Scarborough boys lock up top seed with win at TA
SACO—The rest of the league might think it's catching up to the Scarborough boys' lacrosse team, but at the end of the day/regular season, the three-time defending Class A champion Red Storm remain the cream of the crop.
That's been the case in almost every game this season and the final regional standings reflect once more that the road to the state title will go through Scarborough.
Tuesday evening at Hill Stadium, the Red Storm was pushed for 48 minutes by one of the teams, Thornton Academy, hoping to dethrone it, but Scarborough's depth, skill and championship heart proved to be enough.
The Red Storm scored just one goal in the first 21-plus minutes, but closed the first half with a pair of tallies to pull even at the break, 3-3.
Scarborough then cranked up the offense in the third period, going ahead to stay when senior standout John Wheeler scored midway through. Wheeler would add two more goals in the frame, including one with 30.1 seconds remaining, to give the Red Storm a 7-5 lead and a little breathing room.
Wheeler assisted on one fourth period strike, then scored twice more, the last on a rare assist from his goalie, and Scarborough, which frustrated the Golden Trojans much of the night with an aggressive and swarming defense, went on to a 10-6 victory.
Wheeler led all players with six goals, Pearson made 10 timely saves and the Red Storm finished the regular season 11-1 and wrapped up the top seed for the upcoming playoffs, dropping Thornton Academy to 6-6 in the process.
"TA came out with a lot of pride in what they do," said Scarborough coach Joe Hezlep. "They think they're a top tier team and I think they are. They've had their ups and downs, but when it comes down to it, they can play lacrosse. We were definitely flat. They came out with some gusto. It took awhile for our guys to get into it."
That championship look
Scarborough had some hiccups early in the season, but is showing signs of being primed to win a fourth straight Class A title.
The Red Storm opened with easy home wins over Westbrook (17-3) and Bonny Eagle (16-0), before romping at Biddeford (15-1). Scarborough then almost let a 6-0 lead slip away before edging visiting South Portland on a late goal, 9-8. After an 8-5 home loss to North Yarmouth Academy, Scarborough handled host Deering (16-3), visiting Portland (15-2), host Gorham (14-3) and visiting Kennebunk (5-4). Next came a seismic victory, 10-7, at Yarmouth, a win which marked the first time the Red Storm had ever beaten the longtime powerhouse Clippers. Scarborough followed that with a 12-5 victory at Marshwood last Wednesday, the last time it took the field.
Thornton Academy started the year 3-1, but was under .500 since, entering the contest 6-5 with losses to Cheverus, Kennebunk, South Portland, NYA and Deering.
The Red Storm came to Saco Tuesday having beaten the Golden Trojans nine straight times, dating back to an 11-10 home win for Thornton Academy May 22, 2004. In each of the past three seasons, Scarborough has beaten the Golden Trojans during the regular year, then did so again in the playoffs, including a 7-1 decision in last year's semifinals (the Red Storm also got past Thornton Academy in both the 2010 and 2011 regional finals).
Tuesday, it took some time for Scarborough to hit its stride, but the Red Storm got there eventually.
The hosts appeared to take a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute, on an unassisted goal from junior Taylor Browne, but Browne was ruled to be in the goalie's crease and the strike was disallowed.
Scarborough then got the first official goal as junior Cam Loiselle took a pass from junior Matthew Murphy and finished 4:41 in.
The Golden Trojans did get on the board with 1:03 left in the first quarter, playing man-up, as sophomore Isaac Sinclair collected a ground ball before beating Pearson to even the game, 1-1, a score which held into the second period.
There, just 55 seconds in, Browne scored unassisted to give Thornton Academy its first lead.
After junior Daniel Giroux hit the post with a shot, the Golden Trojans went up 3-1, as senior Jake Woodman found sophomore Christian Michaud for a goal.
Making matters worse for the Red Storm, junior Brendon Smith was called for a slashing penalty on the play, giving Thornton Academy, which had all the momentum, a man-advantage.
Scarborough's defense rose to the occasion, however, killing the penalty and it wasn't long until the offense lived up to its end of the bargain.
With 2:50 to go before halftime, the Red Storm's 16 minute, 29 second scoring drought came to an end as Wheeler got his first goal, taking a pass from junior Christian Neelon before launching a rocket past Golden Trojans junior goalie Jack Grondin.
With 37 seconds left, Loiselle set up junior Austin Doody for a score and although it was outplayed for much of the first 24 minutes (trailing in faceoffs won, ground balls and shots), Scarborough was even at halftime, 3-3.
Thornton Academy kept the pressure on when junior Ian Carrier pounced on a ground ball on the opening faceoff of the second half, raced in and beat Pearson to put the Golden Trojans back on top, 4-3, just eight seconds into the third quarter.
That would prove to be the hosts' final lead, however.
With 11:03 to go in the third, Neelon set up sophomore Nathan Howard for the tying score.
Then, with 6:27 left, after the Red Storm killed a penalty and senior Jurien Garrison hit the post, Wheeler took a pass from Garrison and again fired a shot that Grondin had no chance of stopping into the net to put Scarborough ahead to stay, 5-4.
The Red Storm won the ensuing faceoff and Wheeler pounced on a ground ball in front before finishing to make it a 6-4 game.
With 5:02 to play in the action-packed stanza, Thornton Academy got a goal back, man-up, as junior Cody Falton beat Pearson with a shot, but after Pearson saved Carrier's bid to tie it, Neelon was robbed by Grondin and a shot by sophomore Isaac Sinclair was turned aside by Pearson, Pearson passed to Smith, who threw a long pass ahead to Wheeler, who beat the defense, then left Grondin helpless for a goal with 30.1 seconds showing.
"I got a good pass from Davey," Smith said. "I looked up and saw Wheeler. I didn't know if I could make it, but it worked out."
"Any pass that ends with (Wheeler) often turns out well," Hezlep said. "Our game plan is to get the ball to him and let him make something happen."
That goal allowed Scarborough to take a 7-5 lead and a little momentum to the fourth quarter.
There, the Red Storm put it away.
One minute, 15 seconds in, Wheeler returned the favor, setting up a goal instead of scoring one, as he passed to Neelon, who finished for an 8-5 advantage.
Scarborough then got a big break and got to play two men up and Wheeler made the Golden Trojans pay, finishing a pass from Doody with 8:36 to go to push the lead to 9-5.
Thornton Academy, playing two men-up after both Doody and Smith were called for penalties, ended a nearly 12-minute drought when Sinclair (from senior Josh Cyr) scored with 5:56 remaining, but Pearson denied the Golden Trojans' bid to draw closer, robbing a bid from Giroux.
If Pearson's prowess in goal wasn't impressive enough, he showed he could spark the offense as well with 4:05 to play, throwing a long pass down the field which bounced into the stick of Wheeler for a quick shot that beat Grondin for what proved to be the coup de grace.
"I anticipated and just happened to beat the defender and had an open shot," Wheeler said.
The Red Storm ran out the clock from there and capped its regular season with a 10-6 triumph.
"At halftime, we refocused and decided it was time to get down to business," Smith said. "We didn't have much scouting on them, but we heard they're pretty good. We tried to get to the ball when it went behind. We wanted to keep the ball away from (Browne and Cyr) and if they got it, take it away."
Wheeler continued staking his claim as the best player in the state by scoring six times and assisting on a seventh goal, staggering numbers considering the Thornton Academy defense had him and his teammates flustered much of the night.
"The zone slowed us down," Wheeler said. "We had plenty of possession. We had good looks and didn't finish, but we adjusted. We came around to some unconventional ways of scoring. We solidified it in the fourth quarter. We had to pass around to get an open look. We found some open looks. We had some nice setups from Jurien and Christian."
Doody, Howard, Loiselle and Neelon also scored. Neelon had two assists, while Doody, Garison, Loiselle, Murphy, Pearson and Smith had the other helpers. In all, nine of the 10 Scarborough goals were assisted. Pearson made 10 saves and senior Dalton Finley led the team with five ground balls. The Red Storm outshot the Golden Trojans, 30-24 (20-16 on cage), and overcame an uncharacteristic 29 turnovers.
Thornton Academy got two goals from Sinclair and one each from Brown, Carrier, Falton and Michaud. Cyr and Woodman had assists. Grondin made 10 saves.
The Golden Trojans won 12 of 20 faceoffs (both senior Aaron Sinclair and junior Kaleb Lehmann went six of 10) and had a 45-35 advantage in ground balls (Carrier had a game-high seven). Thornton Academy turned the ball over 27 times.
Let the fun begin
Thornton Academy will likely be the No. 5 seed in Western A and will have a quarterfinal round game June 5, probably at Marshwood.
Scarborough finishes first for the third year in a row and the fifth time since 2006. The Red Storm has a bye into the semifinal round June 8, where it could meet the Golden Trojans again.
"We had a very tough schedule," Wheeler said. "To beat the good teams says how our program is always a top dog and we love that."
"We're ready," Smith said. "We can keep turning it up. We're playing good lacrosse right now, but it wouldn't hurt to play better. We can."
"We're happy where we are," Hezlep added. "We pulled out some close games we had to really fight for. That showed a lot. Even when we don't bring our best game, we'll do what it takes to grind it out and win. I think we're ready for playoffs. I really feel like there are three or four teams with stellar players. When it comes down to it, you have to finish plays. If you do that, you'll do well."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Recent Scarborough-TA results
@ Scarborough 15 Thornton Academy 4
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 7 Thornton Academy 1
@ Scarborough 10 Thornton Academy 0
Western A Final
@ Scarborough 8 Thornton Academy 3
Scarborough 6 @ Thornton Academy 4
Western A Final
@ Scarborough 5 Thornton Academy 3
@ Scarborough 16 Thornton Academy 0
Scarborough 15 @ Thornton Academy 3
@ Scarborough 16 Thornton Academy 6
@ Thornton Academy 11 Scarborough 10