One more makes four; Scarborough's big red machine does it again
PORTLAND—The Scarborough boys' lacrosse team long ago set the standard in Class A.
Perhaps now it's time to suggest that the Red Storm has no peer in any class.
Arguably the finest edition in program history capped a season of dominance Saturday morning at Fitzpatrick Stadium with an emphatic victory in the Class A state championship game.
Facing Cheverus, a team which gave Scarborough a battle in last year's state final, the Red Storm iced its victory by halftime.
Scarborough started sluggishly, but a late goal from senior standout John Wheeler made it 3-0 after one period and after Red Storm senior goalie extraordinaire Davey Pearson made three key saves to start the second quarter, Scarborough ended all doubt and pushed the lead to 8-2 at the break behind four Wheeler goals in the half.
When the Red Storm outscored the Stags, 6-0, in the third period, a "mercy rule" running clock was induced and all that was left was for Scarborough to run out the clock on what proved to be a 15-4 victory, the second largest margin in a state final during the Maine Principals' Association-sancitoned era.
The title was the Red Storm's fourth in succession, sixth overall, ended Cheverus' year at 13-3 and capped a 14-1 campaign which featured a first-ever win over a Class B power, further cementing Scarborough's claim as the best team around.
"I think we're a pretty darn good team," said Wheeler, who led all scorers with four goals and also had three assists. "We rose to challenges and overcame adversity throughout the year. I think we'd have a good chance against any team in the state. Winning four state titles was a goal of mine. It's kind of surreal. It's a great feeling to have."
Scarborough didn't even win a championship until seven years ago, but is now second to Cape Elizabeth on the all-time list.
Three of them came in succession the past three years and the Red Storm's seniors came into the 2013 campaign looking to bow out with nothing but championship celebrations.
Scarborough was almost unbeatable during the regular year.
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 Class B standard bearer Yarmouth, a win which marked the first time the Red Storm had ever beaten the longtime powerhouse Clippers. Scarborough followed with a 12-5 victory at Marshwood, then closed with a 10-6 win at Thornton Academy to lock up the top seed in the region.
After getting an opportunity to measure itself against eventual Class B champion Cape Elizabeth in an exhibition game prior to the playoffs , the Red Storm overcame a slow start to dominate visiting No. 5 Marshwood, 14-2, in the semifinals last Saturday. Wednesday, Scarborough was equally impressive in an 11-3 victory over No. 3 Kennebunk in the regional final.
Cheverus has been a competitive program over the years, but not at the Red Storm's level until last year, when the Stags reached the state final for the first time. After the defeat, Cheverus said goodbye to longtime coach Deke Andrew, who was replaced by Bill Bodwell, who led Lewiston to the 2011 state final (losing to Scarborough) and inherited a squad eager to get back to the state game and win it.
The Stags opened with a 12-6 win at Deering, then handled visiting Thornton Academy, 7-3. After a 13-10 home loss to South Portland, Cheverus rattled off four straight victories: 11-4 at Noble, 19-12 over visiting Waynflete, 13-3 over visiting Massabesic and 11-3 at Westbrook. The run ended with a 6-2 home loss to Cape Elizabeth, but the Stags bounced right back with easy wins over visiting Portland (17-4), host Gorham (10-2) and host Windham (13-8) and a palpitating 9-8 home triumph over Marshwood to go 10-2 and earn the No. 2 seed in Eastern A.
Cheverus ousted No. 7 Portland in the quarterfinals, 15-7, then beat No. 6 Deering, 11-4, in the semis before holding off top-ranked Brunswick in a down-to-the-wire regional final Wednesday, 10-9, on senior Warren Murray's winner with just under two minutes remaining.
Emotions were running high all week for the Stags as Bodwell's 87-year-old father, Bill Sr., the founder of Bodwell Chrysler Dodge, passed away the night before Cheverus beat Deering, the elder Bodwell's alma mater.
Coach Bodwell said his players helped him get through a difficult time.
"My Dad's funeral was (Friday) and the whole team came to it," Bodwell said. "It was pretty touching. I did not know they were coming until they showed up. It was an amazingly gracious thing for those boys to do and it meant a lot to me. I really felt like he was looking out for my team during our playoff run."
Last year's state game was just the second time the teams met in the playoffs (Scarborough romped, 12-1, in the 2009 quarterfinals). Last June, the Red Storm rode five goals from Ryan Pallotta and 16 Pearson saves to a win. as it broke open a 4-3 game at halftime with five unanswered goals.
The Red Storm also won the state title in 2006 (14-2 over Lewiston), 2008 (8-6 over Brunswick), 2010 (8-6 over Portland) and 2011 (6-4 over Lewiston).
Saturday, on one of the sunniest and warmest days of the season, Scarborough simply sizzled and the outcome was never truly in doubt.
The Stags actually had the first good scoring chance, but Pearson denied junior Jack Sutton five minutes in.
It took 6 minutes, 36 seconds for the Red Storm to break the ice and it did so when sophomore Nate Howard corralled the rebound of his own shot and beat Cheverus junior goalie James Biegel for a 1-0 lead.
After another key save from Pearson (on a shot from sophomore Tom Lawson), Wheeler scored his first goal with 2:52 left in the first quarter, assisted by senior Jurien Garrison.
After Pearson robbed Murray, Wheeler put the cherry on top of a strong first stanza, when he took a pass from junior Christian Neelon and beat Biegel with just 1.4 seconds showing, making it 3-0 Scarborough after 12 minutes.
Pearson preserved that margin early in the second period, turning momentum in the Red Storm's favor once and for all.
Just 1:42 in, Sutton had a good look, but Pearson made the save. Eighteen seconds later, Pearson frustrated Sutton again.
Sutton got one more good look with 8:15 to play in the half, but once again, Pearson said, "No way" and made the stop.
"I was seeing the ball really well today," Pearson said. "The defense did it for me. They really played well today and helped me see the shots I needed. They're phenomenal. I think they're the best four in the state. They never had a bad game."
Then, Scarborough's offense kicked back into gear and ended any lingering doubt.
With 7:29 to go in the half, Wheeler set up Garrison for a goal.
Wheeler then scored two minutes later, completing a pass from junior Andrew Farrington to make it 5-0.
After a Cheverus conduct penalty, the Red Storm struck for a man-up goal, as senior Dalton Finley set up junior Austin Doody for a 6-0 lead.
After Bodwell called timeout, the Stags finally got on the scoreboard, as junior Hilmar Smith scored unassisted with 4:37 remaining.
It took Scarborough all of 14 seconds to answer, however, as after a faeceoff win, Wheeler scored unassisted.
"Their zone's supposed to slow you down," Wheeler said. "We kept moving and made crisp passes, then we started putting the ball in the back of the net. I was trying to be aggressive, finding my own shot. I knew one of us had to step up. I did that in the first half."
"Cheverus is a talented team," Scarborough coach Joe Hezlep said. "They pack it tight in the zone. They force you to move the ball and move off ball. At first, we were a little stagnant. Once we got settled in, we shared the ball well."
With 3:40 left, Wheeler assisted on a Finley goal to make it 8-1.
Just inside the final minute, Cheverus got an unassisted tally from sophomore Nick Schleh, but still trailed by a half dozen goals at the break.
The Stags won seven of 10 first half faceoffs, but 11 turnovers and Pearson's excellence (eight saves in the first 24 minutes) kept them at bay.
"We knew we had to have a pretty good start and I thought we did just fine, but then we started making mental errors and we weren't seeing things early enough," Bodwell said.
Things got even worse for Cheverus in quarter number three as Scarborough slammed the door once and for all.
One minute, 25 seconds in, Doody (from Garrison) scored to open the floodgates.
After Lawson hit the post and had a shot saved by Pearson, Finley took a pass from junior Cam Loiselle, spun and beat Biegel for a man-up goal at 6:36, putting the Red Storm in double figures.
Thirty-five seconds later, after a turnover, Wheeler set up Loiselle for a goal.
Even playing man-down, Scarborough's offense managed to produce, as junior Brendon Smith took a pass from Pearson after a save, raced upfield and spotted Garrison, who finished to make it 12-2 with 4:08 left in the third.
Neelon then scored an unassisted goal in transition and with 1:28 left, scored unassisted again to push the lead to 12, 14-2, forcing the clock to run.
Cheverus got its first goal of the second half when Sutton scored unassisted 1:25 into the fourth quarter, but a Loiselle goal (assisted by Howard) with 9:08 remaining, made it 15-3.
With 7 minutes to play, Hezlep pulled Pearson in favor of junior Jordan Flannery.
In the final minute, the Stags got a goal from sophomore James Kane (assisted by Schleh) and that accounted for the 15-4 final score.
At 11:32 a.m. the final horn sounded and a most familiar sight ensued: a Scarborough victory pigpile.
"It's pretty amazing," said Wheeler. "We knew Cheverus had a lot of good kids, like Lawson and Sutton. We had some idea coming in. I thought we prepared well and we played well."
"It feels great," Pearson said. "We came out with intensity and the more we played, the better we got and the more the wins came. We felt a little pressure. It started when we were freshmen. We didn't be the class to lose it. We left it all on the field."
"We've played in the backyard since we were little and this is what we wanted," said senior defender Nate McLellan, who will play at Maine Maritime next year. "It's awesome. I couldn't ask for a better ending, especially for the seniors. We knew we had a job to do. Everyone had to focus on what they do. Attack play attack, D play D and Davey do what he does. We wanted to shut down Lawson, Murray and Sutton. It worked out."
"It's remarkable," Finley said. "It all starts with our youth. We've had great coaches over the years. That's what makes us strong. We knew we'd be a little nervous. It's hot and we're not used to that weather. We had to get used to the game a little. We knew they had good players. We had to move the ball quick and get going."
Wheeler, an All-American bound for Bentley University, is well known for his offensive prowess and he saved his best for last, scoring four times in his final state game.
"John's done a great job of taking what the defense gives him," Hezlep said. "I had a sneaking suspicion he'd score today. We got him the ball in good spots."
Wheeler had plenty of company, however, as six other Red Storm players tickled the twine. Doody, Finley, Garrison, Loiselle and Neelon all scored twice and Howard had one goal. Wheeler also had three assists, Garrison added two and Farrington, Finley, Howard, Loiselle, Neelon and Smith each finished with one.
Pearson, who will play at the University of New England next year, capped his storybook high school career with 12 saves. Pearson backstopped the Red Storm to three titles and earned the well-deserved reputation as the state's premier big-game keeper.
"He's probably the best goalie I know," McLellan said. "If one gets by him, he has a short memory."
"Davey's pretty unbelievable," said Hezlep. "The run he's had, the games he's played. He makes our defense look so good. We left so many open chances for them. He was able to shut everyone down and not just make saves, but turn it into transition for us."
Scarborough's defense certainly helped his cause.
"The defense plays well together," Hezlep said. "We lost (senior) Nik Pelletier and (sophomore) Anthony Quintiliani had to step up and play and he did a great job. They do a great job of doing what I ask. We play a specific style on defense. If you don't do it correctly, you have problems, but they forced the offense to tough shooting spots."
Scarborough had a 38-29 ground ball advantage, as Howard and senior Trevor Murray both had five and Doody and Wheeler each collected four. The Red Storm only turned the ball over 18 times, while forcing 21, and had a 40-26 shots advantage (22-16 on cage).
The Red Storm etched their place in history and in the postgame, made a case for its status as the best in the state.
"We strived to be the best team this year," Finley said. "We had a tough loss to NYA, who is a great team, then we had that big win over Yarmouth. We're up there with the best in the state, A or B."
"We feel like the last two-and-a-half weeks, we've played our best lacrosse," Hezlep said. "Scrimmaging Cape really helped. We want to let our athletes play. These guys weren't going for history. They were going for their year. They didn't come feeling like they were number one. They went and earned it all. The guys do a great job of making me look smart. They make terrific plays. We have terrific athletes. I don't care if they play lacrosse year around. We have more kids who have that savvy like Cape, Falmouth, Yarmouth, North Yarmouth Academy. We played really bad against NYA and still had a chance. It was a step up for us."
Maybe next year
Cheverus got a goal apiece from Kane, Schleh, Smith and Sutton. Schleh had an assist. Biegel made seven saves. The Stags did win 12 of 21 faceoffs, as freshman Alex Nason impressed in the circle. Sutton led all players with six ground balls.
"Scarborough's a more veteran team than us," Bodwell said. "We had to play the perfect game today. That doesn't happen much. Hats off to them. They're a great program. That's quite a testament to John Wheeler and four incredible years for that program. We're all happy he's graduating. He'll be a heck of a college player."
Despite the sting of Saturday's loss, Bodwell quickly put into perspective just how much his team accomplished.
"We're a young team," Bodwell said. "We're still a year away. That fact we won Eastern Maine, I'm incredibly proud. It's quite an accomplishment for us. We're loaded with sophomores. We had a whole new defense this year. A new coach."
After knocking at the door twice, the 2014 Stags will be aiming to kick it down.
"We should have a pretty good team next year," Bodwell said. "It will be another year where they're more comfortable in my system."
One for the thumb?
The last boys' lacrosse team in Maine to win five straight titles was Cape Elizabeth, which won 11 in a row from 1990-2000, in a far different era.
Scarborough will certainly miss its seniors.
"The seniors were always aware of the situation," Hezlep said. "They knew where to be and when. They've seen close games. They just knew how to finish."
Of course, this program just reloads and another Fitzpatrick Stadium celebration is a distinct possibility.
"We have great younger kids," Finley said. "They'll make a name for themselves next year."
"So many kids are itching to get their chance to leave their mark on the program," Hezlep said. "We'll have good kids who look to excel next year."