Deering, Portland split soccer twinbill
PORTLAND—Ancient rivals Deering and Portland, the Athens and Sparta of the Maine high school sports landscape, renewed acquaintances on the soccer pitch Thursday night where city fans got two games for the price of one.
In the opener, the resurgent Bulldogs girls got an early break and made a 1-0 lead hold up for nearly 63 minutes before Rams junior standout Alexis Elowitch came to life. Elowitch tied the game on a header off a corner kick, then set up classmate Cole Spike for the go-ahead tally and sophomore Meaghan Wells for the clincher as Deering improved to 3-0, dropping Portland to 1-2.
In the nightcap, featuring the boys' teams, Bulldogs senior Tim Rovnak proved to be the best player on the field, pouncing on a Rams' mistake and finishing for a first half goal, then icing the contest with a header off a corner kick in the 72nd minute to give Portland a 2-0 victory, allowing the Bulldogs to balance their record at 1-1, dropping Deering to 0-1-1 in the process.
It was quite a night. One that featured stars of the present and the future, as throngs of boy and girl PAYSA members looked on, eager for their opportunity to one day be in the spotlight.
Try, try again
Both city girls' teams have enjoyed success over the years, but the past few seasons have seen Deering eclipse Portland.
The Rams (who wound up 7-7-2 in 2011 after losing on PKs to Cape Elizabeth in the quarterfinals) blanked visiting Massabesic (2-0) and Westbrook (4-0) in their initial outings this season.
The Bulldogs opened with a 3-0 home loss to preseason favorite Windham, then snapped an 18-game winless streak with a 4-1 triumph at Noble Wednesday.
Deering took last year's meeting, 1-0, continuing a trend which has seen most encounters come down to the wire (please see sidebar).
Thursday, the Rams made it four straight over the Bulldogs, but it didn't come easily.
In a sign of frustration to come, Elowitch twice had good looks sail over the crossbar in the first five minutes.
Then, with 26:05 to play in the 40-minute first half, Portland grabbed an unexpected lead when senior Sophie Hulbert got to a loose ball that Deering junior goalkeeper Lee Ann Downs couldn't handle and tapped it toward the goal. From the Bulldogs' perspective, it seemed to take forever to cross the line, but the ball eventually tickled the twine for a 1-0 lead.
"It was a bit of a scramble in the box," said Portland first-year coach Arthur Mosen. "Sophie scored it. She was very persistent and stabbed it across the line. It was a big lift and gave us a nice platform to defend."
"That was a fluke goal," said Rams coach Kevin Olson. "Lee Ann came out. She had it, but it just popped loose. Portland came out with intensity. They won the 50-50s in the first half."
In the 27th minute, Elowitch set up junior Edie Pallozzi for a shot that Bulldogs senior goalkeeper Mishale Nabi managed to barely tip out of bounds, setting up a corner kick. Deering wasn't able to capitalize, however, and at halftime, still trailed, 1-0.
The second half was all Rams, but for over 20 minutes, the hosts appeared doomed for a disappointing result.
In just over three minutes, an Elowitch cross trickled untouched through the box, a lofting shot from Spike was punched away from Nabi, a low shot by freshman Simone Lauture was denied by Nabi and a low shot by Elowitch went just wide.
When all appeared lost, however, Deering erupted and not just tied the game, but scored three times in a 9 minute, 15 second span to earn the win.
With 17:06 to go, Elowitch wouldn't be denied. On a corner kick, senior Samantha Sivovlos lofted a perfect ball in front of the goal, where Elowitch skied to head it home.
"When I see Sam line up, I see where the defenders are, I find a hole and I know Sam will put it exactly where I want it," said Elowitch. "I time my run and I have to keep my eye on the ball. I can't look at anything else. If I keep my eye on the ball, I know I can redirect it and put it in the net and I did it today. It was a great relief. That gave me so much more energy. It was frustrating, but we had to keep fighting, keep pressuring. We knew it was going to come."
"Set pieces are part of our game," Olson said. "Alexis has been great being able to serve the ball, being able to finish the ball. She attracts a lot of attention. She trusts the support players."
Mosen felt that the defense effort on Elowitch was excellent, but that her individual skill and will made the difference.
"The plan with Alexis was to man-mark her if she played up front," Mosen said. "(Junior) Elizabeth Harris did a fantastic job tonight. We hoped to get a grip on her. When she plays a ball out of the air, she's really tough to defend. She punished us."
Just as quickly as public address announcer Ken Levinsky was able to announce the goal, the hosts struck again to take the lead.
This time, Elowitch set it up with a pretty pass from the wing in front to Spike, who fired a shot past Nabi to make it 2-1 Deering.
"That (the Bulldogs) were ahead pushed us," said Spike. "(Alexis') goal was an amazing icebreaker. When I'm in front of the net, to try to get a head on it, I try to imagine it's me and the ball. If it comes anywhere near me, it doesn't matter who's in front of me, who's behind me, I just try to knock it in."
After Pallozzi's header just missed in the 68th minute, Wells delivered the coup de grace with 7:51 showing. Elowitch drew the defense to the wing and passed the ball to the far post where Wells finished to make it 3-1.
"When I got the ball on the wings, I knew there would be people in the middle to finish," Elowitch said. "I tried to get the ball as close as I could and we scored two off the crosses."
"When you play a more defensive style, that's when things happen for the other team, so we stuck with our game plan and kept pushing it and it worked out well," said Olson.
The Rams ran out the clock from there and celebrated their hard-earned triumph.
"I was a little bit nervous, but we had to want it more," Spike said. "I think it showed in the second half. Alexis had a nice finish to pave the way. We knocked a few more in. I'm ecstatic. I think it was heart and determination to prove ourselves. We started 2-0 with a clean sheet and wanted to keep it that way. I think the key to the game was we kept our heads up. We know what we're capable of. The past couple years, we've had a really good team, but we weren't always able to stay in the game. If we have that mental capacity, I think this will be the year we can execute."
"We have a lot of history with Portland," said Elowitch. "It's always a close game. No matter how good the other team is, you have to win the city. No matter how a game's going, you can't let up. We had to fight, keep playing our game and finish strong and I think we did that today. It was a huge mental game. Both teams are very skilled and competitive. It was which team could keep their head in the game and fight until the end. We got tired and fatigued, but we had the drive at the end."
"It came down to our adjustments at halftime," Olson added. "We had to keep our composure and talk. The girls had to adjust. They executed better. They stayed more composed and possessed better. There's no panic with this group. We know what we're capable of. At halftime, I said, 'Listen. This is a true test for us. We made adjustments the first two games. Now we're down. Now we need to fight back and play with heart.' They did. As a coach, I can't show panic. If I show panic, they panic. We had to keep or composure. I learned what we're made of. They showed me they don't stop playing and they play with heart. They wanted it."
Portland, which is vastly improved and played valiantly, was pleased with its effort.
"We had a gameplan and we stuck with it," said Mosen. "It worked for 65 minutes or so. It's definitely something to build on. Not many people expected we'd give Deering that big of a test today. It's fair to say things are going in the right direction. The girls have a lot to prove this season. A lot are new. Everybody's really sticking together to make sure we reach our goal of a playoff spot. We hope to get there at the end."
The Bulldogs return to the pitch Wednesday when they go to two-time reigning Western A champion Scarborough.
"We have a tough week, but we've mapped out our season," said Mosen. "We know we'll face teams that are very good. It's important we stay tight as a group. I told the girls not to take it too hard when we play good teams. We want to be competitive. I'm having a lot of fun. It's a good group. A young group that's eager to get out there and show everyone what they can do. We have some solid freshmen and sophomore players. It's a great spot to build from."
The Rams return to action Wednesday at powerhouse Gorham.
"We have a long way to go," Elowitch said. "Portland's behind us. Now, it's Gorham. We're both Rams. Gorham's a fantastic team. It'll be a great game. We have to bring it from the beginning and play all 80 minutes."
"It'll be our first game away, on grass, on a more narrow field," said Olson. "It'll be interesting. They have a strong D and a goal scorer. It will be a good test for us."
The boys' game didn't produce quite as much drama, but the intensity was evident.
Deering, which got back to the playoffs a season ago, after a three-year absence, finishing 6-8-1 after falling to Cheverus in the preliminary round, opened with a scoreless tie at Massabesic in a game in which it carried play. Tuesday's contest at Westbrook was rained out and rescheduled for Monday.
Portland wound up 10-3-2 last fall after being upset by Cheverus in the quarterfinals. Its first outing this season resulted in a 3-0 home loss to Noble.
The Bulldogs had gone 3-0-1 the previous four years versus Deering (please see sidebar) and would triumph again.
Chances were few in the first half, but Portland seized control of its best opportunity.
With 17:17 remaining before the break, Deering wasn't able to clear the ball and Rovnak corralled it and fired a shot past Rams sophomore goalkeeper Anthony Russo for a 1-0 lead.
"I just got a through ball and I was able to finish it," Rovnak said.
"We tried to move (Timmy) around tonight," said Portland coach Rocky Frenzilli. "(Assistant coach) Bobby Brittingham said to him tonight, 'Write your history in this rivalry.' Obviously, these guys know each other. Timmy came up big. He's just a natural leader. There's no quit in him. He's a great young man."
"We were ball watching," lamented Deering coach Joel Costigan. "We had a defender on the ball, looking for other people to play the ball. Two Portland players wanted to play it. We continue to have hesitation in the 18. Tim is aggressive, athletic and has the mindset to win a ball. Two years in a row he's done that and capitalized. We need that on our team."
Early in the second half, the Rams' best look to equalize came from Portland as the ball trickled off a defender and appeared headed for an own goal before Bulldogs senior goalkeeper Chip Weber ran it down just in time.
The tenor of the contest changed with 21:18 to go when Deering sophomore standout Stephen Ochan had to leave the game with a leg injury after a collision (he didn't return).
"(Stephen's) the best player on the field most of the time," Costigan said. "He's going to be involved in every play, so he'll have more contact in general. He's a very tough kid so he won't tell me he's hurt. If he hobbles off the field, I know he's hurt."
Coincidentally or not, Portland capitalized and with 8:56 to play, added a pivotal second goal.
It came on a corner kick as freshman Sam Farr floated a ball into the box. Rovnak went up and got it and headed it past Russo for a 2-0 advantage.
"We try to get the ball in the box and get a head on it and we were able to do that tonight," Rovnak said. "I got some separation and banged it in the back of the net."
"We decided at the beginning of the year that anything inside the 50, we'd let Sam take," Frenzilli said. "He's becoming very good with the ball. When he can put balls out there for our big guys to go after them, it's nice to have. You want to take advantage of our dead ball situations and he's done that for us. He keeps it under control. That corner he put it in for Timmy was needed at that point. I didn't know about (a 1-0 lead), but 2-0 made me feel good."
The Rams had no answer and the Bulldogs were able to celebrate the victory.
"It doesn't get much better," said Rovnak. "Two great teams. It's bragging rights. You have to love it. This gives us a lot of confidence going forward."
"The boys came out ready to play," said Frenzilli. "Joel had his kids ready to play. It's always a great rivalry. I'm really happy for the boys. They stuck together and played really, really well. The kids are young and growing. I'm just happy they had an opportunity to play in an atmosphere like this and get a win. They deserved it. I'm pleased the way we're building our own character and identity. We have two players back and 19 around them. They're starting to step up. I'm glad they had a chance to believe they could win. I have young kids. They're nice and fresh. They love the game and they're great to be around. It makes for a nice Friday practice after a Thursday night like this."
Portland's defense really stood out.
"We knew (senior Abdi) Hassan scored goals on the outside and we didn't do anything special on (Ochan)," Frenzilli said. "He's a great player who can make things happen. When he had the ball, we were going to delay him and force him to place balls that weren't positive for them. That worked out well. I thought (Junior) Charlie Gauvin at sweeper stepped up big. (Junior) Liban (Hassan) played well at stopper. (Sophomore) Connor (Bruce) gave us good work on the right side and (freshman Oliver Brochu) played well on the left. We didn't sub much on our back four. We didn't sub much at all. We brought (junior Ek Bakunda) back to play defensive mid. That solidified us a little bit. We were able to move (junior) Steve Barry and (sophomore) Haron (Habibzai) out a little bit. We had Sammy up top and good guys outside. Chip directed his defense all night with precision and made important saves throughout the game."
Deering showed glimpses at times, but the Rams wound up frustrated.
"While it's disappointing, it wasn't any surprise how (Portland) played," Costigan said. "We planned appropriately. We can still use this as momentum and motivation. Our struggles continue to be balls in the box and scoring goals. We dominated the midfield. Most games are won through that. Our defense is great. I think it's one of the best in the league. We don't get blown out. We have to figure out scoring goals and defending in the box. We see our potential, which is the frustrating part. We know we can go deep in the playoffs. It's our year to make what we will of it. We're a deep team."
The Rams return to the field Monday against dangerous Gorham.
The Bulldogs are back in action Tuesday when they host powerhouse Scarborough.
"We still have work to do," Rovnak said. "The next two are going to be tough. We're up for the challenge. Hopefully, we come away with some (Heal) Points. It's definitely a work in progress. The new guys are showing maturity. Most of them, this was their second varsity game and they're doing a great job."