History and high drama; SP edges Kennebunk in double OT classic
SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland's first ever boys' lacrosse win over Kennebunk was worth the wait.
Even if that wait wound up being a little bit longer than anticipated.
Wednesday evening at Martin Memorial Field, on a night which felt more like early April, the Red Riots and Rams put on a show worthy of June. A show which blew past the 48 minutes designated for regulation. A show which determined that four minutes of "sudden victory" overtime wasn't adequate and a show which required another 81 seconds to deliver resolution.
South Portland appeared to have the game won early, when it jumped to a 6-2 lead, but Kennebunk got momentum with a goal just before halftime and despite the valiant and acrobatic efforts of Red Riots sophomore goalie T-More Hellier, the Rams managed to tie the game with 2:16 left in regulation, capping a three-goal fourth quarter surge.
South Portland, which was blanked in the fourth period, had to not only rise off the deck emotionally in the first four-minute overtime, but also overcome not one, but two separate man-down situations. The Red Riots did just that and it was on to a second OT.
There, some 100 real time minutes after the game commenced, South Portland junior Thomas Leddy ended it, taking a pass from classmate Jordan Susi before beating Kennebunk's fine junior goalie Ben Bath with a difficult angle shot to give the Red Riots an 8-7 triumph, their first in 10 all-time meetings with one of the state's more storied programs.
South Portland got two goals apiece from Leddy, juniors Joey Babbidge and Duncan Preston and 17 saves from Hellier as it improved to 9-2, dropped the Rams to 8-3 and likely locked up a top two seed for the upcoming playoffs in the process.
"When all is said and done, we played a wonderful game," said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. "Both teams. We just got lucky. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It was a great game. It's big for the program. We're still a baby (compared to programs like Kennebunk and Scarborough), but we're coming on fast."
Entering Wednesday night's game, South Portland had never beaten Kennebunk (please see sidebar, below), going 0-9 all time (being outscored by an average of 12-6), including a pair of setbacks last year in Kennebunk, 8-5 in the regular season and 5-3 in a hard fought Western A quarterfinal.
This spring, the Red Riots have lived up to Fiorini's preseason declaration that he had a "special team," starting with home wins over Marshwood (8-7) and Gorham (12-7). After rallying for a 13-10 victory at reigning Eastern A champion Cheverus, South Portland rallied from an early 6-0 deficit before falling, 9-8, at three-time defending Class A champion Scarborough. A 15-4 home loss to Class B power Yarmouth followed, but the Red Riots then turned around to rattle off five straight wins: 15-3 at Bonny Eagle, 17-2 over visiting Windham, 10-7 over visiting Thornton Academy, 17-7 at Massabesic at 14-8 at Waynflete.
Kennebunk, meanwhile, shot to an 8-0 start, then fell by a goal at Scarborough, 5-4, and Friday night, couldn't score at Cape Elizabeth in a frustrating 5-0 loss.
Wednesday, the two contenders traded punches well into the night before a winner could be declared.
The game started as if the Red Riots would roll to an easy win, as the hosts jumped to a quick 3-0 lead.
Three minutes, 39 seconds in, playing man-up, South Portland got the jump when Preston set up freshman Jack Fiorini, the coach's son, for a shot which Bath couldn't stop.
Goal number two came with 6:51 to go in the first quarter, as Babbidge scored unassisted.
When Leddy scored his first goal, from sophomore Chris Mitchell in transition with 5:40 left in the first, the Red Riots appeared in good shape, but after being shut out Saturday, the Kennebunk offense finally said, enough's enough and with 36.6 seconds left, playing man-up, junior Tyler Ellkington (get used to reading his name) took a pass from junior Bryce Fraser and managed to fire a shot past Hellier to give his team some momentum.
South Portland retook a three-goal lead, 4-1, when Babbidge shot through a screen and beat Bath 1:41 into the second quarter, but Elkington answered with an unassisted goal with 8:55 to play before halftime.
After Babbidge hit the post (not the last time the Red Riots would be stymied by the pipe on this night), Preston scored his first goal (courtesy a pass from senior Alec Neal) to make it 5-2 with 4:38 to go.
As time wound down in the half, a fluke goal appeared to give South Portland full control, as sophomore Andrew Whipple attempted a pass, which hit a defender's stick, then was redirected past Bath to make it 6-2.
Had the Red Riots taken that lead to the break, they might have been in good shape, but Kennebunk won the ensuing draw and with just 9.9 seconds showing, junior Patrick Rimmer beat Hellier unassisted and the Rams had some life, down, 6-3.
"We came out hot in the first half, but that break at halftime was tough," Leddy said. "Either you get psyched up or you mellow out and I think we mellowed out. It's definitely a blow to morale when a team scores that close to the end of a period."
Little did South Portland know that its offense would go cold in the second half.
Rimmer scored his second unassisted goal just 31 seconds into the third period, cutting the deficit to 6-4 and Fraser almost drew his team closer midway through the stanza, but Hellier came up huge.
With Kennebunk down a player and coming out of a timeout, Babbidge set up Preston for a man-up goal with 3:21 to go in the third for a 7-4 lead.
South Portland wouldn't score again for a long, long time.
"They started putting two poles on my better middies, Joey and Duncan," Tom Fiorini said. "What we wanted to do was get the ball back to Whipple, but we couldn't get the ball on offense and when we did, we forced it."
The advantage was still 7-4 in the fourth, where the Rams took momentum, controlled possession and peppered Hellier until they caught up.
With 9:30 left, Elkington scored an unassisted goal to cut the deficit to two.
With 7:57 showing, he did it again and suddenly, for the first time since the score was 1-0, the Red Riots were only up a goal, 7-6.
Hellier then basically stood on his head to maintain the lead.
A mere 12 seconds after the goal which made it a one-goal game, Elkington had a chance to tie it, but Hellier stood tall. The ball fell loose in front of the goal and Elkington appeared to flick it, hockey-style, on target, but Hellier somehow plucked the shot out of harm's way to keep his team on top.
South Portland was then flustered twice, as both Babbidge and Preston hit the post.
With 4:33 to go, Elkington eluded a defender and broke in one-on-one with Hellier, but the goalie made the save.
With 3:30 left, Fraser had a shot saved and Elkington got the rebound, but he too was denied and it looked like Hellier might just prevent the Rams from completing the rally.
The Red Riots got another chance to deliver some insurance, but with 2:47 remaining, a shot from Leddy was saved by Bath and a flick by Babbidge on the rebound went just wide.
Kennebunk transitioned to offense and with 2:16 to go in regulation, sophomore Jacob Boothby fired a shot past Hellier and the game was deadlocked, 7-7.
Making matters worse, a penalty was called on senior defender Cody Munson, giving the Rams a minute of man-up play, but they weren't able to get a shot on goal in what proved to be a foreshadowing of what was to come in overtime.
In the final minute of regulation, both junior Josh Hussey and Elkington had looks for the visitors, but Hellier saved them both and it was on to overtime.
In Maine high school boys' lacrosse, teams play as many four-minute "sudden victory" overtime sessions as necessary to determine a winner.
In this case it would be two, although the Rams probably should have won it in the first.
Kennebunk freshman Patrick Gassman won the opening faceoff and on the play, Preston was called for a push, sending him to the sidelines for 30 seconds. Elkington got possession of the ball, ran behind the cage and he had so many times already in the game, looked to create a scoring play. Instead of shooting it, however, he passed up top to junior Ryan Keefe, but just before Keefe could fire a high percentage shot, out of nowhere stepped South Portland freshman Nick Mezzanotte to knock to ball out of Keefe's possession.
"Nick has been coming along all season long, so I gave him a start today," Fiorini said. "He earned it. He was on (Elkington). I told him, "I don't want you to take the ball away. I just want you to run with him.' For a freshman, he stepped up big today. He's an unsung hero, no doubt about it."
With 1:54 to go in OT, Red Riots junior Colton Gervais was called for a push and had to sit for 30 seconds, forcing the hosts to repeat the man-down drill.
Again they were successful, as the Rams' lone look resulted in a shot sent wide by Hussey.
After the teams traded turnovers, it was on to a second overtime.
"We take pride in our man-down," Hellier said. "The defense worked so hard to keep them from scoring. It was great. It was so nervewracking. We came up big time."
In the second overtime, Gassman again won the faceoff and found Hussey, who had a good look at the goal, but Hellier's 17th and final save prevented Hussey from ending it.
Kennebunk retained possession, but soon turned it over and Preston collected a ground ball, sparking a rush up the field in the process.
The ball came to Babbidge, who passed to Susi, who spotted Leddy near the goal, but after receiving the pass, Leddy didn't appear to have any angle on Bath. Leddy shot anyway and somehow bounced the ball past the goalie and into the net.
"I caught it, turned around, saw I had no angle, but I knew that I had to shoot it anyway and it hit the back of the net," Leddy said. "I just hoped something good would happen."
"I yelled for Joey to make one more pass because I saw Jordan wide open over here," said Fiorini. "The (defender) slid, Jordan had a great pass to Thomas and I thought, 'Oh my God, he has no angle.' I'm not sure how that went in, but it did. That's all that matters."
As a drought of 20 minutes, 42 seconds with no goals came to an end and as the clock read 7:44 p.m., South Portland had beaten Kennebunk at last, 8-7.
"It feels great," Leddy said. "It's surreal right now. We kept telling ourselves to calm down and stay in it mentally. It was a huge game for us. It decided playoff seeds. A big theme of this week's practices was playing 48 minute games. In the past, we had a good first half, or a good second half. Today, we were able to pull it out and come back at the end. I'm not surprised they came back. Kennebunk's a great team."
"I lost it when I saw (Leddy's shot) go in," Hellier said. "It was awesome. (Kennebunk) worked hard to come back, but we pulled it out. It was pretty tough losing twice to them last year, so getting this win now just feels great. All year, we've played for my Dad, who's been sick. We say in the huddle, 'Win it for Ted!"
"The kids played on all cylinders in the first three quarters, but I think they tightened up in the fourth quarter," Fiorini added. "Hats off to Kennebunk. They played a heck of a game. They never gave up. They made some adjustments. We made an adjustment on our slide package in overtime, which prevented them from getting another (easy goal). My kids withstood two men-down situations in overtime. That's huge. That's usually fatal. I can't tell you how proud I am of them for doing that."
Babbidge, Leddy and Preston paced a balanced offense with two goals each. Fiorini and Whipple had the others. Babbidge, Mitchell, Neal, Preston and Susi all added assists. Preston had a team-high six ground balls (and is now tied with Tim Clark for first on the program's all-time list) and Hellier stole the show with 17 saves.
"I just try to get my body in front of the ball best I can," Hellier said. "The defense helps me. They make shots come from the outside."
"T-Moe is a great addition to this team," Leddy said. "He stays big in there and makes key saves. He's clutch. We're lucky to have him."
"Did he make some saves or what?" Fiorini added. "That kid came up huge today. Holy Christmas. I know I'm biased, but I think he's the best goalie in the state. Especially after today."
Several other players produced efforts whose impact was unquantifiable.
"I have a lot of unsung heroes," Fiorini said. "I have Colton Gervais who clears the ball. I have (junior Andrew) Hodge who plays defense. Chris Mitchell did unbelievable things out there. He makes a difference in the middle of the field. Lacrosse is won in the middle of the field."
A "special team" had added another epic chapter to its legacy.
"We all get along," Hellier said. "We all work hard as we can at every 6 a.m. practice to make ourselves better. I love it. It's fun."
"I think this says a lot about us as a team," Leddy said. "We're young. We've been young for awhile. We're starting to step up and come together. We have great chemistry."
"I said last year when we were 4-9, that we'd reverse it this year," Fiorini added. "I was wrong. We've been better than that. I've coached and watched these kids since they were in the third grade. They came through the youth program. They've worked hard. They're a tight group. They just play for one another. I saw it last year. The difference is they're a year older, bigger and more experienced. It's the most fun I've had coaching. They've made it special for me. I hope they're enjoying it as much as I am."
For Kennebunk, Elkington scored three times, while Rimmer had two goals and Boothby and Fraser one each. Elkington had the Rams' lone assist. Bath made 12 saves.
Kennebunk won 12 of 19 faceoffs and collected 65 ground balls (led by 11 each from Elkington and Keefe and nine from Gassman) to South Portland's 39. The Rams forced 21 turnovers, but committed 23. The visitors had a 35-28 advantage in shots (but the Red Riots put 20 shots on cage to 19 for Kennebunk).
Kennebunk (third in the Western A Heal Points standings) closes its regular season at home against Deering Wednesday of next week.
South Portland (second to Scarborough in Western A) goes to Biddeford to wrap up its season Wednesday.
Then, the fun begins and these Red Riots believe they can go a long way.
"We love our field here," Leddy said. "It's huge to have homefield. I don't want to jinx it, but we're thinking we can go all the way."
"The loser of this game gets a firm third seed and the winner gets a firm second," Fiorini said. "I'm still holding out hope for backdoor into first with some help. There's still a chance. I say it's a wide open playoffs. Anybody from the west could make states. After today, I think we're ready (for the playoffs). I think (the guys) now understand playing 48 minutes of lacrosse and that it makes a difference. We learned it the hard way, but at least we're learning."
And making history.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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