PORTLAND—Not much was going the way of the Portland field hockey team Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
For starters, the Bulldogs had to get up early to play a 9 a.m. game.
Then, Portland fell behind visiting Biddeford, 1-0, in the first half as the Bulldogs weren’t able to finish on offense.
But just when things looked bleak, Portland came to life.
With 15:41 to play, an unlikely hero, junior Catherine Brewer, scored on a penalty corner and the Bulldogs were even.
Then, a little over four minutes later, sophomore Taylor Sargent scored the latest in her series of clutch goals, finishing a feed from senior Gabby Wagabaza to put Portland ahead.
Down the stretch, the Bulldogs had to hold on for dear life and escape a few scary moments, but they managed to do so and prevailed, 2-1.
Portland stretched its win streak to four games, improved to 7-3 and dropped the Tigers to 5-5 in the process.
“We’ve had a strategy to keep everyone who is behind us (in the Heal Points standings) behind us and pretty much every team we’ve beaten, has been behind us,” said Bulldogs coach Beth Arsenault. “(Biddeford) the first team that was ahead of us. We don’t want to let any opportunity pass us by.”
While Biddeford had been up and down so far in 2014 (beating McAuley, Deering, Massabesic, Noble and Sanford and losing to Cheverus, Gorham, Marshwood and Scarborough), Portland seems to be hitting its stride when it matters most.
The Bulldogs opened with home wins over Noble (3-0) and Windham (7-2). After falling at Sanford, 3-1, Portland lost at home to defending Western A champion Scarborough, 7-0, then rallied for a 5-3 victory at South Portland. After losing, 4-1, to visiting Thornton Academy, Portland won at Westbrook (2-1) and Bonny Eagle (4-0) and at home over McAuley (5-0).
Last year, Biddeford beat the visiting Bulldogs, 2-1.
Saturday, Portland was seeking its first win over the Tigers since Oct. 5, 2012 (5-0 in Biddeford).
The Bulldogs would get it, but they had to rally to do so.
A little over eight minutes into the game, Biddeford got the jump when senior Mallory Mourmouras sored unassisted.
While Portland had its chances in the first half, it couldn’t finish and the Tigers took a 1-0 advantage to halftime.
As the second half neared its midway point, the Bulldogs were still behind and a good opportunity appeared to be slipping away, but then senior Gabby Wagabaza broke free and had a great chance to tie the score.
Instead, Wagabaza was denied by Biddeford senior goalie Marissa Heffernan.
Portland kept the pressure on and with 15:41 to play, after an initial shot on a penalty corner was blocked, the ball came out to Brewer, who beat Heffernan with a long shot to make it 1-1.
“It was two halves that were relatively evenly played, we just couldn’t convert in the first half,” Arsenault said. “We didn’t put enough pressure on in the circle. Our fullback scored our first goal, so that’s a good sign of pressure in the second half.”
With 11:18 remaining, the Bulldogs transitioned again and this time, finished a picture-perfect sequence.
Junior Lauren McIntyre brought the ball up the field, passed to Wagabaza on the right flank and Wagabaza crossed the ball to Sargent in front, who only had to tap it home for a 2-1 lead.
“We didn’t come out as strong as we should have at first, but that tying goal got us fired up,” Sargent said. “It was perfect passing. Gabby just looked at me, passed it and boom! It just worked out.”
“That second goal you couldn’t draw up better,” Arsenault said. “It’s great when you practice things and then they execute them in a game.”
Biddeford then looked to answer.
With 9:58 left, Tigers senior Sophany Srey had a great look, but was robbed by Portland junior goalie Gianna Gaudet.
After McIntyre had two looks on a breakaway to put the game away turned aside by Heffernan, Biddeford tried again.
With 1:24 left, junior Charlotte White had a great look, but sent the ball just wide.
The Bulldogs were able to slam the door from there and prevail, 2-1.
“Biddeford’s a tough team,” Sargent said. “It was so nervewracking at the end. I thought they were going to score, but Gianna’s one of the best goalies. I’m so happy we have her.”
Portland enjoyed a 7-5 shots advantage and had seven corners to just three for the Tigers. Heffernan made five saves, while Gaudet stopped four shots.
Biddeford (seventh in the Western A Heals at press time) is back in action Monday when it hosts South Portland.
It looks like Portland’s two-year playoff drought will end, but the Bulldogs aren’t satisfied just going to the postseason, they hope to finish as high as possible and earn at least one home game.
Portland (ninth in Western A) visits Cheverus Monday, hosts Deering in its home finale Wednesday, then goes to Gorham Friday and closes at Marshwood Tuesday of next week.
A lot of Heal Points are there for the taking.
“The next goal is homefield advantage,” Sargent said. “I hope we can get there and I think we will. We need to improve on passing and fast breaks and getting the ball up the field faster.”
“We’d love to host a playoff game,” Arsenault said. “It isn’t enough to just get in. We think we have the potential to go beyond that. The team’s lived up to expectations. We’ve had an interesting season. We’re a resilient group. We’ve had stuff we had to overcome, but the girls keep rolling and nothing gets them down.”