Portland senior Hayleigh Blanchard heads the ball away from Sanford sophomore Julia Allen during the teams’ battle Saturday morning. Blanchard scored to help the Bulldogs win on Senior Day, 3-0.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—The members of the Class of 2017 have been among the finest in the history of the Portland girls’ soccer program.
Hayleigh Blanchard, Ellianna Boothe, Hannah Callender, Taylor Crosby, Rose Griffin, Maggie Hosmer, Kate Johnson and Andrea Lynch helped restore the Bulldogs to prominence and Saturday morning at Fitzpatrick Stadium, they got one final regular season moment in the limelight in front of family and fans.
And best of all, they got to celebrate another victory in a tough contest against visiting Sanford.
For nearly 62 minutes, Portland couldn’t generate any offense.
Then, the floodgates opened and the Bulldogs showed just how dangerous they can be.
With the game scoreless deep into the second half and good looks almost nonexistent, Portland turned the game around in an instant, as junior Gracie Lagrange scored on an amazing shot from 35 yards out to put the Bulldogs ahead to stay.
Blanchard scored a similar goal with 14:10 remaining to produce some breathing room and Portland still wasn’t done.
After a nice run from speedy junior back Ella Altidor, the Bulldogs’ freshman twins phenoms finished it off, as Annika More got the ball to Isabella More, who scored with 4:15 to play to extend the lead to 3-0.
Portland’s defense and goalkeeper Crosby brought down the curtain from there and the Bulldogs improved to 7-3-3, further solidified their playoff standing and dropped the Spartans to 7-5-1 in the process.
“You couldn’t script a better Senior Day for sure, from the result to how we played,” said Portland coach Curtis Chapin, “I was proud of each and every single senior to get the recognition they did. We told the younger players, this is why the program’s where it’s at. We continue to build and all eight seniors contributed for just about four years.”
When Portland’s seniors entered the program, the Bulldogs were an afterthought in the league, but by their sophomore season, this group was part of a squad which produced a winning record and won a memorable preliminary round playoff game at rival Deering. As juniors, they helped Portland to another winning record and playoff berth and as seniors, they’ve been leaders on a squad which has been very competitive throughout.
The Bulldogs opened the 2016 season with a 3-0 home win over Cheverus, then settled for 1-1 draws at Noble and at home against perennial powerhouse Windham. After beating Thornton Academy, 1-0, for the first time in a dozen years, Portland dropped a controversial 2-1 overtime decision at Marshwood, then blanked visiting Massabesic (6-0) and Westbrook (3-0) and held off visiting South Portland, 2-1. A tough three-game stretch ensued which saw the Bulldogs lose at Scarborough, 3-0, settle for a scoreless draw at Bonny Eagle, then lose at defending regional champion Gorham, 4-0. Wednesday, Portland got back on track with an 8-0 romp at Biddeford.
Sanford was 10-2-2 in 2015, but hasn’t been quite as triumphant this fall. The Spartans opened with a 4-3 home victory over South Portland, then settled for a 2-2 draw at Scarborough before dominating visiting Biddeford (10-1), host Maine Girls’ Academy (8-0) and visiting Deering (5-0). A 2-1 home loss to Gorham was followed by a 2-1 victory at Bonny Eagle and a 3-2 win at Noble. After dropping another one-goal decision (2-1 to visiting Marshwood), Sanford beat host Massabesic, 4-1. Last Saturday, the Spartans fell, 1-0, at Windham. Wednesday at home, the Spartans dropped a tough 3-2 overtime decision to Cheverus.
Last year, host Sanford beat Portland, 2-1.
Saturday, after seniors from both teams were honored, the Bulldogs turned the tables, even if it took some time.
In the seventh minute, Blanchard had the game’s first shot, but Spartans junior goalkeeper Nikki Perez made the save.
In the 10th minute, Sanford had a look, but Altidor got back to break up senior Vanessa Hodge’s rush into the box.
In the 14th minute, Lagrange served the ball toward the far post. Perez knocked the ball away right to Isabella More, but More shot high.
A minute later, Annika More played the ball through a defender’s legs to Isabella More, but Perez got to it first.
Midway through the half, Spartans senior Nichole LeBlanc launched a free kick which Hodge got to, but she shot high.
Crosby had to make her lone first half save in the 28th minute, when senior Sydney Littefield got her head on a corner kick.
With 9:53 to play in the first half a long free kick from Blanchard sailed just high and the game went to the break deadlocked at 0-0.
Scoring opportunities were even fewer for much of the second half.
Crosby did get to a feed from sophomore Julia Allen before Hodge, Hodge shot just wide and at the other end, Johnson (who celebrated her 18th birthday Saturday) missed high on a shot from the side.
But just when it appeared we were destined for a scoreless draw, the Bulldogs struck.
With 18:36 remaining, the ball came to Lagrange on the left side about 35 yards out and she launched an innocent looking shot toward the goal which suddenly turned promising. Perez went back and leapt, but the ball ticked off her hand, hit the bottom of the crossbar and went into the net for a 1-0 Portland lead.
“I was just trying to put it on net,” Lagrange said. “You never know, you can get a rebound on a shot like that. I saw it going in and I was pleasantly surprised. Once we scored, that boosted our confidence. It took us awhile to connect our passes, but once we started to connect and shot from outside, we hit the back of the net. In the first half, we weren’t shooting enough.”
“If you know anything about Gracie, a shot always has a chance to go in in her mind,” Chapin said. “I have no doubt she believes every shot will go in. It was a beautiful shot.”
The goal energized the Bulldogs and two minutes later, they almost doubled the lead, when Johnson and Perez collided and sophomore Inez Braceras got the ball and sent the rebound toward the goal, but Sanford senior Kristen O’Connell kicked the ball away.
The next Portland shot resulted in a second goal.
With 14:10 remaining, Annika More passed the ball to Blanchard, who wound up from almost the identical spot Lagrange scored from and her rocket also sailed over Perez’s outstretched hand and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
“I really wanted to score today,” Blanchard said. “Everyone was cheering me on. I had confidence to put it on frame. I’m hesitant because sometimes I hit over the crossbar, but I got lucky this time.”
“It was a game where the ball was getting stuck with no purpose,” Chapin said. “At halftime, I told them to shoot from further out. Gracie and Hayleigh can score from 35 yards in. Once the first one went in, they sent numbers up and we took advantage. If Hayleigh has an opening, she’ll have a go and feels good about it and I do too.”
The Spartans nearly answered seconds later, but Crosby dove to deny Hodge.
Annika More then headed out a Sanford corner kick and junior back Leshka Jankowski cleared the ball.
With 9:02 to go, Isabella More had a shot blocked by O’Connell, then sent the rebound over the crossbar.
Isabella More would finish with 4:15 left, as after Altidor raced out of the back with the ball and played it into the box, More tipped it to Annika More, got it back and buried the shot for a 3-0 lead.
“Once we’re up, I’m OK with Ella making those runs,” Chapin said. “If it’s 0-0 or 1-0, it’s a little different. It’s fun to see her get forward a little bit.”
The Spartans couldn’t muster another chance and Portland was able to celebrate its victory.
“We wanted to get a good result on Senior Day,” Blanchard said. “It’s a good memory to have.”
“We started the season really well, then had a few setbacks, so we had to win today and we came out strong and won,” Lagrange said.
The Bulldogs held the Spartans to just four shots.
“When we close down the 18 and don’t give the ball away, we’re a very good team,” Chapin said. “We were compact and together today.”
It appears both teams will be playing in the preliminary round of the playoffs, but each will have one more opportunity to improve their standing Tuesday in the regular season finale.
Sanford (ranked ninth in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) closes at home versus Westbrook.
Portland (seventh in Class A South) goes to rival Deering.
“We’ve worked so hard in practice and do everything we can to play our best and have a good time,” Blanchard said. “When we’re happy, we play well with each other. I think we’re looking strong for playoffs. As long as we keep working hard in practice and setting our goals, I think we can get pretty far.”
“We don’t need fancy speeches for Deering,” said Chapin. “They need it and will be fired up and we will too. It will be a classic rivalry game. If we can finish the job, I don’t know why we wouldn’t feel good about where we’re at. We had a tough run when we ran into Scarborough and Gorham. To finish like this, we’ll have some momentum going.”
Portland senior Kate Johnson’s rush is broken up by Sanford junior goalkeeper Nikki Perez.
Portland junior Gracie Lagrange and Sanford senior Kristen O’Connell fight for the ball. Lagrange scored the game’s first goal.
Portland freshman Cecilia Ritter tries to hold off Sanford senior Summer Camire.
Portland freshman Annika More is held up by Sanford junior Marli Wilson.
Portland senior goalkeeper Taylor Crosby snares a corner kick in front of Sanford senior Summer Camire.