PORTLAND—Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team didn’t exactly come flying out of the gate in Tuesday afternoon’s regular season opener against Biddeford at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
But the Bulldogs gradually figured it out and gave new coach Cameron McManus a victory in her debut.
Portland was down, 4-1, in the first half, trailed, 5-3, at halftime and was behind, 7-4, with just over 20 minutes to play, but this group saved its best for last.
An unassisted goal from senior captain Hallie Allex sparked the comeback and tallies from junior Ella Coose and sophomore Merritt Ryan tied the score.
Then, with 14:13 to play, sophomore Isabel Stehli scored unassisted and the Bulldogs had the lead.
The Tigers would draw even with 6:23 to play, but Portland wouldn’t be denied and with 3:47 left, senior captain Erin Mahoney scored the winner. The Bulldogs ran out the clock and prevailed, 9-8.
Mahoney had three goals, Ryan added two and six different players tickled the twine in all as a new era began in dramatic and victorious fashion.
“We started out a little shaky,” Mahoney said. “We were all excited about our first game. It all came down to us working as a team, communicating and staying composed.”
Portland made the playoffs last season and finished 7-6 after a 12-8 loss to Cony in the Eastern A quarterfinals. Kait Johnson then left the program to become the new coach at Falmouth.
Johnson was replaced by McManus, who won a state title as a player at Yarmouth, then went on to play at Wheaton College. McManus was an assistant under Johnson and has plenty of familiarity with the roster.
“The girls have played together for years and that makes it easier on me,” McManus said. “I love it here. I love the girls. Some of them, it’s my third year with. They’re a great group of kids. They want to be here and work hard.”
“It’s been a good transition,” said Mahoney. “It’s a lot of same girls from last year and we’ve worked with Cam the past couple of years.”
Portland won at Biddeford last year, 7-6.
Tuesday, the Bulldogs won by a goal again, but nothing came easily.
Portland scored its first goal of the season 3 minutes, 18 seconds in when Mahoney finished a feed from junior Ellis Linsmith.
Then, Biddeford came to life.
The Tigers scored the game on an unassisted tally from junior Olivia Morrison, then raced to a 4-1 advantage behind unassisted strikes from sophomore Taylor Turgeon, sophomore Mia Laflamme and Morrison.
Mahoney then ended a nearly 10-minute drought with a goal after a Biddeford turnover and Linsmith finished a feed from Stehli in transition to cut the deficit to one, but with 1:06 left in the half, Turgeon scored unassisted.
In the final minute, Coose was robbed by Tigers junior goalie Emily Boisvert, but Portland senior goalie Abbey O’Brien countered by denying a free position shot from Biddeford junior Hannah Morin-Roy to keep the score 5-3 at halftime.
The hosts didn’t panic and played much better in the second half.
First, the Tigers took a 6-3 lead on a Turgeon unassisted goal with 22:37 to play.
After Ryan cut the deficit to two 46 seconds later, Morin-Roy scored unassisted with 21:12 remaining and Biddeford was up by three again, 7-4.
Then, the Bulldogs made their run.
Allex, who excelled in the draw circle, sparked the run with an unassisted goal with 20:26 to play.
Three minutes later, Coose converted a free position.
With 16:37 showing, Portland capped a three-goal surge in under four minutes as Stehli fed Ryan for the tying tally.
After Stehli’s bid to put the Bulldogs on top was turned aside by Boisvert, Stehli got another chance and this time, she scored unassisted and Portland led for the first time since the score was 1-0.
Mahoney had a chance to stretch the lead, but her free position shot went wide.
Stehli was then robbed point blank and with 6:23 to play, Laflamme beat O’Brien unassisted to tie the game for the third time, 8-8.
That goal ended a 14 minute, 48 second drought.
While Biddeford appeared to have the momentum, Portland wasn’t about to buckle.
Mahoney had a shot saved by Boisvert with 4:40 remaining, but she took a pass from Stehli with 3:47 showing and this time, she finished to put the Bulldogs ahead to stay, 9-8.
“It was a really good pass from Isabel and I just had to finish,” Mahoney said. “It felt good.”
The Tigers hoped to have an opportunity to tie, but Portland won possession, then ran down the clock.
“It’s really tempting to see open shots you’ve looked for all game, but we knew we were only up one,” Mahoney said. “They got their sticks in there, but we held on and there was no chance of them scoring.”
When the clock hit zero, the Bulldogs celebrated their 9-8 triumph.
“We settled the ball and attacked and the defense was composed,” Mahoney said. “It got scary, but we came through. It’s a win and we’re happy with it.”
“It’s a good start,” McManus said. “It wasn’t looking good, but we made some adjustments. The girls talked it out. A lot of it was them recognizing what the problem was and working it out. It was our first game and we had to focus on fundamentals. They took it to heart. My players are versatile.”
Mahoney had three goals, while Ryan scored twice. Allex, Coose, Linsmith and Stehli each had one goal. Stehli had three assists. Linsmith finished with one.
Portland finished with a 10-9 edge in draws, a 43-28 ground ball advantage (senior Laura Frank led the team with 11, Ryan had six and Coose, Linsmith, Stehli and senior Laura Frank all collected four). O’Brien made five saves.
The Bulldogs had 14 turnovers (a very impressive number for a first game) and forced 21.
“Our attackers do a great job of re defending the ball and forcing turnovers,” McManus said. “We had a great stretch there in the second half where (the Tigers) didn’t even cross midfield.”
Portland outshot Biddeford, 28-19 (18-13 on frame).
The Tigers got three goals from Turgeon, two each from Laflamme and Morrison and one from Morin-Roy. Laflamme, Morrison and freshman Rebekah Gray all collected four ground balls. Boisvert made nine saves.
While Biddeford opens the home portion of its schedule Friday against Sanford, Portland’s road only gets tougher, as it returns to action Tuesday of next week when defending Western A champion Massabesic pays a visit. The schedule remains challenging from there, as the Bulldogs visit last year’s Eastern A runner-up Cony and defending Class A champion Cheverus.
Portland knows it has a long way to go, but this team has promise.
“We’re working really well together,” Mahoney said. “I’m a little surprised at how easily we’ve come together. I think we’re looking good.”
“I’m glad we got the jitters out now,” McManus said. “We face the state runner-up next Tuesday. We’ve got some things to work on this week and we’re looking forward to it.”
Portland 9 Biddeford 8
B- 5 3- 8
P- 3 6- 9
21:42 P Mahoney (Linsmith)
21:06 B Morrison (unassisted)
18:28 B Turgeon (unassisted)
12:21 B Laflamme (free position)
11:30 B Morrison (unassisted)
10:58 P Mahoney (unassisted)
4:51 P Linsmith (Stehli)
1:06 B Turgeon (unassisted)
22:37 B Turgeon (unassisted)
21:51 P Ryan (unassisted)
21:19 B Morin-Roy (unassisted)
20:26 P Allex (unassisted)
17:14 P Coose (free position)
16:37 P Ryan (Stehli)
14:13 P Stehli (unassisted)
6:23 B Laflamme (unassisted)
3:47 P Mahoney (Stehli)
B- Turgeon 3, Laflamme, Morrison 2, Morin-Roy 1
P- Mahoney 3, Ryan 2, Allex, Coose, Linsmith, Stehli 1
P- Stehli 3, Linsmith 1
Draws (Portland, 10-9)
Ground balls (Portland, 43-28)
Shots on cage:
B (Boisvert)- 9
P (O’Brien)- 5