CAPE ELIZABETH— The Portland boys’ lacrosse team keeps raising the bar.
A season which becomes more magical by the minute added another inspirational chapter Saturday evening when the Bulldogs went to perennial powerhouse Cape Elizabeth and rode a brilliant first half performance to an insurmountable 9-2 halftime lead. Portland fended off the inevitable Capers’ run in the second half and cruised to a 13-7 triumph, its sixth without a loss this spring.
As usual, the Bulldogs were paced by their imposing defense and myriad weapons on offense as they scored early and often.
“We had a captain’s practice this morning to get ready,” said senior All-American K.R. Jurgelevich, who scored three goals and added three assists. “We were pumped all day for this. We were climbing out of our skins. We were ready to come out strong.”
Staking their claim
Cape Elizabeth has long been the gold standard for boys’ lacrosse in the state and even if the Capers have been overtaken by Yarmouth as the premier power in recent seasons, they always bring out the best in their opponents.
Portland feels it’s on the brink of being mentioned as an elite program as well and made another emphatic statement in that regard Saturday.
The Bulldogs hadn’t been tested in their first five games, downing Greely, Waynflete, Cheverus, Scarborough and Kennebunk by a composite 73-10 margin.
Cape Elizabeth was riding high after Wednesday’s come-from-behind 11-9 victory at North Yarmouth Academy, it’s fifth successive win, which made it 5-1 on the year.
The teams split a year ago, with Portland opening the season with a 12-7 victory at the Capers before Cape Elizabeth responded by rallying for a 10-9 win at the Bulldogs.
This time, there would be no rally and Portland would find a way to beat the Capers for the third year in a row.
The offense set the tone early, dominating possession time and shots. After peppering Cape Elizabeth sophomore goalie Jack Roos with shots, Portland went ahead 1-0 with 9:44 to play in the first period when Jurgelevich set up senior Tyler Sandler for a goal.
With 6:44 to play in the quarter, Jurgelevich got his first goal, converting a pass from senior Andrew Holt. A little over a minute later, senior Sam Guimond (from classmate Kyle Roberts) scored, then, with 2:57 to go in the period, Roberts (from Guimond) tickled the twine for a 4-0 lead.
With 33.9 seconds left, the hosts finally got on the board when senior Cam Smith scored unassisted, but the Bulldogs had made a statement, winning four of six faceoffs, riding an 18-7 advantage in ground balls and an 11-5 edge in shots to a 4-1 lead.
“The last couple years we’ve been slow coming out of the gate,” said Portland coach Eric Begonia. “This year, we’ve come out strong right away. We put ourselves in a position to succeed. We understand K.R. draws a crowd. We were able to exploit their defense. Their defense is aggressive. Other guys made the cuts and were where they were supposed to be. We told them if they were open, K.R. would find them.”
The domination continued in the second.
Two minutes in, Jurgelevich scored an unassisted goal to push the lead back to four. Fifty-four seconds later, Jurgelevich fed sophomore Caleb Kenney for a man-up goal to make it 6-1. With 5:46 left in the half, senior Dylan Kenney, who continues to excel wherever he plays on the field, fed Sandler for a fastbreak goal. Caleb Kenney (from Jurgelevich) and Guimond (from junior Kevin Nielsen, man-up) followed with goals for a 9-1 lead. The Capers got an unassisted, man-up goal from junior Tom Foden in the final minute to cut the deficit to seven, but the Bulldogs had essentially put on a clinic for 24 minutes and were in great shape.
Yet even with the huge lead, Portland knew first-hand about Cape Elizabeth’s bounce-back ability and prepared for pressure in the second half.
Sure enough, the hosts scored twice in the first minute of the second half to draw back within five, 9-4, on goals from Foden (assisted by senior Alex Pillsbury, man-up) and senior Jon O’Hearn (unassisted).
With Portland making several trips to the penalty box, the Capers kept the pressure on, but hit the post twice. Then, Dylan Kenney and classmates Erik Casparius and Jason Smith turned up the intensity and grabbed most of the contested ground balls.
With 2:25 to go in the quarter, Dylan Kenney stole the ball in the Cape Elizabeth zone, raced in and beat Roos to end an 11 minute, 19 second drought and give his team a 10-4 lead which it would carry to the fourth.
“It was really tough being down players,” Casparius said. “They came into the second half with a lot of pressure. We were able to hold them off.”
“At halftime, we knew it would be a game,” Begonia added. “They’ll never give up. We knew we’d give up some goals to an offense like that. We had a nice lead at the half, but we possessed the ball and attacked the goal.”
Capers’ senior All-American Mike Holden made it 10-5 with a goal (from junior Harper Nelson) with 8:07 left in regulation, but Jurgelevich answered with a highlight reel man-down unassisted goal, eluding defenders before beating Roos. With 5:15 left, Sandler scored unassisted to end any remaining Cape Elizabeth comeback hopes.
Late in the fourth, Pillsbury (from Foden, man-up) and Holden (from junior Will Desena, man-down) scored for the hosts, but with 18.1 seconds to go, Portland sophomore Bronson Guimond slammed the door, scoring unassisted on a two-man advantage to bring the curtain down on the 13-7 victory.
“They stayed with us in the second half,” Jurgelevich said. “It was tough until the end. Cape’s always a team to beat. Year in, year out. This is great for us.”
“A game like this is always a war,” added Begonia. “This was huge, especially for our seniors and every single one of them contributed tonight. You can’t ask for a better game. Turnovers are going to happen and we put ourselves in the penalty box, but we’re experienced enough to get the next play. We always talk about that and we did it on all aspects of the field. We made smart decisions. The seniors will take us as far as we’re going to go. They showed why we’re such a solid team this year.”
In addition to Jurgelevich’s production, the offense featured three goals from Sandler, two each from Caleb Kenney and Sam Guimond (who also had one assist), and one apiece from Dylan Kenney (one assist), Bronson Guimond and Roberts (one assist). Nielsen and Holt each added an assist.
Senior Nick Sterling stopped five shots in the fourth quarter and 10 for the game.
The Bulldogs won 17 of 23 faceoffs, forced 44 turnovers, outshot the hosts 44-42 and won 67 ground balls to just 43 for the Capers.
Smith had 11 ground balls and held Holden (two goals) at bay.
“They run their offense usually around Holden,” Casparius said. “We put Jason Smith, who’s been amazing this year, on him and he didn’t really do much.”
Jurgelevich added 10 ground balls, Casparius and Dylan Kenney both grabbed nine.
Senior Sether Hanson led Cape Elizabeth (5-2) with seven ground balls. The Capers also got two goals and an assist from Foden, and one goal each from O’Hearn, Pillsbury and Smith. Roos stopped 12 shots.
Cape Elizabeth is at South Portland Monday and hosts Greely Wednesday.
Portland, meanwhile, can now turn its attention to the game everyone’s talking about, its trip to undefeated, defending Class B state champion Yarmouth (6-0) Monday at 7 p.m.
Last year, the Bulldogs beat the Clippers for the first time ever, 12-11 at home, then lost, 9-1, at Yarmouth in a rematch.
Not only are state bragging rights on the line, but Portland has a chance to do something that no team has done since May, 14, 2002, win at Yarmouth (Cape Elizabeth did the honors, 16-6). The Clippers are riding 59-game winning and 62-game unbeaten streaks on their home turf.
“It’s going to be a fun night,” said Jurgelevich. “We’re trying to make history this year.”
“That’s going to be the huge test,” Casparius said. “They’re always a top team. Once we looked at our schedule, that’s a game we had highlighted. We look forward to having the tests. That’s what we live for. That’s what lacrosse is all about.”
“Craig Curry does a great job with those guys,” Begonia added. “They have great players. They have an aggressive defense. They’re good on the faceoff. We’re good at winning faceoffs. It’ll be a real test for us. Against teams that like, possession is huge. They haven’t lost there in a long time.
“We’re going to break them down a little bit Monday, but I’m giving the guys a day off to enjoy this. It’s a big deal to win here. Six years ago, when I first came over here, I told the guys to forget the name on their jersey and just play. Tonight, I told them I want them to remember the name on your jersey. We can play with anybody these days.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mhoffer