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Despite the expectations of many a pundit, the Portland boys’ lacrosse team is one win away from playing for another Class A state title.
That’s because the top-ranked Bulldogs were the lone local team to advance, downing No. 5 Lewiston, 9-5, during Saturday’s semifinal round of the Eastern A playoffs.
The Blue Devils were coming off a 3-0 quarterfinal round win at No. 4 Deering.
Cheverus, ranked sixth in Eastern A, went to third-seeded Messalonskee for its quarterfinal and lost, 9-6.
In Western B, No. 3 Waynflete was ousted Saturday by second-ranked Cape Elizabeth, 15-1, in the semifinals.
Bulldogs roll on
Portland won its first championship a year ago, then graduated a ton of talent, but hasn’t missed a beat in 2010, winning all 12 regular season contests to earn the top seed. The Bulldogs’ biggest scare came May 8 at Lewiston, when they had to rally in the fourth period for a 12-10 victory.
Saturday, however, Portland seized control early and sent the Blue Devils packing in the first ever playoff meeting between the schools.
Portland scored four straight goals in a span of 7 minutes, 15 seconds of the first and second periods to break a tie and take a four-goal lead and it 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.
“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 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 will host No. 3 Messalonskee (which shocked No. 2 Brunswick in the semifinals) Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The Bulldogs beat the Eagles, 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,” Portland coach Eric 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.
One and done
The other city teams weren’t as fortunate.
Deering ended up with the No. 4 seed in Eastern A and took part in a postseason game for the first time since 2007 when it hosted Lewiston in the quarterfinals last Wednesday.
The teams didn’t meet this year and had no playoff history. Heading in, had you told Deering that it would hold Lewiston to three goals, it would have expected to advance, but instead, the Rams couldn’t even tickle the twine once. The Blue Devils took a 2-0 lead after period and made it 3-0 at halftime. Neither team could generate any offense in the third and fourth quarters and Deering’s season came to a frustrating end at 7-6.
“Our defense was great,” said Rams coach Bob Rothbart. “I haven’t seen anyone play defense better than (sophomore Karl) Rickett. He showed why he’s a first-team all-conference. It was a very winnable game until the end, but we don’t catch, we don’t throw and we don’t clear. We didn’t have too many opportunities. We just threw the ball away. We got beaten on ground balls and couldn’t catch.”
Deering should be more formidable in 2011, as several key players return and standout junior Carleton Allen (who missed most of the season with a knee injury) figures to be back in the mix.
“Basically the whole defense comes back and Carleton will be back,” Rothbart said. “Most of my middies are sophomores, with some juniors scattered in there. We’ll have one more year of experience. We had a lot of injuries, but it was a good season. We equaled the number of wins we had the last two seasons.”
Cheverus wound up sixth in Eastern A and had to go to Messalonskee for the quarterfinals. Back on May 7, the Stags lost at the Eagles, 10-7. The teams had no prior playoff history.
Messalonskee led virtually throughout, going up 4-2 after one quarter, 5-3 at the half, 7-5 after three and holding on for a 9-6 victory. Junior Evan Jendrasko had two goals to lead Cheverus’ offense. Senior goalie Sean Oddy bowed out with 12 saves and a goal scored.
The Stags finished 6-7.
“We did a nice job in the first half of possessing the ball and controlling the pace of the game,” said Stags coach Deke Andrew. “We lost our rhythm a bit in the second half, but kept working and tied the game at 5-5 with 7:35 to go in the third. Messalonskee scored two more to end the third and we couldn’t seem to close the margin the rest of the way.
“The highlight of the game for us was without question the first quarter goal scored by our senior goalie, Sean Oddy,” Andrew added. “(Assistant) coach (Jason) Hurley has worked with the team to create this opportunity for Sean. After making the save, Sean broke straight up-field. He crossed the midfield line and with no response from the riding midfielders, he continued. Crossing the opponents’ restraining line with no one sliding, he uncorked a nice hard shot from 10-yards out to close the margin to 3-2. The whole play was a thing of beauty.
“As indicated by our record, the season has featured a lot of ups and downs as we struggled to play consistently. Its difficult now to look at the semifinal matchups and know that we either played with or beat three out of the four semifinalists. It has been a great year for Maine high school lacrosse with great parity. The game is growing and changing rapidly.”
Cheverus looks to bounce back in 2011.
“We graduated five seniors last week, including our goalie, top defender and top attackman,” Andrew said. “That said, we have a lot of skilled underclassman and I expect to better our record and play deeper into the playoffs in 2011.”
In Western B, Waynflete got into the playoffs on the last possible day and earned the No. 3 seed with an 8-4 mark. The Flyers didn’t get much of a reward, having to go to perennial power and No. 2 seed Cape Elizabeth. Just last year, Cape Elizabeth eliminated the Flyers, 14-2, in the semis. The Capers also ended Waynflete’s season in the 1998 semifinals, the 1999 state final, the 2002 divisional semifinals and the 2008 semis. On June 2, in the regular season finale, Cape Elizabeth rolled, 16-3, at the Flyers.
Saturday was more of the same as the Capers cruised, 15-1. It was only 3-1 after one quarter and 6-1 at the half, but Cape Elizabeth pulled away in the second half to end Waynflete’s season at 8-5.
“We didn’t do a good job taking care of the ball and they got a ton of transition goals,” said Flyers coach Bob Johnson. “We changed our defense to a zone and they were really frustrated early. Five of their six first half goals were transition goals. Every time we had a turnover, they came down and scored. We wanted to play the zone and hold on to the ball and slow the game down. The kids got rattled when the ball went on the ground. They exploited quickly.”
Waynflete’s goal came from senior Josiah Baker-Connick. Junior Will Hallett stopped 19 shots.
“Will was amazing,” Johnson said.
The Flyers lose nine seniors, but should be just as competitive in 2011 as several key contributors return.
“It was a wonderful bunch of seniors,” Johnson said. “They’ve done a tremendous amount for the program. They’ll be tough to replace, but we have a good group of young players coming up.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org