South Portland staggers Yarmouth for signature win
YARMOUTH—For seven minutes Friday evening, the South Portland boys' lacrosse team appeared overwhelmed by the moment when it faced its biggest test to date, on the hallowed turf of the Yarmouth Clippers.
Then, the Red Riots flipped a switch and put on a show.
And showed why they might just be the very best team in the state of Maine.
Regardless of class.
Yarmouth roared out of the gate and shot to a 3-0 lead, hinting at a third straight blowout of South Portland, but after Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini called timeout to stem the tide, South Portland put on a show for the ages.
One which produced 10 straight goals.
South Portland senior standout Duncan Preston got the rally started and classmate Thomas Leddy, who has been a veritable scoring machine this spring, took the mantle from there, scoring five first half goals, including one with just under a second to go, to put the Red Riots firmly in command, up, 8-3, at halftime.
Two more Red Riots goals in third quarter seemingly put the game out of reach, but to their credit, the Clippers never quit and after snapping a nearly 29-minute scoring drought, the hosts got as close as three goals late.
South Portland wasn't about to spoil its own party, however, and slammed the door on the biggest road win in program history, 10-7.
Leddy led the way with five goals, sophomore Jack Fiorini added three and Preston scored twice as the Red Riots improved to 7-0, dropping Yarmouth to 5-2 in the process.
"It's a big feather in this program's cap," said Tom Fiorini. "I'm really proud of these kids. I think it's fair to say it's our biggest road win. It's the first time we've beaten Yarmouth. Yarmouth is a storied program. It was a program test, not a midseason test. This is an exciting day for us."
South Portland pummeled host Biddeford, 19-1, in its opener, then outscored visiting Cheverus, 15-10. The Red Riots dominated visiting Marshwood (18-4) and host Westbrook (21-4, behind 10 goals from Leddy), avenged last year's playoff loss with a 14-9 home win over Kennebunk, then earned an impressive 12-6 home victory over Thornton Academy Tuesday.
Yarmouth opened by knocking off host York, 16-6, then lost at home to Cape Elizabeth, 10-6, before winning at Greely (9-5), at home over Lake Region (21-1), at Brunswick (in a 7-6 thriller Monday night) and at North Yarmouth Academy (10-0) Tuesday.
The teams had met just twice before, with the Clippers winning decisively both times: 12-2 in Yarmouth two years and 15-4 last spring in South Portland.
Friday, the Clippers looked like they were primed for another easy win, but the Red Riots then erupted and caused those on hand to simply marvel.
Early on, the two goalies held serve, as South Portland's junior standout, T-Moe Hellier, robbed Yarmouth senior Max Watson and Clippers junior Connor Hoehle denied Preston, but with 9:44 to play in the first half, Watson dodged a defender and broke in to score and make it 1-0.
A little over a minute later, senior Brady Neujahr scored unassisted and when junior Brendan Dioli scored an unassisted goal with 7:18 to play in the first quarter, it looked like Yarmouth was going to roll and Fiorini, smartly, called timeout to regroup his charges.
It worked like a charm.
After Hellier kept the deficit at three with a save of a Watson shot, the South Portland offensive juggernaut finally got going.
With 4:58 to play in the first, Preston scored unassisted and the Red Riots were on their way.
"I hit the goalie a few times, which isn't usually like me," said Preston. "Once I put it in the back of the net once, I kept going. Last time I came here, I was a sophomore and we lost badly. Last year, they came to South Portland and beat us, 15-4. They're a really strong program. Coming here tonight was a different feeling. We knew we couldn't let them build a bigger lead. We switched up our defense and our offense clicked like it always does. Once we started going, there was no stopping us. Coach let us know we were down last year, 6-0, to Scarborough (a game the Red Riots would come to tie before losing by a goal late) and if we could come back from that, we could come back from this."
After Hellier denied freshman Bill Jacobs on the defensive end, South Portland transitioned and junior Chris Mitchell set up Leddy with a gorgeous pass and Leddy tickled the twine to pull his team within a goal.
"We noticed they were trying to ride our guys up and get one-on-one shots," Fiorini said. "On defense, they weren't sliding really. We made an adjustment and it made a difference. We talked in that timeout about digging in on defense and letting defense and ground balls win the game for us and letting the offense take care of itself. The kids refused to give up. They rose to the occasion and they stepped up."
Hellier made one more big save in the first, robbing senior Isaak Dearden on the doorstep, and the Red Riots, despite their slow start, trailed by only one entering the second quarter.
There, South Portland not only completed its comeback and took the lead, but opened up a comfortable margin.
The tying tally came just 62 seconds in, when senior Ben Bilderback set up Jack Fiorini, who beat Hoehle to make it 3-3.
Then, with 10:17 to go before halftime, Red Riots junior Andrew Whipple set up shop behind the net, waited, then hit Leddy in front with a pretty pass and Leddy finished to put South Portland ahead for good.
"We woke up and realized we needed to start to doing our thing quickly and efficiently," Leddy said. "We won the faceoffs, controlled the ball and played our game. The middies do a great game looking. Credit to the middies."
The Red Riots were only getting started.
With 9:49 to play, Jack Fiorini scored unassisted and Yarmouth coach David Pearl called timeout.
It didn't have the same effectiveness as Tom Fiorini's timeout early in the game.
With 7:24 left in the half, Leddy took a pass from Mitchell, then converted a highlight reel, behind-the-back flick, which got past Hoehle to make the score 6-3.
After Bilderback hti the crossbar, Leddy (from Whipple) scored with 13.7 seconds showing to make it 7-3 South Portland.
Virtually everyone on hand thought that would be the halftime score, but the Red Riots were playing at such a high level, they felt they had one more goal in them.
And they were right.
Preston won the faceoff, the ball came to Fiorini, who passed to Leddy out front and Leddy's shot eluded Hoehle with only 0.9 seconds to go and the Red Riots had all the momentum going into the break, up, 8-3.
"I was definitely in the clouds after that," said Leddy. "It's great to score a goal like that and doing it myself was great. I love doing stuff like that for my team."
"That was awesome," said Preston. "There were 13.7 seconds left when I went out for the faceoff. Everyone said, 'Let's get one more.' They made a nice play on my stick, but luckily, the ball went right to Jack and Jack fed Thomas and Thomas put it right in. He's good at that."
"The thing about our offense is that we don't rely on one person to do anything," Tom Fiorini added. "It's a team offense. It's about moving the ball and finding the open man. Creating space, letting the slide come, keeping your head up and finding the open guy. Any of these guys can finish. They all work hard and spend extra time."
Yarmouth, for several reasons, was stunned.
"Any one goal can happen for a variety of reasons," Pearl said. "That goal hurt, but I think more importantly, we had to change the whole way we approached defense. What we talked about at halftime was that almost all of their goals were assisted and that was really beautiful lacrosse. When you have assisted goals, you have team play. That shows they communicate well and play well together."
Not surprisingly, South Portland had an edge in faceoffs (7-5), ground balls (17-16) and shots (21-12) in the first half, as Yarmouth was held scoreless the final 19 minutes, 18 seconds.
It would take nearly 10 minutes more for the Clippers to finally score and by then, the Red Riots had opened up a seven-goal advantage.
Yarmouth did try to answer out of the break, but Watson's shot was saved by Hellier.
With 9:04 left in the third quarter, Bilderback set up Preston for a goal.
With 5:58 remaining, Fiorini, from senior Jordan Susi, following a turnover, finished and the lead was up to a touchdown, 10-3.
Little did anyone suspect South Portland wouldn't score again, but the Red Riots wouldn't need to.
Finally, with 2:26 left in the third, Dioli set up Neujahr for a goal which ended a 28 minute, 52 second drought and South Portland's memorable 10-0 run.
The score remained 10-4 for over six minutes of the fourth quarter before the Clippers made things interesting down the stretch.
After Watson twice was denied by Hellier, junior Joe Oliva scored for the hosts with 5:25 to play.
With 2:33 showing, Neujahr took a pass from Watson and scored a man-up goal to cut the deficit to 10-6.
Yarmouth got the ball back and now clicking on offense, pulled within 10-7, as Neujahr set up Watson for a score with 1:40 remaining.
Had the Clippers scored again, anything might have been possible, but their last good look resulted in a shot wide by Dioli with just under a minute to play and after a final Yarmouth turnover, the Red Riots were able to close out their monstrous 10-7 victory.
"It means a lot," said Leddy. "Last year wasn't much of a game. Tonight, there was a lot of hype that this was the biggest game we've played. Yarmouth's a tough team. We prove ourselves each and every game. This is an exclamation point. More so internally. We play teams like this and we get the 'Ws' and it looks great from the outside, but it feels even greater on the inside. I've never played on a team like this. I trust the defense. I trust T-Moe and the middies and everyone trusts each other. It's great chemistry that I've never felt."
"We had a tough week," Tom Fiorini said. "We've had four games: Kennebunk, (a non-countable against Gould), TA and now Yarmouth. We knew this was our test for going into the playoffs and getting ready for that run and these kids rose to the occasion.
South Portland's offense featured five goals from Leddy, but there was much more. Fiorini scored three times and Preston had two goals, while Bilderback, Mitchell and Whipple each assisted on a pair of goals and Fiorini and Susi both had one helper. In all the visitors had assists on 80 percent of their scores.
Hellier made seven saves.
The Red Riots had an 11-9 edge in faceoffs, thanks in large part to Preston taking seven of eight.
South Portland had 42 ground balls, which was three more than Yarmouth, as Preston finished with a game-high nine and Hellier collected six.
The Red Riots committed 20 turnovers, the vast majority of which came late, to 19 for the Clippers and outshot their foe, 36-22 (21-14 on cage).
South Portland's unheralded defense made the biggest impact, shutting down a storied program's offense for more than two quarters.
"It was all about being vocal," said Red Riots senior defender Josh Allen. "We emphasize being vocal in practice. We knew we needed to emphasize that against a team like Yarmouth. Communication set us apart tonight. I knew if I got beat, someone else would slide. I was comfortable tonight knowing someone else would come over. I knew we could handle it. We talked about controlling the ball on offense. We knew the defense was doing well. We needed a break. The offense came through. That's what we emphasized. It was scary at the end, but I have faith in my teammates. I knew they'd come through."
"Our defense is so amazing," Preston said. "Our offense is really good and they play against us three or four days a week and that gets them ready for any other offense in the state. We pound them in practice. We know it's for the better when they get on the field against other teams."
Yarmouth's offense featured three goals from Neujahr, two from Watson and one apiece from Dioli and Oliva. Dioli, Neujahr and Woodbury finished with assists. Sophomore faceoff specialist Walter Conrad led the Clippers with eight ground balls.
Hoehle made 11 saves.
"It's not the way I expected it to go," Pearl said. "I think if we played like we did in the first and fourth quarters, the outcome could have been different. I'd heard from other coaches and read that South Portland is a great team. (Tom's) a good coach. They're a classy bunch of guys. He's got really good players. They played very inspired. You can see why they're as successful as they are. You can see they're a family. They have that quintessential team.
"We had a difficult time adjusting to how well they cut off-ball. Leddy had five goals in the first half, no goals in the second half and that's a testament to our guys working hard. Our spark was too late, but I'm proud of how hard the kids worked. I don't think we had the ball much. They scored 10 goals in a row and won faceoffs. The timeliness of those faceoffs was the difference. Lacrosse is a game of runs and they went on a classic run. Our defense was slow to respond. They have good players who dodge well with their heads up and guys who can finish. They have great energy.
"I'm proud of how my guys responded. That's who these guys are and that's why I love coaching. What makes lacrosse so exciting is the ability to go on a run. When I requested crossovers, I asked for the best teams and I got them. I want South Portland again next year."
Both teams are hoping to reach Fitzpatrick Stadium on June 21 to play for a respective state title, but neither has an easy road.
The Clippers (who lead the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings) have five games left and none will be easy. Yarmouth will host Falmouth in the teams' lone regular season meeting Tuesday, then goes to Waynflete Friday. After welcoming Kennebunk, Yarmouth visits Cape Elizabeth and closes at home versus NYA.
Don't be surprised if the Clippers quickly bounce back.
With a vengeance.
"We'll get back on the horse, practice one day, then Tuesday we play Falmouth," Pearl said. "We have to learn from this. The measure of this team is how we respond and I know we'll respond."
The Red Riots (first in Western A) enter a less challenging phase of their schedule when they go to Deering, then host Portland next week. After playing at Massabesic and welcoming Bonny Eagle, South Portland closes with a highly anticipated home showdown against four-time defending Class A champion and nemesis Scarborough.
At this point, it doesn't look like much will slow the Red Riots Express.
"We can't focus on what the media says about us because that will affect us," Allen said. "We have to work out a lot physically. It's going to be a stretch, but I know we can do it."
"We have a string of not so challenging games coming up," Preston said. "The ultimate goal is beating Scarborough on June 5. We can't slip up and let any of those other teams beat us. We took a huge step forward tonight. This brings us one step further. This sets the tone. Coming into the game, we had some respect, but this gives us so much more."
"We've been thinking for awhile that the next four teams are tough teams and that we can't fall down and make mistakes," Tom Fiorini added. "If we don't get ahead of ourselves, the big one (Scarborough) is coming (June 5 in South Portland). The kids have worked hard for three years to be at this point. It's all them. They deserve everything they get."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Yarmouth-South Portland results
@ Yarmouth 12 South Portland 2