Scarborough holds off Cheverus for third straight title
PORTLAND—There's something about the state championship game that brings out the best in Ryan Pallotta.
One year after scoring the clinching goal on the biggest stage in his first ever start, Pallotta, a senior, upped the ante and helped the Scarborough boys' lacrosse team repeat as Class A state champions Saturday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Pallotta's first period goal put the Red Storm ahead to stay and even though first-time finalist Cheverus hung tough, Pallotta and his teammates wouldn't be denied.
Two Pallotta goals late in the third period helped Scarborough open it up for good and his fifth tally of the game, which gave him a career high, helped ice matters in the fourth quarter as Scarborough went on to a 9-4 victory.
Junior standout John Wheeler added two goals, junior goalie David Pearson had 16 saves, many of the spectacular variety, and the Red Storm's defense was staunch throughout as it finished the season 14-1, ended the Stags' run at 11-5 and made it three straight championships and five since the sport went to two classes in 2006.
"Being a senior this year, I knew I had to spark the team and do what I can," Pallotta said. "This was definitely the game. I've been pushing myself to get to five. Everyone worked hard."
Cheverus coach Deke Andrew (who's been aided mightily in recent seasons by highly respected assistant Jason Hurley) has been as instrumental in promoting the sport of lacrosse in Maine as anyone, but despite having competitive teams, Andrew and the Stags hadn't been able to reach a state final.
After falling short of the playoffs last spring, Cheverus hit its stride this season, overcoming an opening loss at Deering to go 8-4 (see sidebar), good for the No. 4 seed in Eastern Class A.
The Stags had little trouble with No. 5 Messalonskee in the quarterfinals, 9-2, then earned arguably the biggest win in their history with a 9-8 overtime upset win at Brunswick in the semis. Wednesday, Cheverus avenged a regular season loss with a 4-2 victory at Deering to move on to the state final.
Scarborough, meanwhile, was the unquestioned favorite in Western A and didn't disappoint, losing just once (by a goal to Class B contender Yarmouth) in the regular season to earn the top seed in the region.
After a quarterfinal round bye, the Red Storm dispatched Thornton Academy (7-1) in the semifinals and Kennebunk (6-3) in the regional final.
The teams didn't play in the regular season and had squared off just once previously in the postseason, a 12-1 Scarborough victory in the 2009 quarterfinals.
They last met April 23, 2011, a 4-1 win for the Red Storm at Cheverus.
Saturday, the Stags made Scarborough work for it, but the defending and soon-to-be champions controlled the second half and sealed the deal.
Cheverus came out confident and scored the game's first goal with 9:56 to play in the first quarter when junior Brent Green took a pass from senior captain Spencer Amberson and beat Pearson.
The Red Storm drew even 37 seconds later when senior Jon Blaisdell took a pass from classmate Andrew Jones and shot past Stags' senior goalie Colm Pusey.
The Stags threatened to go back on top, but Amberson hit the post and Pearson made the first of his many impressive saves, denying junior Warren Murray.
Then, with 2:30 remaining in the first, Pallotta scored unassisted to make it 2-1 Scarborough.
Pearson kept it that way when he robbed Cheverus senior Cam Olson 24 seconds later.
After both senior Luke Erwin and junior Dalton Finley had shots denied by Pusey, the Red Storm almost took a 3-1 lead at the horn, but Wheeler's shot (after a nice pass from Finley) was ruled to have gone in too late and the score remained 2-1.
After Pearson preserved the lead by denying Amberson with Scarborough playing man-down, the Red Storm took a 3-1 advantage on a crafty bounce shot by Wheeler through a screen that Pusey couldn't stop.
With 3:08 left before halftime, Cheverus ended an 18 minute, 48 second scoring drought when senior Tommy Sullivan finished unassisted after a turnover, but at the 1:05 mark, Pallotta, while fighting off a defender, managed to shoot and score.
Scarborough almost made it 5-2, but junior Jurien Garrison hit the post with 14.2 seconds left.
The Stags then transitioned and as time expired (actually with 0.5 seconds officially to go), freshman sensation Tom Lawson finished a pass from senior captain Colie Walsh and it was 4-3.
The last-second goal could have turned momentum, but the Red Storm immediate focused on shaking it off.
"The defense had to come together and make sure of our slides," Pearson said. "We couldn't let that get to us. It was a fastbreak goal. We couldn't let it happen again."
"Things will happen in big games like this that you can't control," Scarborough coach Joe Hezlep said. "We lost one in the first quarter and they gave them that one. It was tough. We talk about making the next play. We gave up a play, now who's going to make the next play? That we held them for most of the rest of the game without scoring showed the kids believed in that."
In the first half, Cheverus had an advantage in faceoffs, ground balls and shots, but Pearson's eight saves prevented the Stags from taking the lead.
By the end of the third period, the Red Storm had the game completely in hand.
Seconds after his shot was saved by Pusey, Wheeler utilized a spin move to shake a defender and scored at the 10:27 mark for a 5-3 lead.
Then, it was Pearson time.
Seventeen seconds later, sophomore Jack Sutton was robbed by the goalie.
At the 8:40 mark, Walsh had his bid turned away.
With 6:52 remaining in the third, Sutton was again denied.
Pusey then made a save at the 5:25 mark, denying Pallotta on the doorstep, but it was a costly stop as he was hit in a most delicate spot, forcing a stop in play and ultimately a timeout so he could remain in the contest.
"He took it for the team on that one," Andrew said. "We had to use a timeout, unfortunately, but he was right back in there."
The final 65 seconds of the quarter put Scarborough over the top.
First, Pallotta scored in transition to make it 6-3.
Then, with 33.4 seconds left, Blaisdell found Pallotta in transition and he finished again and just like that a two-goal lead had mushroomed to four entering the final stanza.
"Those couple goals got in their heads and they started to deteriorate a little bit," Pallotta said. "We took the open looks and kept going."
"We had some chances in the first and second quarters to really bury it, it was just a matter of finishing," Jones said. "We had some huge goals from Pallotta. We knew we could wear them down. It was just a matter of time."
Cheverus not only had been flustered by Pearson in the quarter, but had turned the ball over nine times.
"(Scarborough) put pressure on us," Andrew said. "The guys received the ball with sticks on their hands and that made it difficult to make catches. That's their bread and butter. They make you make mistakes, but there were also plenty of balls we could have caught."
The Red Storm made it official in quarter number four.
After Sutton had been robbed again by Pearson at one end, Scarborough took an 8-3 lead when Pallotta took a pass from Blaisdell and finished at 9:03. It gave him a career high five goals in a game (one better than in a victory at Kennebunk earlier in the season).
If that wasn't enough, Pallotta assisted on the next tally, as sophomore Cam Loiselle beat Pusey to make it 9-3 with 7:52 to go.
The Stags got one goal back with 6:32 remaining when, playing two men-up, Sutton finally managed to beat Pearson after taking a pass from Murray.
One final big save from Pearson, off a Sutton bid with 2:01 to play, served as a fitting punctuation mark and Scarborough soon was able to celebrate its 9-4 triumph.
"We've been working all season for this, I couldn't be happier," said Jones, who will play soccer at Bowdoin College next year. "We had some holes to fill, but we had kids step up all year. We go into the season and play tough Class B schools. That prepares for us for the best Class A has the best to offer. (That loss to Yarmouth) helped the egos calm down a little bit. It's been great. So many new faces and so many old faces. Everyone steps up. It's a great system. Coach knows how to coach athletes and put schemes in and make it work for everyone."
"You can't differentiate (between championships)," said Hezlep. "Every one is unique and every one is special. We always say that we don't feel like we're defending anything. No one's taking away the trophies we have. We have to go out and earn everything. Our kids have done a great job going out and continuing to do that. We got better every day. We had new guys playing a lot of new roles. We played a different style this year. The guys bought into getting better every day. Not being the best on April 15, but being the best June 15. They really believed it and worked at it and it showed at the end."
Pallotta single-handedly outscored Cheverus with his five goals.
"If we played 15 state championship games a year, he'd be all world," Hezlep said. "Last year, he came out in his first start ever and had a huge game. This year, what can you say? It's nice to see a senior step up and shine in a game like this."
Wheeler was held somewhat in check, but both of his goals were dazzling. Blaisdell and Loiselle each had one goal.
Blaisdell finished his outstanding run in red and white with two assists. Jones and Pallotta each had one.
Pearson wasn't selected to the All-Conference team this spring, but might have proved he was the state's best goalie with his 16-save performance.
"My defense gave me opportunities to see shots," Pearson said. "I just did my job and made saves. I expected a good game. They're a strong team. We hadn't played them. It was nice to play a new opponent. It's just hard work from the preseason on that got us here. A lot of kids work hard in the offseason and get better every day. We just come out and play as hard as we can and leave it all on the field."
"I get told often that (David's) good because our defense is good, but they get out and pressure the ball so much that he makes us look good often," Hezlep said. "I don't think he gets the credit he deserves."
The defense was pretty impressive too.
"We keyed in on a few players, Sutton and Lawson and Olson's a beast," said Jones. "We had to match speed. We go in with a defensive scheme every game where we have to lock off and know where our slides are coming from."
"For us, the game plan was for them to make their other players beat us," said Hezlep. "We knew Sullivan was a beast in the midfield and on offense. We knew we had to stop him. I thought we did a good job on Sutton and Lawson and Olson. We stopped them from making a dent. I don't feel like we had a hole in any of the 10 spots on the field. I think we had kids play solid at every position."
Scarborough struggled mightily in the faceoff circle, only winning 4 of 16, but the Red Storm had 50 ground balls (paced by sophomore Brendon Smith's eight and Jones' seven).
Scarborough committed 29 turnovers.
Start of something big
For Cheverus, Green, Lawson, Sullivan and Sutton did the goal scoring. Amberson, Murray and Walsh all had assists. Pusey stopped 10 shots. Sullivan won 7 of 10 faceoffs, Sutton 5 of 6.
The Stags had a 55-50 advantage in ground balls, as Walsh led the way with seven. Amberson, Sullivan and Sutton all had six.
Cheverus outshot Scarborough, 35-34 (20-19 on cage), but was hindered mightily by 33 turnovers.
"We came out strong," said Andrew. "We had a lot of scoring opportunities in the first and second quarters, but it didn't fall. Then, they started to take advantage of us in transition. They got a little bit of a run going and we couldn't shut it down. The guys weren't nervous. We came out loose, ready to play. We just made costly mistakes. I didn't expect this at all. I felt like it would be a close game to the end. When they got a four-goal separation, we just tried to keep going and stay positive."
Despite falling short Saturday, the Stags had a season to remember, one that exceeded the hopes of virtually everyone.
"Honestly, I thought from the beginning, we had a good team," Andrew said. "When you mix young and old, with freshmen and sophomores on offense and juniors and seniors on defense, it takes awhile to come together. It just grew and got better and better all year. We didn't made the playoffs last year and the program got to a place we'd never been. It's tough to get to this point and come up short like this."
While Cheverus parts ways with some key accomplished seniors, the roster is bursting with talented underclassmen who already have a state championship appearance under their belts. Look for the Stags to be back in this game soon.
"The future's bright," Andrew said. "Offensively, we have a freshman that put up 40 goals. He's outstanding. We have a sophomore's who takes a lot of shots and scores at the midfield. We're in a position we've never been in before. We can actually have players hurt and still be fine. We've never had that kind of depth. That's a pleasure."
One more for four?
Scarborough is losing 14 seniors to graduating, but as always, this program has talent returning and newcomers primed to make a mark. The Red Storm will certainly be tested in 2013, but there's a good chance next June will see yet another Scarborough coronation.
"Next year, we look great," Pearson said. "We have a great freshman group coming up. We have a great group returning. Hopefully we'll be here again next year."
"The seniors have done a great job setting an example," said Hezlep. "They come to practice and work hard. The underclassmen see that and that's what they'll do next year when it's their turn. We have a lot of kids you haven't seen yet. You'll be surprised."