Portland girls down Deering for city bragging rights
PORTLAND—The high hopes of the Portland girls' lacrosse team took a brutal hit Friday when arguably the finest player in program history went down with a season-ending injury.
Tuesday, the Bulldogs began a new era and served notice that they're not to be overlooked.
Facing rival Deering at Memorial Field, Portland took to the turf without senior Drew Barry, the school's two-time reigning Spring Female Athlete of the Year, one of the state's prolific scorers and a player so talented she's going to play at Bates College next year. Early in Friday's win at McAuley, Barry suffered a torn ACL injury and is done for the season.
Tuesday, with Barry yelling herself hoarse on the sidelines, her teammates rose to the occasion.
Portland scored the game's first seven goals and never looked back, leading by as many as nine before defeating the Rams for a fifth straight time, 13-5.
Seven different Bulldogs tickled the twine, led by junior Laura Frank, who did it four times, and freshman sensation Isabel Stehli, who scored three goals. Portland also dominated in the draw circle, thanks to junior Hallie Alex, who won 14 of 20 opportunities, and improved to 6-2 on the season, dropping Deering to 3-5.
"The girls responded well today," said Bulldogs coach Kait Johnson. "We needed this. It was a test and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. We have a lot of good players on the team. Drew's an irreplaceable player on both ends of the field, but we're adapting and people are stepping up left and right."
Always a struggle
Regardless of records or place in the standings, Deering-Portland games are always meaningful.
Both teams are in the playoff hunt this spring, which racheted up the intensity that much more.
The Bulldogs, coming off their best season to date, which ended with an overtime loss to Messalonskee in the Eastern A quarterfinals, were hurt by graduation, but after a slow start have come to life. Portland opened with a loss, 16-5, at Kennebunk, then downed host Sanford (8-4) and host Biddeford (7-6), before losing a close one at home to Cheverus, 9-7, in a contest which saw the Bulldogs almost rally late. Victories over visiting Windham (15-8), host Bonny Eagle (15-5) and visiting McAuley (18-12) then ensued, although the win over the Lions proved costly.
"(The girls) felt it at McAuley," said Johnson, who admitted to being emotional and feeling guilty after Barry was hurt. "It was very somber. I give them props for pulling out that game."
Deering, which didn't make the playoffs last season after a 3-9 campaign, dropped a 14-2 decision at Windham to begin 2013 and then fell, 14-7, at home to Gorham. After a 16-9 home victory over McAuley, the Rams fell to 1-4 with 14-1 losses at Thornton Academy and Cheverus, then turned it around by edging host Biddeford, 8-6, and holding off visiting Noble, 9-7.
Entering the game, Portland had won four straight decisions over Deering, including an 8-7 home win a year ago. The last time the Rams had beaten the Bulldogs was May 31, 2007, 11-2, at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Tuesday, the Bulldogs took control early and never looked back.
It took just 1 minute, 49 seconds to break the ice and Stehli did the honors, taking a pass from junior Erin Mahoney and beating Rams' senior goalie Lily Worthley to put Portland on top for good.
With 20:30 to play in the first half, sophomore Ella Coose scored unassisted and three minutes later, Alex scored an unassisted goal to make it 3-0 and force Deering coach Andrew Gordon to call a timeout.
It didn't help, as Bulldogs junior goalie Abby O'Brien made a couple clutch saves and senior Gabi Cardona scored an unassisted goal to push the lead to 4-0 with 12:23 to go before halftime.
An unassisted tally from Coose followed 33 seconds later. With 10:01 showing, Mahoney set up Frank for her first goal and 47 seconds after that, Coose passed to Stehli, who beat Worthley for a 7-0 advantage, forcing Gordon to try another timeout.
This one eventually paid dividends as, with 3:43 to go in the half, sophomore Emily Mooney set up senior Maddy Mazjanis to pull Deering within 7-1 at the break.
The Rams could have been closer, but O'Brien made five saves.
While Deering crept back to 7-2 63 seconds into the second half on an unassisted goal from junior Mony Prak, any comeback hopes were quickly dashed as junior Lizzie Landry scored unassisted with 17:18 to go, Alex set up Frank for a goal with 17:17 to play (the clock hadn't properly started) and with 16:33 left, Mahoney scored unassisted to make it 10-2.
Prak scored her second goal with 14:53 showing, but a free position from Frank at the 13:26 mark pushed the lead back to eight, 11-3.
A minute later, Prak set up Mazjanis, but Stehli (from Frank) with 9:39 to go and Frank unassisted (winning a loose ball in front before beating Worthley) both scored to make it a 13-4 game.
With 2:43 to play, Rams junior Casey Girsch scored on a free position to account for the 13-5 final score.
"It was definitely tough, but our team is so supportive," said Frank. "We've come together. Drew, even on the sidelines, is a big part of the team. She said she'd lose her voice (cheering) and she kept her word. We came out and proved ourselves on offense today. It was shaky coming in, but we showed we can definitely do it. It was just seeing the open girl and having faith in your teammate to catch the ball."
"Beating Deering's always a big deal," said Alex. "They're our biggest rival. It shows true school spirit. It's the biggest game of the season. We've learned to come together as a team and be a powerhouse."
Portland's offensive balance proved unstoppable, as Frank had a game-high four goals, Stehli added three, Coose two and Alex, Cardona, Landry and Mahoney one apiece. Mahoney also had two assists, while Alex, Coose and Frank had one apiece.
"We talked after the McAuley game (about playing without Drew)," Johnson said. "It's easy for people to hide a little bit because Drew did so much of the work. It's going to be a different gameplan from now on. Lizzy Landry's a great player, Laura and Hallie too. I think we're still as strong, just a different kind of strong. The girls are learning how to work with each other and find their flow."
O'Brien finished with nine saves. Alex won 70 percent of the draws.
"My approach is I look to my left and I know that I have strong players who get in after the ball," said Alex. "Everyone on the team has such great stick skills. If I see they're double teamed, I just try to draw to myself."
"Hallie stepped up amazingly well on the draw controls," Frank said.
The Bulldogs finished with a 55-36 advantage on ground balls, as Alex led all players with 11, Frank collected nine, Mahoney eight and Landry seven. Portland committed 21 turnovers, but had a 21-18 shots advantage (20-14 on cage).
For Deering, Mazjanis and Prak both scored twice, while Girsch had the other goal. Mooney and Prak had assists. Worthley made seven saves. Senior Sam Sivovlos had a team-high six ground balls. The Rams committed 19 turnovers.
"(The Bulldogs) still have a lot of quick, athletic players," Gordon said. "Speed really kills in lacrosse. Some of my girls had an off-day. We set the wrong tone. I had to call two timeouts early. We couldn't get the ball on draws. We don't seem to get ground balls consistently. That's the story of the season, but we've definitely been getting better."
Deering hopes to bounce back Friday when it hosts Bonny Eagle. South Portland pays a visit Monday. The Rams still have a game to make up at Sanford and close at Marshwood May 29.
"We only have four games left," said Gordon. "We should win two of them. We've got to beat South Portland (to make the playoffs). They're going to be athletic."
As for Portland, it welcomes Westbrook Thursday, goes to South Portland May 24 and closes at home versus Gorham May 29. The Bulldogs still need to make up a game versus Thornton Academy as well as they seek to finish strong, then possibly steal headlines in June.
"We have to work on bonding," said Frank. "We can do some more to be even more in unison than we already are to take on those championship teams."
"It's a short season, so if you introduce something, it's hard to grasp it," Johnson said. "Hopefully we're doing that just in time for playoffs."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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