Scarborough plays like a champion, denies SP a perfect season
SCARBOROUGH—You can't quantify character, heart or pride.
Qualities that the four-time defending Class A state champion Scarborough boys' lacrosse team has in abundance.
If there was ever a doubt that the Red Storm program can rise to any occasion, it was dispelled Thursday evening when Scarborough not only handed undefeated South Portland its first loss, but did so in stunningly emphatic fashion.
With the Red Riots coming to town having scored in double figures in all 11 previous games and having produced 91 combined goals in their prior four contests, few expected the Red Storm to have a chance, but they carried play for the majority of the 48 minutes.
Scarborough never trailed and took the lead for good with 4:38 left in the first quarter, when junior Nate Howard, who excelled in the faceoff circle, scored an unassisted goal. The Red Storm then stretched a 4-3 lead after one quarter to 8-4 at halftime.
South Portland tried mightily to make a run in the second half, but Scarborough never let it happen and opened up a commanding 11-5 lead on senior Chris Cyr's goal in the third quarter and while the Red Riots drew within three late in the period, tallies from senior Cam Loiselle, Cyr and unexpected hero, freshman Sam Neugebauer, iced the victory as the Red Storm went on to prevail, 14-8.
Neugebauer scored four times, Loiselle added three goals and Scarborough improved to 9-3, locking up the No. 2 seed in Western A and handing top-ranked South Portland its first setback in a dozen outings.
"It was another step in our progression," said Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep. "We had a far different look coming into the year and it's taken us awhile to get our feet set. South Portland's a heck of an opponent. They came out and played so hard. They gave us everything they could. We just happened to finish more than they did. It could have gone the other way easily."
Bring down the curtain
One of the most highly awaited games of the boys' lacrosse season was reserved for its final day.
Scarborough's pedigree needs no introduction and the Red Riots want what the Red Storm have.
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), 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. The next victory made an even bigger statement, as South Portland rattled off 10 straight goals en route to a 10-7 triumph at perennial power Yarmouth. The Red Riots then went on an offensive explosion, dominating host Deering (26-6), visiting Portland (22-6), host Massabesic (26-1) and visiting Bonny Eagle (17-1)
The Red Storm had no trouble in their first two games, rolling at Marshwood (13-2) and Westbrook (16-7), but visiting Thornton Academy gave Scarborough a scare before it prevailed, 8-7, in double overtime. The Red Storm rolled at Portland, 14-2, and crushed visiting Deering, 21-2. Scarborough then lost three straight: 10-5 to visiting Cape Elizabeth, 13-8 at Cheverus and 15-11 at Falmouth before getting back on track by defeating visiting Windham (16-4), visiting Gorham (14-4) and host Biddeford (12-5).
Head-to-head, Scarborough entered Thursday's showdown having beaten South Portland four straight times and in 12 of 13 all-time meetings (see sidebar, below). The Red Riots' lone win over the Red Storm came back in 2010 (8-7) and they were seeking their first ever victory in Scarborough, but for one night at least, South Portland's train came to a halt.
Following Senior Night ceremonies, which included the future of the Scarborough lacrosse program, countless youth players, in the middle of the fun, the tone was set immediately, as Red Riots senior standout Duncan Preston won the opening faceoff, but the visitors turned the ball over.
In fact, South Portland committed turnovers on each of its first four possessions, as a seed of doubt was planted.
The Red Storm put the pressure on from the get-go, but a shot from Cyr was saved by Red Riots junior goalie T-Moe Hellier, Cyr hit the crossbar and a shot after a steal from senior Christian Neelon was also saved.
Scarborough then took a 1-0 lead exactly four minutes in when Cyr set up senior Austin Doody for a man-up goal.
South Portland finally got its offense going after senior Joey DiBiase won the ensuing faceoff. Senior Ben Bilderback got a step on a defender to tie the score, 1-1, with 7:40 left in the first period.
The Red Storm answered, as Howard collected a ground ball and beat Hellier, but with 5:43 to go in the quarter, Bilderback set up sophomore Jack Fiorini for a goal which tied the game, 2-2.
That would prove to be the Red Riots' highwater mark.
After Hellier saved a Loiselle shot, Howard put Scarborough ahead to stay with an unassisted tally and after Fiorini shot just wide, Neugebauer set up Neelon for a score which made it 4-2 and forced South Portland coach Tom Fiorini to call timeout.
It worked as just inside the final minute, Jack Fiorini took a pass from junior Chris Mitchell on a give-and-go and finished to pull the Red Riots within 4-3 after one period.
South Portland was fortunate to be close despite turning the ball over 10 times, but the second period was just as sloppy for the visitors and Scarborough opened it up.
The Red Riots had ample opportunity to pull even early in the second, but playing man-up, senior Thomas Leddy shot wide, then had a shot saved by Red Storm senior goalie Jordan Flannery.
South Portland had an even better chance when Flannery was sent to the sidelines for 30 seconds after committing a pushing transgression with 8:41 left in the half and was replaced by junior Isaac Rico.
The Red Riots didn't even manage a shot, however, and never got a chance to pull even.
After Scarborough senior Andrew Farrington had a shot saved by Hellier and Neelon and Doody were both denied by Hellier, Neugebauer made it 5-3 with 6:07 remaining in the half, finishing a feed from Loiselle.
With 5;12 to go, Neelon took a pass from Howard and after a nice spin move, beat Hellier to make it 6-3.
The Red Storm's confidence grew by the minute and with 4:11 remaining, Neelon passed to Neugebauer, who finished to make the score 7-3.
"It was the biggest game I've played," Neugebauer said. "It was great. It was a rush. We just passed the ball and got open and tested the goalie. I just went out and played my game."
Leddy stemmed the tide, finishing a pass from junior Andrew Whipple, but after a Leddy bid to pull South Portland closer was saved by Flannery, Neelon set up Loiselle for a goal with 1:24 left and Scarborough had an 8-4 advantage.
The Red Storm almost scored again right before halftime in the most improbable fashion imaginable, but a heave from junior Anthony Quintiliani from three-quarters down the field, hit the post and bounced away.
In the first 24 minutes, faceoffs were even, 7-7, but Scarborough had a 33-22 advantage on ground balls and took advantage of 20 Red Riots' turnovers to enjoy a 24-11 discrepancy in shots (18-6 on frame). Only 10 saves from Hellier kept the game somewhat close.
"Lacrosse, especially high school lacrosse, is won and lost in the midfield," said Tom Fiorini. "We got outhustled, I think we were tight. The soft part of the schedule hurt us. Bottom line, we didn't play well tonight and Scarborough did."
Early in the third period, South Portland had a chance to make a run, but the Red Storm refused to give the Red Riots any momentum.
South Portland got a break early in the second half, as it earned a man advantage and with 10:37 to go in the third, senior Duncan Preston finished a feed from Bilderback to cut the deficit to 8-5.
Then, as soon as the Red Riots got some life, it was taken away.
Howard won the ensuing faceoff, raced in and passed to Loiselle, who fired past Hellier to stretch the lead back to four, 9-5.
"I like to think of faceoffs as 'Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot' and typically guys only have one move, so I like to find that one move and counter that and work with my people on the wings and dominate faceoffs because possession is huge," Howard said. "Halves kind of kill momentum, so if you can get a goal quick, it builds momentum and sends a dagger into the other team's heart."
"Nate is one heck of a performer," Hezlep said. "He grinds. He's the kind of kid every team needs. We are so proud of him. He does the little things and gets things started for us."
Scarborough took the momentum from there, getting a goal from Neugebauer (set up by Loiselle) and another from Cyr (who beat Hellier, top shelf) and with 8:42 to play in the third, the lead was a half dozen.
"We started to make our run and Joe's got to be proud of his boys because they stepped up and they stopped us," Tom Fiorini said. "We started to inflate and get going, then they scored and boom, we were back down again. it's not unusual for us to be down and come back, but we're used to getting runs and the kids got a little frustrated."
The frustration continued for the visitors when Flannery was sent to the sidelines for 60 seconds after a cross-check, but the Red Riots' lone shot on the man advantage was saved by Rico.
Eventually, Leddy finished a feed from Preston to cut the deficit to 11-6.
Goals from Leddy (assisted by junior Chris Mitchell) and Bilderback, from a tough angle, made the score 11-8 with still nearly two minutes to go in the third, but South Portland would draw no closer and in fact, never scored again.
After Flannery saved a bid from Red Riots senior Jordan Susi, in transition, senior defender Brendon Smith set up Loiselle for a pivotal goal with 19.8 seconds showing to make it 12-8 Red Storm heading for the final stanza.
There, Scarborough ended all doubt.
First, Flannery stood tall, denying bids from South Portland junior Kam Andrews, Preston and Fiorini.
Then, with 7:04 to play, Cyr scored unassisted.
After Flannery saved shots from Preston and Mitchell, Loiselle iced it with 2:05 remaining, finishing a feed from Cyr with the Red Storm playing three men-up.
Scarborough's defense slammed the door from there on an inspirational 14-8 victory.
"We knew they'd come out and test us in the second half and we were ready for it," said Neugebauer.
"We knew it would be a big game," Howard said. "South Portland is having a great season. We came in really focused and wanted to play our game. We got a little momentum at the beginning and we carried it through. I was a little nervous about the game, but the second we stepped on the field and the whistle blew, it went away."
"We're playing our best lacrosse right now," said Smith. "We knew they hadn't been in too many close games. We knew if we came in here and kept our game plan and didn't let them get easy shots, we'd come out on top."
"We needed to play a good game and come out and really show what we can do," Hezlep added. "We wiped out all scouting reports. We wanted to play everyone good one-on-one. They have too many weapons to focus on any one thing. It was just playing good team defense."
Six different players scored in the Red Storm's victory. Neugebauer had a breakout four goals, while Loiselle had three, Cyr, Howard and Neelon finished with two apiece and Doody added one.
"We found our groove with our new offense," Howard said. "We had to find a way to integrate people with (former standout John Wheeler) gone."
"We got shots that T-Moe had a tough time seeing," Hezlep said. "He made all the saves he should and a lot he shouldn't. He's one heck of a kid."
Cyr, Howard, Loiselle and Neelon all had two assists, while Neugebauer and Smith each added one.
The Red Storm also did the little things to prevail, as Howard won 15 of 24 faceoffs (Scarborough finished with a 15-10 advantage) and they held a decisive 59-44 edge in ground balls (junior Matt Henderson had a game-high 11 and Howard finished with 10).
Flannery stopped nine shots (Rico made one pivotal save in a cameo appearance).
"Jordan played incredibly," Smith said. "He stopped everything but doorstep shots. If we give him 10 yards, he's pretty much automatic."
"The play of Jordan Flannery has been the difference of late," Hezlep said. "We've done a better job giving up shots he can see. He's stepped up since the second half of the Falmouth game. It's showcasing the goalie that he is."
Scarborough turned the ball over 24 times, but forced 31 turnovers and enjoyed a 39-31 shots advantage (29-18 on cage).
South Portland's offense produced its lowest goal total of the year, as Leddy tickled the twine three times, Bilderback and Fiorini had two goals apiece and Preston finished with only one.
The Red Riots' inability to score prolifically was due to a transcendent defensive effort from Scarborough.
"We made sure we matched up our defense ahead of time," Smith said. "We were confident our defenders and middies could play them one-on-one. We were late to slide and locked them off and kept them behind the goal line extended. We knew if we slid, they'd dump it off to Leddy in the middle, like they've done all year."
Bilderback and Mitchell each had two assists, while Preston and Whipple added one apiece. Preston had a team-high nine ground balls, while Mitchell, Whipple and senior Kevin Conley all collected five. Hellier made 15 saves, but it wasn't enough.
"I can't lie, I'm so disappointed," Tom Fiorini said. "Mostly for the kids who wanted the game back from last year when they felt they should have won it. I have to be honest, at no point tonight did I feel we should win. It didn't work out the way we were hoping. Hats off to Scarborough. They had a great game plan and they executed. They took it. We didn't give it to them. They played a great game."
South Portland will now discover its intestinal fortitude. While the Red Riots were disappointed with Thursday's result, they are the favorite in Class A and now, they have to go out and win three more times to complete their destiny. As the No. 1 seed in Western A, South Portland has a bye into the semifinals and won't play again until Saturday, June 14, although it does plan to scrimmage Western B power Falmouth in the interim. The Red Riots will meet the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the semifinals, likely Gorham or Westbrook.
This loss could serve as a wakeup call and an impetus to drive South Portland to a first state championship.
"I don't really care about an undefeated season and I never have," Tom Fiorini said. "There's only one time we have to be undefeated and that's the playoffs. We're the one seed and everybody has to come to us. We'll play (Scarborough) on grass next. They ruled us on this turf. They know how to play on it and we've struggled. I've got nothing to complain about. Now, the guys understand what it will take to win a state championship. We can't expect teams to go, 'Wow, it's South Portland, we can't play with them.' We have to come out and rise above it. These guys will bounce back. I'm not concerned. We will not feel successful unless we go through (Scarborough) and that's fine by me."
Scarborough wants to win a fifth consecutive championship, something no school has ever done in the Maine Principals' Association-sanctioned era (although Cape Elizabeth won 11 state titles in a row between 1990 and 2000).
To do so, it will likely have to win at South Portland. The Red Storm will be the second seed in Western Class A and will host the No. 7 seed (likely Bonny Eagle) in the quarterfinals Wednesday.
Suddenly, Scarborough appears to be title worthy again.
"We have to keep playing our game," Neugebauer said. "That's pretty much it."
"This gives us a huge amount of confidence," Howard said. "It was a statement game. We're up for the challenge. We'll come in confident. We'll play our game and see how it goes. I won't guarantee anything, but we'll work our hardest and hopefully wind up at states and hopefully win another one."
"We're ready to go into playoffs playing our best lacrosse," Smith said. "We've kind of flown under the radar this year. We're all ready. This is our last run as seniors. We don't want to end the run. We'd take a lot of heat."
"We're capable of playing really well and when we play together, this happens," Hezlep added.
Let the fun begin.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Scarborough-SP meetings
Scarborough 10 @ South Portland 1
@ Scarborough 11 South Portland 0
@ South Portland 8 Scarborough 7 (OT)
Western A semifinals
Scarborough 10 @ South Portland 4
@ Scarborough 14 South Portland 5
@ Scarborough 12 South Portland 3
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 17 South Portland 6
Scarborough 13 @ South Portland 9
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 13 South Portland 7
@ Scarborough 10 South Portland 3
Scarborough 9 @ South Portland 4
South Division Second Round
@ Scarborough 5 South Portland 4 (3 OT)