PORTLAND—Good things might come to those who wait, but what Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team had to endure Wednesday evening was ridiculous.
It took over two hours of trying, but the Bulldogs finally figured out a way to slay the nemesis Stags of Cheverus in a marathon, instant classic Eastern Class A playoff showdown at Deering High School’s Memorial Field.
Four weeks after blowing a 4-0 lead and losing to the Stags in the final minute, 10-9, third-ranked Portland had an abundance of chances to put Cheverus away and win a quarterfinal round game for the first time, but the Stags answered every challenge and the game would go on and on and on.
The Bulldogs led 7-6 at halftime and went on top, 10-7, when junior standout Merritt Ryan scored unassisted with 15:57 to play, but Cheverus erupted for four goals in 67 seconds and took an 11-10 advantage when senior MaryKate Walsh, who was injured and missed the regular season encounter, scored with 12:32 remaining.
Back roared Portland to tie the score on junior Lauren McIntyre’s first varsity goal 26 seconds later and with 7:47 to go, McIntyre set up senior Ella Coose, who was also injured for the first game, and the Bulldogs were on the verge of victory, but with 3:12 left, Walsh scored unassisted to make it 12-12 and the game would go to overtime.
In the first three-minute non-sudden victory OT, junior Callie Sturgeon and Ryan scored for Portland, but in the second OT, junior Anne Veroneau and senior Abby Biegel answered for the Stags to tie the score again, 14-14.
A fluky goal off a pass from junior Isabel Stehli seemingly gave the Bulldogs the win with 44 seconds remaining, but with just 13.3 seconds on the clock, Veroneau set up junior Allie Scott for a goal and once more, improbably, Cheverus had rallied to make it 15-15 and it was on to a third, sudden victory overtime session.
There, Stags senior goalie Hope Correia, who has been in countless big spots in her high school career, denied both Stehli and Ryan to keep her team alive and a fourth OT would be needed to decide a winner.
Where at last, Portland got the job done.
After Walsh missed on a good look to win it for Cheverus, the Bulldogs transitioned, the ball came to Coose and Coose wouldn’t be denied, finishing with 1:04 to play in the fourth overtime and Portland had outlasted the Stags in a game for the ages, 16-15.
Ryan and Walsh both scored six times, but it was Coose who proved to be the difference maker as the Bulldogs improved to 8-5, ended Cheverus’ season at 5-8 and advanced to meet No. 2 Mt. Ararat (12-1) in an Eastern A semifinal Friday at 5 p.m. at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
“It’s amazing,” said an exhausted and exuberant Coose following the win. “I’m so impressed with us for coming back. It’s indescribable. We always wanted to beat Cheverus and get past this first cursed playoff game.”
Cheverus won the 2013 Class A state title, but fell in last year’s championship game in five overtimes to Massabesic. Under new coach Jennifer Wescott, the Stags were slow out of the gate, but still managed to go 5-7 and earn the No. 6 seed in Eastern A.
Portland was competitive throughout and its 7-5 mark was good for the third seed.
The teams had met just once before in the postseason, a 9-6 Cheverus win in the 2010 quarterfinals.
Wednesday, the Stags hoped to do it again on a pleasant night for lacrosse, but instead, the Bulldogs managed to snap a four-game skid at the hands of their city rival and beat Cheverus for the first time since May 2, 2011 (9-4 at Fitzpatrick Stadium).
Not that they did it easily.
Both offenses were effective in the first half.
Just 37 seconds in, Ryan scored unassisted to give Portland the lead.
The Stags responded with 22:14 to go in the first half, as Biegel finished a feed from Walsh. Walsh scored unassisted with 16:15 left to put Cheverus on top, but that would be the visitor’s lone lead of the half.
Senior Ellis Linsmith tied the score for Portland at the 14:34 mark and 37 seconds later, Stehli set up Ryan for a goal which made it 3-2 Bulldogs.
Walsh tied the score unassisted with 13:34 left in the half, as she beat Portland senior goalie Elizabeth Victor.
The Bulldogs then rattled off three straight goals, as Sturgeon scored unassisted with 12:46 to go, Linsmith scored unassisted at the 9:58 mark and with 6:38 showing, Sturgeon set up Linsmith to make it 6-3.
Senior Nicole Pineau answered unassisted with 3:58 to play before the break, but 28 seconds later, Stehli restored a three-goal lead with an unassisted tally.
The Stags finished the half strong, however, as Scott scored on a free position with 42.7 seconds to go and with 19.6 seconds remaining, Walsh took a pass from Biegel and finished to cut the deficit to 7-6 at halftime.
The fun was just beginning.
After Victor preserved the lead by denying a Biegel shot 36 seconds into the second half, Ryan finished a feed from Linsmith with 23:58 to play to make it 8-6 Portland.
With 21:12 to go, a Scott free position goal pulled Cheverus back within one, but after junior Emily Duff was just wide on an attempt to tie, Ryan scored unassisted with 16:39 left in regulation and 42 seconds later, Stehli set up Ryan for another goal and a 10-7 lead.
Which didn’t last.
The Stags began their 67-second offensive explosion with 13:39 to play, as Scott scored on a free position. Twenty-four seconds later, Veroneau scored her first goal to cut the deficit to one. With 13:01 left, freshman Mackenzie Johnston scored unassisted to tie the score and 29 seconds later, Biegel set up Walsh to put Cheverus on top, 11-10.
The Stags couldn’t handle prosperity either, however, and with 12:06 remaining in regulation, Ryan set up McIntyre, who was recently called up from the junior varsity team, who beat Correia to make it 11-11.
After Victor robbed Veroneau, Correia denied a free position shot by Coose.
Then, with 7:47 left, Coose managed to finish, as she took a pass from McIntyre before scoring, giving Portland a 12-11 advantage.
The Bulldogs couldn’t hold it.
After Pineau hit the post on a free position, then was denied by Victor, Correia twice robbed Ryan to keep Cheverus alive.
Then, with 3:12 showing, Walsh beat a defender on a crease roll, then shot past Victor to make it 12-12.
Veroneau almost won the game late in regulation, but with 30.1 seconds to go, Victor stopped her cold and it was on to overtime.
In girls’ lacrosse, teams play a three-minute OT period, then switch sides and play three more minutes. Whoever is ahead at the end of six minutes is declared the winner, but if the score remains tied, it’s on to sudden victory and that’s how this one would play out.
After a Stags turnover to start OT, Sturgeon put Portland ahead with an unassisted goal with 1:58 left in the first session. With 11.2 seconds to go, Linsmith set up Ryan and the Bulldogs again appeared in command, up, 14-12, but the Stags had them right where they wanted them.
After Johnston won the draw to start the second OT, Johnston set up Veroneau for a goal with 2:46 left, making it 14-13.
Following a Portland turnover, Biegel was awarded a free position and she finished with 1:25 to go, tying the score anew, 14-14.
Victor prevented Johnston from putting Cheverus on top and after the Bulldogs transitioned to offense, Stehli appeared to attempt a pass out front of the Stags’ goal, but it hit a defender’s stick and took a fluky bounce past Correia and into the net to give Portland a 15-14 advantage with just 44 seconds showing.
Still, the Stags weren’t finished.
Johnston won the ensuing draw and after Veroneau kept her team’s season alive by winning a contested ground ball, she set up Scott for the equalizer with 13.3 seconds to go and for the eighth time, the game was tied, 15-15.
“The girls remembered the last game where we beat them the whole time, then lost late,” said Portland coach Cam McManus. “We knew no matter how much time was left on the clock, Cheverus is really good. They’re a great program. They have amazing shooters. We couldn’t feel for a second like we had it in the bag.”
The third overtime brought the threat of the game ending at any moment, but three minutes didn’t produce a goal.
The Bulldogs got the ball first, but turned it over. Ryan got it back and with 2:05 left, Stehli had a chance to end it, but Correia made the save. After Linsmith got the ball back, Portland got another great look, but Correia denied Ryan and the game would go to a fourth OT.
Which finally brought about some resolution.
Cheverus had two looks to win it, but Walsh shot just wide with 1:34 remaining, then was called for a charge nine seconds later.
The Bulldogs almost lost the ball, but Stehli corralled it at midfield, then spotted Coose open up the field.
Coose raced for a loose ball near the goal and appeared to be fouled, but she stayed with the play, collected the ball and went one-on-one with Correia.
At 8:06 p.m., after over two hours of palpitating back-and-forth lacrosse, Coose sent a shot past Correia and into the net and for the first time in the program’s 16-year history, Portland had itself a quarterfinal round playoff win.
“I thought I’d get a foul call, but they were still pressuring me, so I thought I’d just do it,” said Coose. “I think I blacked out. It was just so amazing.”
“Ella’s just a player who puts the ball in the net,” said McManus. “She’s very tenacious. She has great stick skills and can focus on little things, like faking out the goalie and placing the ball. She makes plays. I’m glad she had the heart to keep working after getting fouled.”
Bulldogs 16 Stags 15.
“I can’t say I’m the hero,” Coose said. “My team went through so much. I think we all just worked so hard. We’ve worked all season for this and it really paid off. We caught them off guard. They weren’t expecting Portland High School to make this such a challenge.”
“I felt so relieved (when Ella scored),” Ryan said. “It was fun, crazy. We know all the Cheverus girls. It was fun to beat them.They beat us in the regular season, so it felt good to get them back. We had a goal to get past the first round of playoffs. It feels so good to do that. We’re really close on and off the field. We have good team chemistry. That carries on to the field. We all knew how badly we wanted it and that carried us through. The mind will go first when you’re tired, but your legs keep going and we kept pushing.”
“I just felt for the girls,” McManus added. “They got no break at all. They didn’t get a chance to collect themselves. Emotions were high. You feel for the seniors, knowing it could be the end of their high school career. I have probably 10 times as much gray hair as I did before. I’m just glad we came out with the win. We wanted a winning record and a home playoff game and to win a playoff game. The connection the girls have with each other is great. They support each other. They rally around each other. We have great leadership with eight seniors. Everyone’s come together.”
The win was just the fourth in Portland’s postseason history and its first since a 9-8 preliminary round victory over South Portland in 2009.
The Bulldogs got six goals from Ryan, three from Linsmith, two apiece from Coose, Stehli and Sturgeon and one from McIntyre. Linsmith and Stehli had two assists apiece, while McIntyre, Ryan and Sturgeon each finished with one. Victor made nine saves and Portland had a 25-24 edge in shots on goal.
The Stags got six goals from Walsh in her swan song. Scott added four goals, while Biegel and Veroneau each scored twice and Johnston finished with one. Biegel had two assists, while Johnston, Veroneau and Walsh had one apiece. Correia made nine saves. Cheverus won 23 of 35 draws, but still fell short.
“Why do we have to end seasons like this?” lamented Wescott, who was an assistant a year ago for the state game heartbreaker. “We never gave up and I’m so proud. We were the underdog. Portland played a great game. We played a great game. The girls stayed composed and never gave up. It came down to the last shot. It’s unfortunate. If you’re going to go out, then go out like that. Both teams fought hard. I told the girls I was proud of them. We’ve talked all year that if we’re going to lose, than to lose with 100 percent of their heart. They dug deep.”
The Stags’ final record will be misleading, as they made great strides over the past couple months.
“I had a great group of girls,” said Wescott. “It just took awhile to click. One day our offense was on and our defense was off. One day our defense was on and our offense was off. The seniors were a great group. Great girls. I’ll miss them. I hoped for more for them. They fought hard and I know they wanted it.”
Graduation will hit the program hard, but plenty of talent lies in reserve. Cheverus should be right back in the title hunt in 2016.
“Not to be already moving on, but I’m really excited for next year,” said Wescott. “We have a great returning group and a talented freshman class. We’ll be back. This isn’t the last of us.”
Portland didn’t face Mt. Ararat this season. The teams have met just one prior in the playoffs, a 12-9 Eagles’ win in the 2011 quarterfinals.
That was before McManus started coaching and before any current player was in high school.
After making so much history this spring, the Bulldogs are hoping to make a little more.
“This gives us really good momentum,” Ryan said. “We don’t know what to expect from Mt. Ararat, but we’ll go out and give our all and see what happens.”
“We’re really confident we can keep going and catapult all the way,” Coose said.
“I know nothing about Mt. Ararat, so we’re going in blind, but at this point, we’ll just ride our momentum,” McManus added. “The girls have such a good time being on the field together. We’ll go out and do our best.”
Cheverus senior Abby Biegel races up the field.
Portland senior Ella Coose is defended by Cheverus senior Nicole Pineau.
Portland junior Merritt Ryan gets a step on Cheverus junior Anne Veroneau.
Cheverus senior Nicole Pineau fires a shot.
Portland senior Ella Coose goes one-on-one with Cheverus senior goalie Hope Correia.
Portland junior Merritt Ryan, who had six goals, is tailed by Cheverus senior Nicole Pineau.
Portland junior Callie Sturgeon races in for a goal.
Cheverus junior Anne Veroneau is defended by Portland senior Julia Pasquali.
Portland senior goalie Elizabeth Victor stands tall. Victor made nine saves.
2010 Eastern A quarterfinals
Cheverus 9 Portland 6
Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team erupts in a long-anticipated celebration after the Bulldogs outlasted Cheverus, 16-15, in four overtimes, in the rivals’ Eastern A quarterfinal round marathon Wednesday evening. Portland will take part in the semifinals for the first time in program history when it goes to Mt. Ararat Friday.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
C- 6 6 0 3 0 0- 15
P- 7 5 2 1 0 1- 16
24:23 P Ryan (unassisted)
22:14 C Biegel (Walsh)
16:15 C Walsh (unassisted)
14:34 P Linsmith (unassisted)
13:57 P Ryan (Stehli)
13:34 C Walsh (unassisted)
12:46 P Stugeon (unassisted)
9:58 P Linsmith (unassisted)
6:38 P Sturgeon (Linsmith)
3:58 C Pineau (unassisted)
3:30 P Stehli (unassisted)
42.7 C Scott (free position)
19.6 C Walsh (Biegel)
23:58 P Ryan (Linsmith)
21:12 C Scott (free position)
16:39 P Ryan (Unassisted)
15:57 P Ryan (Stehli)
13:39 C Scott (free position)
13:15 C Veroneau (unassisted)
13:01 C Johnston (unassisted)
12:32 C Walsh (Biegel)
12:06 P McIntyre (Ryan)
7:47 P Coose (McIntyre)
3:12 C Walsh (unassisted)
1:58 P Sturgeon (unassisted)
11.2 P Ryan (Linsmith)
2:46 C Veroneau (Johnston)
1:25 C Biegel (free position)
44.0 P Stehli (unassisted)
13.3 C Scott (Veroneau)
1:04 P Coose (unassisted)
C- Walsh 6, Scott 4, Biegel, Veroneau 2, Johnston 1
P- Ryan 6, Linsmith 3, Coose, Stehli, Sturgeon 2, McIntyre 1
C- Biegel 2, Johnston, Veroneau, Walsh 1
P- Linsmith, Stehli 2, McIntyre, Ryan, Sturgeon 1
Draws (Cheverus, 23-12)
Shots on cage:
C (Correia) 9
P (Victor) 9