heavy toll on the program and that combined with a very tough schedule has made life challenging for Portland this year, but the Bulldogs remained competitive even against the best teams.
After opening with a 3-2 home loss to Thornton Academy, Portland rallied to beat visiting Massabesic, 7-5. Next came a 9-5 setback at Deering. A 14-6 victory at Gorham followed, but the Bulldogs then lost to visiting defending Class B champion Falmouth (13-4), at perennial contender Kennebunk (7-6) and at home to two-time reigning Class A champion Scarborough (8-2). Portland got back in the win column at Noble, 14-1, but lost a 9-5 decision at Yarmouth. The Bulldogs closed with wins at home over Cheverus (7-2), at Windham (11-1) and at home over Bonny Eagle (9-2) to earn the sixth seed in Eastern A.
Prior to last spring, Portland had dominated the rivalry (please see sidebar), but Deering had won two in a row against the Bulldogs coming in.
Portland had won all three prior playoff encounters, but this time, the Rams would find a way.
Offensive was scarce in the first period.
Deering junior Billy Farrell almost put his team on top a little over two minutes in, but his shot his the post.
Flaherty scored the lone goal of the first quarter, unassisted with 3:46 to play, to give the Rams a 1-0 advantage.
Rickett loomed large at the start of the second quarter, winning the faceoff and starting a fast break which resulted in a shot that Portland's standout senior goalie Ryan Jurgelevich saved, but the rebound came to sophomore Isaac Santerre and he put the shot home to make it 2-0.
In the regular season meeting, the Bulldogs didn't have an answer for the Rams, but Tuesday, they bounced back.
With exactly six minutes to play in the first half, Portland snapped an 18-minute dry spell and cut its deficit in half as Pierter took a pass from senior Seamus Kilbride and beat Deering senior goalie Nick Martin.
Then, with 2:32 left before halftime, playing short-handed, the Bulldogs tied the score as Pierter took a pass from junior Joe Nielsen and scored to make it 2-2.
The deadlock lasted all of nine seconds as Rickett won the faceoff, Flaherty captured a ground ball, ran in and fed Santerre for a go-ahead goal which made the score 3-2 in favor of Deering at the break.
In the first half, Rickett won six of seven faceoffs, the Rams had a 26-13 advantage on ground balls and Portland committed 18 turnovers, but seven saves from Jurgelevich helped keep the game close.
The Bulldogs then dominated quarter number three.
After struggling on the man-up in the first half, Portland utilized it in the second, drawing even with 7:24 remaining in the third period as sophomore Ben Allen set up Pierter for the tying goal.
With 5:54 showing, again playing man-up, the Bulldogs took their first lead as sophomore Mike Fuller passed to Nielsen, whose shot eluded Martin.
With just 8.3 seconds to go in the stanza, a long desperation clear from Jurgelevich somehow wound up on Nielsen's stick and Nielsen finished to make it 5-3 as Jurgelevich got a rare goalie assist on the play.
"We tried to get more possession time in the third quarter," said Bulldogs coach Eric Begonia. "Our offense is young. We have two juniors and a sophomore on attack. They get big eyes when they see open grass. At halftime, we slowed them down a little back and told them not to force us and that helped."
Yet just when it seemed like Portland had all the momentum, the hosts rallied in the fourth quarter.
Just 1 minute, 23 seconds in, senior Anthony Verville scored unassisted man-up to end a 15:46 drought and make it a 5-4 game.
With 8:10 to go in regulation, Flaherty took a pass from junior Brett Harmon and fired a rocket past Jurgelevich to tie the score.
The Bulldogs retook the lead, 6-5, with 4:26 left as senior Brett O'Kelly threaded a pretty pass to Pierter, who one-timed a shot into the net.
With Jurgelevich in the cage, it appeared Portland might be able to hold on, but Deering never stopped pressuring.
Playing man-up, the Rams had a couple good looks with just over three minutes left, but Flaherty hit the post and Rickett's shot was saved.
With a little over a minute remaining, the Rams got possession again. After Flaherty was twice denied by Jurgelevich, he was finally able to finish.
With just 15.3 seconds to go in the season, Flaherty took a pass from sophomore Bailey Koch and managed to bounce a shot through a screen into the net to tie the score, 6-6.
"Coach drew it up on the chalkboard and it worked out perfectly," Flaherty said. "I was getting pretty nervous, to be honest. We were basically running the same thing all game. It just opened up and I took a shot and it happened to work out."
"Flaherty has a rip of a shot," said Begonia. "We tried to cheat his way because he'll pull the trigger on a slim window. It was just a perfect shot."
Deering almost won the game at the end of regulation.
After Rickett won the faceoff and Verville shot high and wide, the Rams got the ball back to Verville, but his shot with 0.3 seconds left hit the post and it was on to overtime.
In Maine boys' lacrosse, teams play "sudden victory" four-minute sessions until a goal is scored.
Deering got possession as Rickett won yet another faceoff and aimed to finish the contest.
Flaherty hoped to be the hero, but twice shot wide.
Then, Murray took center stage.
With 2:24 to go in the first OT, Koch found Murray open in a slot in the Portland zone and Murray didn't hesitate.
His rocket whistled past Jurgelevich into the net and the Rams rushed on to the field to celebrate the 7-6 win.
"(JV coach Adam Rothbart) drew up the play for us and we just executed it nicely," Murray said. "I got the pass from (Verville). I passed it to (Koch) up top. He faked and passed it right back. I was wide open. The whole defense slid over. That's probably the best shot I've ever taken. It was my only good one of the game. It was my biggest goal. It's extra special to beat Portland."
"Rick finally got his chance today," Flaherty said. "I could tell as soon as he wound up, it was going in. (Portland) was a lot more energetic this game. It was definitely fun. I love playing against Portland. I'm glad we came back."
"We'd been practicing some set-up stuff all week against the zone," added Dubois. "We told the guys to relax and do what we've been practicing. We ran it once to one side, then in overtime to the other side and got the look in the soft spot of the zone we wanted and put it past a phenomenal goaltender. Seven goals on a kid like Jurgelevich in incredible. Going into overtime, we talked about running the same stuff we've been practicing. Finding a soft spot and getting a good open shot on 'Jurgo.' We relaxed and made a couple passes and got the shot off. We executed. We found a couple pockets on the side of the zone. It's tough to get anything in the middle or up top."
Flaherty paced Deering's offense with three goals. Santerre added two. Verville had one, as did Murray, which proved to be the biggest of all. Koch had two assists, Flaherty and Harmon one each. Martin made nine saves.
Then there was Rickett, the All-American, who once again played at another level. After winning 14 of 18 faceoffs in the regular season meeting, he did even better Tuesday despite not being 100 percent, winning 15 out of 17.
"Karl's one of the best faceoff guys in the state," Murray said. "I'm really glad to have him on our team. He's an All-American. He helps out a lot."
"It's really nice to have Karl back," Dubois said. "We lost him for four games and went 2-2 without him. He's such a difference maker. He just makes a difference in the middle of the field. He plays at a level that only few kids around here play at."
"I was a little rusty," Rickett said. "I didn't get as many fastbreaks as last time. It's been three weeks since I've been out with a collarbone/sternum issue. It was separated a little bit. It was tough. It's hard watching. It's good getting back with the guys again. It's a little cherry on top. It helps because (Portland's) our crosstown rivals. To beat them in a game like this is something else. They put up a little bit of a fight. It was definitely nervewracking. We worked the ball around. Seeing Rick score was great."
The Rams had a commanding edge in ground balls, 51-29. Flaherty seemingly came up with every contested ground ball, finishing with 14 total. Rickett had eight.
Deering committed 27 turnovers, most of which came in the second half. The Rams did have a 51-24 shots advantage (22-15 on cage).
Deering's unheralded defense was solid throughout.
"We have individual defensive practice every day," Dubois said. "I personally go down and work with the defense every day. I feel like you can win a lot of games keeping teams off the scoreboard. You don't have to score a dozen goals to win as long as you play good position defense."
For Portland, Pierter sparkled with four goals. Nielsen added two. Allen, Fuller, Jurgelevich, Kilbride, Nielsen and O'Kelly had assists.
Jurgelevich ended his stellar high school career with 15 saves.
"I think he's the best goalie in the state," Begonia said. "He's been a competitive goalie for years now. He was a leader on our team. He stood on his head today."
"'Jurgo's' one of the best goalies we've gone against," Murray said. "He'll get anything high. He'll save it with his shaft. He'll save it with his face. He doesn't care."
Senior Zack Lane went 2 of 16 on faceoffs, while Allen finished 0 for 1.
"We knew (Deering would) dominate in that area," said Begonia. "We didn't have a matchup for that."
Kilbride led the Bulldogs with six ground balls. Portland turned the ball over 31 times.
"In overtime, you have to get possession, it's that simple," Begonia said. "You have to have that one good possession and they got it. They switched it up and put a strong lefty shot in. I saw it and tried to get our defense to adjust. We were so focused on the right-hand side where they attacked all game-long. They did a good job.
"Our guys did a great job. I'm proud of them. Our defense was steadfast, we just didn't put the ball in the net enough times. It was two great defenses. We caused turnovers and they caused turnovers. I felt like we could have gone a couple more steps. This game could've gone either way. I can't take anything away from my guys. It was an overtime game. Someone had to win. Someone had to lose."
Portland finished a challenging season 6-7. The Bulldogs, as usual, graduate a ton of talent, but will return several key contributors. The biggest loss, however, will be Begonia, who is stepping down after winning 108 games, three regional titles and the 2009 Class A state championship.
"It's tough to go out like this," Begonia said. "We have a lot of young guys, but we lose a lot too. It's been a good ride. We've made playoffs for 10 years. For me, the family pull is overwhelming and more important. You see all these young guys. They'll try to come back and do it next year, but it's my last one and it's tough."
Dubois tipped his cap to his counterpart.
"In the past decade, Portland is one of those programs you look at and say I'd love to have my team be like that," Dubois said. "They've had kids come through there who have become phenomenal lacrosse players and part of that is Eric's coaching. Three state championship appearances. They got a ring in 2009. He knows the game and has a huge passion for the game. The kids have always responded to him. He gets it done. I hope some day to be on the same level as him."
See you Saturday
Deering, meanwhile, got a big gift from nemesis Lewiston, the No. 7 seed, which upset second-ranked Mt. Ararat Tuesday. That result means the Rams will host the 7-6 Blue Devils in Saturday's semifinals. Game time is 10 a.m.
The teams didn't meet this year and Deering will be eager to avenge playoff losses from the past two seasons (Lewiston won at the Rams, 3-0, in the 2010 quarterfinals and 9-5 at home over Deering in last year's Eastern A Final).
"We need to pick up the intensity and stay out of the box next game and we should be good," said Flaherty.
"It will be great to play Lewiston," said Rickett. We've lost to them the past couple years and they were close games. It'll be a little change of pace. It'll be great to get a little revenge. We have to stay out of the penalty box and we'll have to make smart decisions."
"I really think the best thing is that we'll be on turf," Dubois added. "We can eliminate the footing. Any time there's bad footing it's an equalizer. The kids at the beginning of the season hoped it would come down to a Lewiston game. It's a game the kids will get up for. We have momentum and will play with emotion. It makes for great lacrosse. I hope the kids come out and play a great game."