KENNEBUNK—The best regular season in South Portland boys’ lacrosse history ended in disappointment Wednesday night.
Despite scoring 13 goals, the Red Riots failed to secure the top seed and homefield advantage for the upcoming Western Class A playoffs as they finished 10-2 with a 15-13 loss at Kennebunk, which wound up 8-4, but will be the top seed.
South Portland was sitting pretty, up 9-6, late in the first half, but the Red Riots would go scoreless for nearly 19 minutes and the Rams scored six straight goals to seize control. Despite twice pulling within a goal in the fourth period, South Portland couldn’t complete the rally.
“We just came out flat in the second half and couldn’t pick it up,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “Give Kennebunk credit. They came out ready to play, they had a good game plan and they executed. We didn’t.”
Prior to Wednesday, South Portland was enjoying a fantasy campaign. The Red Riots had never won more than eight games in a regular season, but surpassed that mark by two.
South Portland opened with a stirring, first-ever win over accomplished rival Scarborough (a come-from-behind, 8-7, overtime home victory), rolled, 8-3, at Cheverus, then showed its offensive prowess, scoring 15, 13, 13, 16, 23 and 23 goals in respective wins over Deering, Massabesic, Westbrook, Windham, Camden and Oak Hill. Hopes of an undefeated season came to an end with a 5-4 home loss to Thornton Academy May 18, but the Red Riots bounced back and rolled, 18-7, at Marshwood and eked out a 9-8 victory at Bonny Eagle last Wednesday.
Kennebunk wasn’t viewed as a favorite entering the year, but the Rams earned early confidence with a win at Scarborough. Kennebunk lost to Portland, Bonny Eagle, Cape Elizabeth and Thornton Academy, but took care of every other foe and proved that it wasn’t a fluke Wednesday night.
The Rams raced to an early 2-0 lead on goals 34 seconds apart from junior Sean Finn and senior Nick Gross.
South Portland got on the board when senior Adam Burpee took a long clear from senior goalie Travis Wibby and raced in to beat Kennebunk junior goalie Van Brazz. Junior standout Harrison Keithly followed with a goal to tie the score at 2-2 with 4:57 to go in the first period.
Burpee (on a pretty pass from senior Chad MacLeod) and Keithly (unassisted) followed with goals to make it 4-2 Red Riots, but late in the first, the Rams answered, getting scores from sophomore Blake Dowe (assisted by junior Bobby Kramer) and Finn to make it a 4-4 contest after one.
Kennebunk scored first in the second quarter (Gross, unassisted), but Burpee set up senior Garret Reuscher to tie it and Burpee (from Keithly) scored with 5:59 left in the half to make it 6-5 South Portland.
The lead lasted all of 23 seconds as Gross set up sophomore Sean Foley for the tying tally, but just 26 seconds after that, MacLeod scored unassisted after a nice move to give the Red Riots a 7-6 advantage.
Reuscher (from Keithly, after a turnover) and Reuscher again (from Burpee) followed with goals and South Portland was up, 9-6, with 2:01 to go in the half, but with 45.9 seconds remaining, after a Red Riots turnover, Dowe set up Kramer and Kennebunk had a little momentum going into the half, down 9-7.
“I think when we made the mental error right before half and didn’t move the ball like we were supposed to and then they scored, that was a real momentum changer,” Fiorini said.
The Rams came out strong in the second half.
Just 1 minute, 43 seconds in, junior Max Meserve (from classmate John Grillo) beat Wibby to make it 9-8. With 5:41 left in the third, the hosts pulled even as Gross scored unassisted. Then, with 4:36 to go, Gross (from senior Kyle Blunt) scored and Kennebunk was ahead to stay, 10-9.
Later in the period, Grillo set up Dowe as Kennebunk capped a 4-0 quarter and took an 11-9 lead to the fourth.
There, the Rams pushed their lead to three, 12-9, on Meserve’s goal (from Gross) with 7:38 to play.
Finally, 30 seconds later, the Red Riots ended an 18 minute, 53 second drought and ended the 6-0 Kennebunk run when Keithly (from senior Ian Raymond) scored to make it 12-10.
With 6:41 to play, 26 seconds after Keithly’s goal, senior Robert Hannigan set up Burpee for a goal and South Portland was within one, but nine seconds later, off a Rams’ faceoff win, Grillo set up Merserve for a goal and a 13-11 advantage.
With 5:24 left, senior Alex Catrett (a longpole defender) raced in with the ball and shot it past Brazz to again pull the Red Riots within one, 13-12, but again, South Portland couldn’t get possession and Kennebunk got some breathing room when Kramer scored with 5:08 to play. An unassisted goal from Dowe 25 seconds later made it 15-12.
With 3:26 to go, Keithly (from sophomore Mike Salvatore) scored man-up, but the Red Riots couldn’t get a settled possession the rest of the way and went down the 15-13 defeat.
“Turnovers killed us,” Fiorini said. “Turnovers, ground balls, faceoffs, things we normally win, but today we didn’t. That was the difference. We haven’t lost a game where we scored eight goals or better. Our defense has been solid all year. For us to give up 15 goals shocks the heck out of me. We generally do a better job getting back (on transition defense). We gave up goals we shouldn’t have.”
Burpee and Keithly led the offense with four goals and two assists apiece. Reuscher had three goals and Catrett and MacLeod (one assist) both scored once. Hannigan, Raymond, Salvatore and Wibby had assists. Wibby made 13 saves.
Kennebunk won 18 faceoffs to 13 for South Portland. The Rams also had more shots (40-34, with a 28-22 edge on frame) and forced 38 turnovers (while giving the ball away 34 times). The Red Riots had 47 ground balls, led by Salvatore with nine.
Kennebunk got a team-high four goals (and two assists) from Gross. Meserve and Dowe (one assist) scored three times apiece. Kramer (one assist) and Finn had two goals each. Foley also scored. Grillo had three assists and Blunt added one. Brazz stopped nine shots.
The Rams (who lost Finn, Dowe and Gross to injury during the course of the contest) will host either Thornton Academy or Bonny Eagle in the semifinals, Saturday, June 12.
South Portland has made it to the semifinals in three of the past four years, but this spring, the Red Riots aim to go all the way. Even after Wednesday’s setback, South Portland believes it has what it takes to make history.
“It’s OK, we’ll see (Kennebunk) again,” said Fiorini, alluding to a possible regional final matchup. “We’ll just have to come down here. I still say although Kennebunk’s a good team, I still think we’re the better team. Having homefield for one game will be nice, but we were counting on two. I’m not happy with the Heal Points system. How can a team that’s 10-2 not have homefield advantage? It’s a little frustrating. It’s the best regular season we’ve ever produced. This is a good team and I still say we’ll go deep.”
South Portland will face a yet-to-be-determined foe (almost certain to be Scarborough) in the semifinals June 12.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com