BRUNSWICK—After surviving Cheverus in an epic and historic four-overtime Eastern Class A quarterfinal Wednesday evening, you had to wonder what the Portland girls’ lacrosse team had in mind for an encore.
How about another epic, historic victory, this time on the road against a team with a glowing record?
Friday afternoon, the Bulldogs, ranked third, traveled to Howard F. Ryan Athletic Field on the campus of Bowdoin College to battle once-beaten, second-seeded Mt. Ararat in the first semifinal round playoff contest in program history.
For the second time in three days, Portland would be pushed to its physical, mental and emotional limit and demonstrating a championship heart that so many doubted even existed, the Bulldogs once again saved their best for the game’s most grueling moments.
Both teams, especially Portland, shot themselves in the foot in the first half, turning the ball over time after time (most of the errors were unforced), but the Bulldogs’ few settled offensive possession resulted in a pair of goals from junior standout Merritt Ryan and another from Wednesday’s hero, senior Ella Coose, to forge a 3-3 deadlock at the break.
The second half featured stellar play from both squads.
Mt. Ararat appeared to seize control when it erupted for four goals in a 3 minute, 8 second span as the Eagles went on top, 8-4, but Portland junior Isabel Stehli roared to life, scoring three quick goals of her own to give the Bulldogs life.
After Mt. Ararat went back up by two, 9-7, Portland senior Ellis Linsmith, who was terrific all over the field all day, scored with 5:22 remaining to again make it a one-goal game.
The Bulldogs hit the post twice and the crossbar once in the second half and as time wound down, it looked as if they were doomed to a gutwrenching loss, but Ryan made sure they played on as she tied the game with 21.3 seconds remaining and it was on to overtime again.
In the first three-minute non-sudden victory OT, Ryan scored on a free position to put Portland ahead for the first time since the first half.
Then, the Bulldogs had to hold on for dear life and after Ryan pounced on a loose ball in the waning seconds, Portland was able to run out the clock and celebrate its exhausting and dramatic 10-9 triumph.
Ryan scored five times, giving her 99 goals for her stellar career, Stehli added three and senior goalie Liz Victor played the game of her life, making eight huge saves, as the Bulldogs improved to 9-5, ended Mt. Ararat’s season at 12-2 and advanced to take on top-ranked Messalonskee (13-1) in the uncharted waters of the Eastern Class A Final Wednesday at a time and location to be announced.
“The girls dug deep,” said Portland coach Cameron McManus. “After playing for two hours just two days ago, I don’t know how they did it. They put it all out on the field and now we get to keep going. They look forward to still being together every day, hanging out and playing lax.”
Portland went 7-5 in the regular season and Wednesday, in a game that didn’t seem to want to end, managed to outlast No. 6 Cheverus in a quarterfinal that will be remembered for a long time, 16-15, in four overtimes.
Mt. Ararat won every game but one this spring, a one-goal setback at top-ranked Messalonskee May 19, and earned the No. 2 seed in Eastern A. Tuesday, the Eagles ousted longtime nemesis, No. 7 Brunswick, 12-7, in their quarterfinal.
Prior to Friday, the teams had played just once in the playoffs, a 12-9 Mt. Ararat victory in the 2011 quarterfinals.
This meeting won’t soon be forgotten, especially by the Bulldogs, who added another glorious piece of history in the greatest week in program annals.
Playing in front of a boisterous group who took a fan bus north, it took Portland nearly seven minutes to enjoy a settled possession.
In the meantime, Victor made sure the game stayed scoreless, as she influenced Eagles junior Erin Tome and senior Rebecca Schuman to shoot wide on free positions before saving a bid from Tome.
With 18:03 to go in the first half, Ryan took matters into her own hands, eluding a pair of defenders before racing in and beating Mt. Ararat junior goalie Eleanor Skinner for a 1-0 lead.
The Eagles drew even with 15:17 remaining, as Schuman fired a quick pass to senior Alison Nolan, who finally solved Victor to make it 1-1.
Mt. Ararat coach Sam Chard called timeout midway through the first half and at that juncture, the teams had combined for 23 turnovers.
Ryan put Portland back on top, 2-1, with an unassisted goal with 10:41 remaining before halftime, but a little over a minute later, Tome finished a feed from sophomore Isa Blessington to re-tie the score.
After Victor denied Blessington and sophomore Emily Welch, Coose converted a free position to make it 3-2 Bulldogs with 1:40 to play, but after Victor robbed Tome and Ryan had a bid denied by Skinner, the Eagles drew even again with 22.3 seconds showing as Tome fired a free position which deflected into the net.
The first 25 minutes saw Portland hold a 4-3 edge in draws and a 21-18 advantage in ground balls, but a whopping 22 turnovers prevented the Bulldogs from holding the lead.
“The first half was ridiculous,” McManus said. “At one point, I asked if maybe the field was cursed. The ball was popping out all over the place. It goes out of bounds so quickly. We had to make adjustments.”
The Eagles took their first lead 62 seconds into the second half, as senior Katie Labbay took a pass from Schuman and finished, but with 21:22 to play in regulation, Ryan scored on a free position to make it 4-4.
Then, Mt. Ararat erupted and seemingly pulled away.
After Coose had a goal waved off for being in the crease, Labbay put the Eagles ahead with an unassisted goal at 20:17.
Just over a minute later, Nolan earned a free position and rocketed a shot past Victor to make it 6-4.
Tome got a hold of the ensuing draw and raced in and finished unassisted to make it 7-4 with 18:51 left.
The Eagles had three goals in 86 seconds and would make if four in 3:08 when Tome scored on a free position with 17:09 to play.
At that point, down four and tired on the heels of Wednesday’s overtimes, Portland could have understandably called it a night, but as it turned out, the Bulldogs had the Eagles right where they wanted them.
Stehli, who hardly saw the ball in the first half, started the comeback with an unassisted goal with 16:37 showing.
After Linsmith corralled the ensuing draw, she threw a long pass ahead to Stehli, who scored again 22 seconds later and suddenly the deficit was just two, 8-6.
“Isabel got a couple nice goals to get our momentum going,” Ryan said. “We never put our heads down. Four goals isn’t that much of a deficit. We got draws and goals and got momentum and that brought us back.”
Portland then ran into some bad luck, as Coose shot wide on an open net and junior Lauren McIntyre and Coose both hit the post.
“We never the hit the post in a game, but we did today,” McManus said.
Finally, with 10:28 to play, Stehli finished unassisted and the deficit was just one, 8-7.
“At the end of the first half, 3-3 was a pretty low score for a girls’ game,” Stehli said. “That was weird. We regrouped at halftime and figured out what we needed to do. Nerves were definitely a big thing. This type of surface messed with us. Once we got over those unjustifiable fears, we realized it was just lacrosse and we made a great game of it.”
The Eagles answered as after Schuman hit the post and Welch sent a free position wide, Nolan finished a feed from senior Alyssa Curit in transition to make it 9-7 with 7:25 remaining.
Undaunted, Portland got a huge game-saving stop from Victor on Blessington 18 seconds later and after junior Callie Sturgeon continued the visitors’ frustration by hitting the crossbar, Stehli set up Linsmith with 5:22 left in regulation to cut Mt. Ararat’s lead to 9-8.
After the Eagles won the ensuing draw, the Bulldogs forced a turnover and with 2:58 remaining, Linsmith had a look at tying the score, but Skinner made the save.
Mt. Ararat transitioned to offense and milked the clock to under a minute and it appeared Portland was going to fall short, but with 29.2 seconds to go, the Bulldogs got the ball back as Coose knocked it free and grabbed the ground ball.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the ball came to Ryan and after making an initial move forward toward the goal, Ryan stepped back, then raced to her right, cut back left with a nice spin move, then went one-on-one with Skinner and finished to make it a brand new game, 9-9, with just 21.3 seconds left on the clock.
“I knew we needed a goal, but I also knew the refs were calling charges easily,” Ryan said. “I had two girls on me. I tried to pull it out so I wouldn’t get a charge call and I turned and it was wide open and I just shot.”
After the teams traded turnovers in the waning seconds, it was on to overtime.
In girls’ lacrosse, teams play two three-minute overtime sessions. If the score is still tied after that span, it’s on to a third “sudden victory” OT, but unlike Wednesday, only six minutes would be needed to decide this one.
Portland had plenty of confidence entering overtime.
“Before Merritt scored, tears were coming down my face, but then she scored and we were back in it,” Linsmith said. “I felt comfortable going to overtime. I think we used it to our advantage.”
“The four overtimes against Cheverus prepared us for this,” Ryan said. “We were like, ‘Overtime, this is no big deal.’ We had adrenaline and we were able to keep going.”
“I felt like we had momentum,” McManus added. “It was nice to know that overtime was a place we’d been before for far longer than an overtime needs to be and we could stay composed. We were just happy to still be in it.”
With a steady rain beginning to fall, Portland won the draw to start overtime, but turned the ball over. The Bulldogs got the ball right back, however, as senior Lexie Michaud scooped up a ground ball. Ryan then got fouled and with 2:13 to go in the first OT, she finished a free position for a 10-9 lead.
“I’m pretty confident in free positions,” Ryan said. “I practice them a lot and I usually make them. Liz is a really good goalie, so practicing on her makes me better at them. I knew we needed it.”
No one thought the score would remain 10-9, but it did.
Not that the Bulldogs didn’t have to suffer through some anxious moments.
Mt. Ararat had a chance to draw even with 1:01 left, but Labbay’s shot was denied by Victor.
With 19.5 seconds to go, Labbay earned a free position, but Victor made another save.
“The team gets fired up when I make a save,” Victor said. “Free positions are always my specialty.”
In the second overtime, Ryan won the opening draw and Linsmith had a great chance to extend the lead, but with 2:29 left, she hit the post.
Portland tried to milk the clock, but with 1:34 remaining, the Bulldogs turned the ball over.
The Eagles would earn a free position, but Welch lost control of the ball.
Coose then raced in with a chance to ice the win, but she was stripped of the ball and with 38.9 seconds to play, Mt. Ararat got possession with one final chance.
First, play was halted for five minutes as an injured Eagle was tended to.
Then, Mt. Ararat hoped to get the ball into the offensive zone with a chance to keep its season alive, but Ryan got a loose ball and threw it to Stehli and from there, Portland ran out the clock and at 6:48 p.m., after 103 riveting minutes, the Bulldogs had done it again, 10-9.
“The end was hard,” Linsmith said. “It was a long game. We fed off each other’s energy. It doesn’t seem real yet, but it will come. I think our Cheverus win gave us such good momentum. We knew we could come back.. We’re a little sore, but we pushed through it because we’re making history. We just had to play our hardest. We’ve lost every single quarterfinal until this year. The seniors have been so fired up to come out to play as hard as we can to go as far as we can.”
“I’m just so happy,” Victor said. “We just want it so badly. We wanted it against Cheverus and we wanted it against Mt. Ararat.”
“I couldn’t be more proud,” McManus added. “I think the girls are holding it together better than I am. That’s good because they’re the ones on the field and they can perform under pressure. Maybe they calm me down. We were glad to have so many fans rooting us on. Not knowing much about (the Eagles) was an advantage. I felt like we should go out and focus on us and what we can do and I think we did that.”
Ryan’s game-winning goal was her fifth of the game and 99th of her stellar career. Stehli added three huge second half goals, while Coose and Linsmith each scored once. Stehli had an assist. Linsmith grabbed a game-high 11 ground balls and Ryan added 10, helping Portland enjoy a 46-41 advantage in that critical category.
Then there was Victor, who made eight saves and all of them were enormous.
“Liz is amazing,” said Linsmith. “I’ve played with her since third grade. She’s our rock. She holds the team together. She’s unbelievable.”
“That was a standard performance for Liz,” McManus said. “We’re so happy to have her as our last line of defense. She’s someone you want in the net. She has a great head on her shoulders. She doesn’t think goals are her fault. She’s always looking ahead to make adjustments. She’s a really smart player, a captain. The girls feed off her energy.”
The Bulldogs somehow overcame 33 turnovers.
“We couldn’t keep the ball in our sticks in the first half,” Linsmith said. “The turf was really bouncy and that got into our heads, but once we got into a rhythm, we used it as an advantage.”
Portland was 2-4 at one point this season, but now is two wins away from arguably the most improbable championship in the history of girls’ lacrosse in Maine.
“We had a really rough schedule early,” said McManus. “Massabesic, Scarborough, Cheverus, Windham. Big games against really good teams. We hadn’t really figured out our starting lineup yet. We had illnesses. At the end of the day, the girls have heart. They want it. They get amped up.”
Mt. Ararat got four goals from Tome, three from Nolan and two from Labbay. Schuman assisted on two goals and Blessington set up one. Skinner made two saves. Tome and senior Lauren Williams had a team-high seven ground balls. The Eagles won 12 of 23 draws and outshot Portland, 22-17 (17-12 on cage), but committed 33 turnovers.
When the season started, McManus expressed the hope that at some point, the Bulldogs could play at their true home field, Fitzpatrick Stadium (which has been under construction to have its turf replaced, forcing Portland to play games at rival Deering).
By the time the playoffs began, there was only one way that desire could be fulfilled.
By reaching the state final, which is when the new turf field will be debuted.
And now Portland is a mere 50 minutes (who are we kidding, maybe more) away from returning to Fitzpatrick Stadium for the biggest game of them all.
First, the Bulldogs will have to clear a mighty hurdle in the form of Messalonskee. The Eagles advanced to the regional final by virtue of wins over No. 8 McAuley (14-4) in Wednesday’s quarterfinal and fourth-ranked Lewiston (9-7) in Friday’s semifinal round.
Portland didn’t face Messalonskee this season. The Bulldogs lost to the Eagles in the 2012 quarterfinals (9-7, in overtime).
At this point, Portland plans to show up and play its game and take its chances and why not?
Everything the Bulldogs have touched this postseason has turned to gold.
“We love each other so much, we love the sport, we love our coaches and we don’t want the season to end,” Victor said. “We have a lot of seniors and we don’t want to stop playing lacrosse. We’re confident. We definitely have a chance.”
“At this point, we’ll fight anybody,” Linsmith said. “We’ll definitely put up a fight against them.”
“We’ve been building and working hard every day,” Stehli said. “We know we’re capable of going as far as possible. (To get back to Fitzy) would be so awesome, especially for our seniors who want it so bad. We need to stay confident and believe in ourselves. We believe we can do it. We’ll have tons of support from our fans and our school. It was awesome to see them out here today. Our coaches are so great. We’ll just come out and give it our best.”
“We’re peaking in the postseason and as a coach, that’s ideal,” McManus added. “We’re finding our groove. We’ll stick with what’s working for us. Maybe we can work on winning in 50 minutes, but I’ll take what I can get. If we have to play for another two hours, that’s fine with me.”
Portland senior Ella Coose races in for a free position goal.
Mt. Ararat junior Erin Tome tries to keep up with Portland senior Ellis Linsmith.
Portland junior Lauren McIntyre fights Mt. Ararat juniors Jordan Chase (25) and Ronni Pelletier for the ball.
Portland junior Isabel Stehli is defended by Mt. Ararat junior Jordan Chase.
Portland junior Merritt Ryan ties the score late in regulation.
Portland senior goalie Liz Victor makes one of her eight saves.
Portland junior Callie Sturgeon and her teammates share a mixture of joy and disbelief after the win.
Portland senior goalie Liz Victor raises her fist in triumph following the win.
Portland coach Cameron McManus beams during the postgame celebration.
2011 Eastern A quarterfinals
@ Mt. Ararat 12 Portland 9
Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team mobs senior goalie Liz Victor at the final horn of Friday’s 10-9 overtime win at Mt. Ararat in the Eastern Class A semifinals. The Bulldogs will play in their first regional final Wednesday, when they go to No. 1 Messalonskee.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
P- 3 6 1 0- 10
MA- 3 6 0 0- 9
18:03 P Ryan (unassisted)
15:17 MA Nolan (Schuman)
10:41 P Ryan (unassisted)
9:04 MA Tome (Blessington)
1:40 P Coose (free position)
22.3 MA Tome (free position)
23:58 MA Labbay (Schuman)
21:22 P Ryan (free position)
20:17 MA Labbay (unassisted)
19:04 MA Nolan (free position)
18:51 MA Tome (unassisted)
17:09 MA Tome (free position)
16:37 P Stehli (unassisted)
16:15 P Stehli (unassisted)
10:28 P Stehli (unassisted)
7:25 MA Nolan (Curit)
5:22 P Linsman (Stehli)
21.3 P Ryan (unassisted)
2:13 P Ryan (free position)
P- Ryan 5, Stehli 3, Coose, Linsmith 1
MA- Tome 4, Nolan 3, Labbay 2
P- Stehli 1
MA- Schuman 2, Blessington 1
Draws (Mt. Ararat, 12-11)
P- Ryan 8 of 15, Linsmith 2 of 4, Cox 1 of 4
MA- Thomas-Copland 6 of 14, Schuman 6 of 9
Ground balls (Portland, 46-41)
P- Linsmith 11, Ryan 10, Leavitt 5, Michaud, Stehli 4, Coose, Cox, Mermin, Pasquali 2, McIntyre, Sturgeon, Victor, Zukowski 1
MA-Tome, Williams 7, Schuman 6, Welch 5, Thomas-Copland 4, Blessington, Curit, Labbay, Manuel, Pelletier 2, Chase, Nolan 1
Shots on cage:
P (Victor) 8
MA (Skinner) 2