Portland boys continue hot start with decisive win over Noble

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Portland senior Drake McGhie scores the first of his team’s 18 goals during Wednesday’s 18-2 home victory over Noble. McGhie had three goals and won a dazzling 19 of 21 faceoffs.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

PORTLAND—While a return to the glory days is still a work in progress, Portland’s boys’ lacrosse team is slowly awakening the echoes.

Wednesday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Bulldogs continued their sizzling start to the 2016 campaign with a 48-minute domination of visiting Noble.

Portland went ahead to stay just 1 minute, 23 second in when senior Drake McGhie, who was almost unbeatable in the faceoff circle, scored an unassisted goal.

The Bulldogs took a 4-1 lead after one period and by halftime, were totally in control, up, 12-1, thanks to a dynamic, balanced attack.

Just 1:24 into the second half, Portland junior Wes Bryan scored to induce a mercy rule running clock and the Bulldogs extended their lead to 16-1 after three quarters before putting the finishing touch on an emphatic 18-2 victory.

The Bulldogs got three goals apiece from Bryan, McPhie, senior Charlie Kovarik, senior Robert Nolan and sophomore Reilly O’Brien, produced their highest point total since a 20-5 home win over Westbrook May 25, 2010, enjoyed their most lopsided victory since a 17-1 triumph at Noble April 23, 2011 and won consecutive games to start a season for the first time in five years.

“It’s a really good start,” said Portland coach Mike DiFusco. “We’re getting our confidence up. Two wins under our belt is good for us.”

On the rise

For the better part of a decade, Portland was one of the state’s premier boys’ lacrosse powers, reaching the state final in 2007 and 2010 and winning the Class A championship in 2009.

While the Bulldogs have made the playoffs 15 years running, they’ve failed to post a winning record in the past four seasons, but there are signs that this year’s team could make a run in the newly classified Class A North.

Portland opened with a decisive 16-5 home win over Marshwood. 

Noble went 4-8 a year ago and garnered the final playoff spot in Western Class A before being ousted by Thornton Academy in the quarterfinals.

Last season, the Bulldogs won at Noble in the season opener, 12-2.

Wednesday evening, Portland was even more prolific.

McGhie won the opening faceoff and it wasn’t long until he got the ball back and beat Knights senior goalie Jordan Armenta to put his team on top for good.

It took over four minutes for the hosts to score again, when Kovarik did the honors, dodging a defender before finishing to make it 2-0.

Noble got on the board with 5:22 left in the first period, thanks to an unassisted tally from junior Matt Burnham, but the Knights wouldn’t tickle the twine again until late in the final period.

With 2:43 remaining in the first, out of a timeout, O’Brien set up Nolan for a 3-1 lead and as time expired in the frame, sophomore Kevin Moore set up Bryan to make it 4-1.

The Bulldogs truly hit their stride in the second quarter.

Just 44 seconds in, Moore scored unassisted.

McGhie’s second goal, unassisted, made it 6-1 with 9:58 to go before halftime.

Portland then scored five times in just over two minutes to truly blow it open.

With 6:09 left, Kovarik scored unassisted.

Twenty seconds later, after McGhie cleanly won the faceoff, Shaw set up O’Brien to make it 8-1.

Shaw got in the scoring column with 4:57 remaining in the half.

Forty-nine seconds later, Kovarik scored unassisted once more and with 3:33 left, Shaw ran around the goal before finishing to make it 11-1.

For good measure, Nolan scored an unassisted goal with 1:55 to go for a 12-1 advantage at halftime.

In the first 24 minutes, McGhie won 14 of 15 faceoffs, the Bulldogs had a 29-20 edge in ground balls and enjoyed a commanding 27-6 advantage in shots.

While the competitive phase of the contest was over, the only question remaining was how long it would take for Portland to go ahead by a dozen goals to run the clock.

The answer was 84 seconds, as Bryan did the honors.

By third quarter’s end, the lead was 15, thanks to goals from Bryan (man-up, assisted by Moore), O’Brien (unassisted) and O’Brien (set up by junior Will Herboldsheimer).

Sixteen seconds into the final stanza, Kovarik set up Nolan for a goal and with 10:22 left, Shaw fed McGhie for Portland’s final goal.

With 1:52 to play, Noble ended a 39 minute, 30 second drought (and the Bulldogs’ 16-goal run), as senior Chad Rumney scored.

Portland then ran out the clock on its 18-2 win.

“We wanted to hit the ground running this year, get a couple wins under our belt and see if we could get rolling right away,” McGhie said.

Bryan, Kovarik, McGhie, Nolan and O’Brien all had three goals, Shaw scored twice and Moore had one goal.

“Our offense is really clicking,” said McGhie. “We have athletic guys who work hard every day. A lot more goals this year are assisted. It’s not a stat in lacrosse, but we’re getting second assists too.”

Seven goals were assisted, as Moore and Shaw had two apiece and Herboldsheimer, Kovarik and O’Brien each had one.

“We have a lot of unselfish guys,” DiFusco said. “The way we play is our open guy is our go-to guy.”

Much of Portland’s success began in the faceoff circle, where the Bulldogs prevailed 20 of 24 times (with McGhie winning a sensational 19 of 21 opportunities).

“I started taking faceoffs in middle school and I’ve tried to get better,” McGhie said. “Possession is huge in this game. We try to get the ball after each goal to get on a roll.”

“Drake’s been dominant in the faceoff circle,” DiFusco said. “He’s a guy we can rely on.”

Portland sophomore goalie Aaron Hoekstra, who replaced his brother, Andrew, this season, didn’t have to step up often, but did make seven clutch saves.

“(Aaron’s) played huge,” said McGhie. “He comes up big and keeps the guys together. He’s worked a lot in the offseason to fill his brother’s shoes.”

The Bulldogs also had an edge in ground balls, 43-28 (McGhie had a game-high 12 and Nolan collected five), enjoyed a 40-18 shots advantage (27-9 on cage) and overcame 18 turnovers by forcing 18. 

Noble got one goal each from Burnham and Rumney. Armenta had eight saves before being replaced by junior Nick Fallon, who stopped one shot. Junior Kadin Lessard grabbed six ground balls.

Opportunity awaits

While Noble looks for its first win Friday at home versus Bonny Eagle, Portland will aim for its first 3-0 start since 2011 (which eventually became 7-0 that year) when it plays at Windham Tuesday of next week. Tests against the likes of Deering, Scarborough, Thornton Academy, South Portland and Cheverus still await, so the Bulldogs can’t get too far ahead of themselves, but this start is encouraging.

“The momentum from these early games definitely helps,” McGhie said. “We have to bring it every day in practice. The guys know we need to bring it even more than we have. It’s bittersweet when it’s your last season. (The seniors) want to leave (the program) better than we found it. We want to get back to the way it used to be.”

“We tell every senior group it’s on them how far we can go,” DiFusco said. “They want more success than we’ve had. We have a lot of potential, but we have work to do. We need to do everything better.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Portland senior Charlie Kovarik prepares to shoot. Kovarik scored three times in the win.

Portland senior Robert Nolan fires a shot.

Portland sophomore Sam Shaw blows past a Noble defender.

Portland junior Wes Bryan skies for a shot and one of his three goals.

Portland junior Will Herboldscheimer looks for an open teammate.

Portland sophomore Reilly O’Brien eludes a Noble defender.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.