PORTLAND—Back on May 8, the Portland boys’ lacrosse team received its biggest scare of the 2010 season when it had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat host Lewiston, 12-10.
Saturday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium, in a rematch in the semifinal round of the Eastern Class A playoffs, the Bulldogs made sure they controlled the contest, never trailing and leading for all but 6 minutes, 54 seconds.
Portland scored four straight goals in a span of 7 minutes, 15 seconds of the first and second periods to take a four-goal lead and more or loss nursed it the rest of the way, going on to a workmanlike 9-5 victory over the Blue Devils (7-7), improving to 13-0 in the process.
Senior Jason Knight, junior Caleb Kenney and sophomore Seamus Kilbride all had two goals and senior Kevin Nielsen scored once and added five assists for the Bulldogs who never led by fewer than three goals in the second half.
Next, the defending Class A champions will host No. 3 Messalonskee (a stunning 6-4 upset winner over No. 2 Brunswick in the other semifinal) in Wednesday’s Eastern A Final (scheduled tentatively to start at 5:30 p.m.).
“We were able to pull through at the end,” said Nielsen. “We got off to a good start. It was a little sloppy in the second half, but we won.”
Portland last lost a game May 18 of last year, an 11-9 epic at Yarmouth. The Bulldogs, who were a veritable all-star team in 2009, went on to win the program’s first state championship, then lost a ton of talent to graduation, leading many to believe they wouldn’t be a title contender in 2010.
Instead, Portland has simply kept the good times rolling, winning all 12 regular season contests, most with ease, to earn the top seed in Eastern A, while extending its win streak to 20 games entering Saturday.
Lewiston, meanwhile, went 6-6 in the regular season, but as it proved last month, it’s a very dangerous squad. The fifth-ranked Blue Devils pitched a rare playoff shutout in a 3-0 win at No. 4 Deering in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.
Saturday, the Bulldogs didn’t paint a masterpiece, but got the job done.
It took almost six minutes for the scoring ice to be broken before Nielsen set up Knight for a goal and a 1-0 lead. With 3:24 to go in the first period, Lewiston drew even when senior Erik Tiner scored unassisted. With 2:08 to play in the quarter, Portland took the lead for good when Nielsen set up senior Gordon Parker, whose shot eluded Blue Devils’ junior goalie Jessie Leeman.
A three-goal flurry in the second period gave the Bulldogs some breathing room.
Just 1:25 in, Kenney (who scored 10 times his last time out, a 16-12 home win over Scarborough) got a rebound of his own shot and fired it home. With 7:16 left in the half, Nielsen took a pass from Knight and launched a rocket from some 20-yards out that found the net. Twenty-three seconds later, Nielsen returned to his assisting ways, setting up sophomore Seamus Kilbride for a goal and a 5-1 advantage.
“It was very important to get off to a good start,” Nielsen said. “We knew they could play with us. They were up and emotional coming off last game. We were ready and we knew what to expect this time.”
“Getting a lead was huge mentally,” added Portland coach Eric Begonia. “We’ve played from behind and we know we can do it, but it’s certainly more comfortable playing from in front.”
Lewiston ended the 4-0 Bulldogs run and a nearly 11-minute drought when junior Elliot Chicoine (from classmate Curtis Robinson) scored with 4:49 to go in the half, but Kenney (from Nielsen) answered with 2:25 left and Portland was up 6-2 at the break.
The first half statistics were relatively close, but 18 forced turnovers and a 33-21 advantage in ground balls helped the Bulldogs build a lead.
The hosts wouldn’t do anything flashy in the second half, just match the Blue Devils goal for goal to advance.
With 6:37 to play in the third period, Lewiston drew within three on a goal from junior Sam Cloutier (assisted by Robinson), but 31 seconds later, Kilbride answered man-up (from Nielsen). Seconds before, Kilbride had his clocked cleaned in front of the goal (for a second time) by Leeman, but he got the ultimate revenge and made it 7-3.
The Blue Devils made it a 7-4 contest when Cloutier scored unassisted 2:11 into the fourth, but Knight (from Kenney) and junior Bronson Guimond (on a pretty individual move) responded and Portland was up 9-4 with 4:48 to play.
Lewiston would score one more time (Robinson, unassisted) with 3:05 to play, but the Bulldogs defense slammed the door from there, bringing the curtain down on the 9-5 triumph.
“We weren’t ready the first time,” Nielsen said. “They wanted it more than us. We know how to win. We were able to pull through.”
“On a day like today, with all the scores I’m hearing (South Portland also lost as a higher seed), this was definitely good enough,” Begonia said. “We’ll take a victory on a day like today. Our guys knew (about the other upsets) coming in. It’s playoff time. We weren’t as patient on offense as we could have been. We let them hang around, but we played four quarters.
“I thought we were stronger defensively than offensively today. Gordon Parker at midfield was phenomenal on defense. He played really well. I’m proud of what he did there. We’re finally healthy which made a big difference.”
Six different Bulldogs got in the scoring column. Kenney and Knight both had two goals and one assist. Kilbride scored twice, while Guimond, Parker and Nielsen (who also had the five assists) had one goal apiece.
“Caleb’s been dominating all season,” Nielsen said. “Other people will have to step up for us to win. You can’t win with just one player.”
“We have guys who can (step up),” Begonia said. “Bronson Guimond, Jason Knight, Seamus and (freshman) Max (Pierter) have all done a nice job. Kevin’s a nice tag team to have with Caleb. He’s a threat to score as well. We have guys who can put the ball in the cage. The other guys are happy not to be Caleb Kenney since they won’t get double teamed.”
Sophomore goalie Ryan Jurgelevich was solid when he had to be, stopping 14 shots.
Portland won nine of 17 faceoffs, forced 27 turnovers (while committing 21) and grabbed 49 ground balls (Guimond and Kenney both had nine, Parker snared eight).
The Blue Devils got two goals from Cloutier and one each from Chicoine, Robinson (two assists) and Tiner. Leeman made nine saves. Lewiston had a 40-32 edge in shots on goal and wound up with 50 ground balls (paced by 11 from Robinson and nine from Leeman).
Another regional final
Portland qualified for its second straight regional final and its fifth since 2004. The Bulldogs are long past being happy to reach that round, as they have their sights set firmly on another championship. Portland beat Messalonskee, 14-11, May 15 at home. The teams have no playoff history.
“I’m so happy it’s Messalonskee,” said Nielsen. “Brunswick’s a great team. Messalonskee’s good too, it’ll be tough. There’s still pressure since everyone said we weren’t going to be able to do it.”
“I expect it to be very competitive,” Begonia said. “They’ll be on a huge high after beating Brunswick. They’ll be motivated to come back here. We certainly have a big target on us. We’ll have to take everyone’s best punch.”
If Portland beats Messlaonskee Wednesday, it would face either Scarborough (9-5) or Thornton Academy (8-6) in the Class A state final Saturday at 5:30 p.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Bulldogs beat the Red Storm in the season finale and didn’t face the Golden Trojans this spring.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org