Portland girls end long drought against TA

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Portland senior Kate Johnson drives on the Thornton Academy defense as junior teammate Morgan Kierstead looks on. Johnson scored the lone goal Wednesday, on a penalty kick, as the Bulldogs beat the Golden Trojans for the first time in a dozen years, 1-0.

Joe Carpine photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Kate Johnson was in kindergarten the last time Portland’s girls’ soccer team beat Thornton Academy.

But Wednesday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Johnson and her teammates ensured the Bulldogs’ long skid against the Golden Trojans would end on their watch.

In a key early season battle between two contenders, Portland was on its heels the first 13 minutes, then had a trio of good chances, but couldn’t convert and the game remained scoreless at halftime.

The second half followed the same script as the first, as Thornton Academy pressed for the first goal, but the Bulldogs hung tough behind the steady goalkeeping of senior Taylor Crosby and a strong defensive effort, paced by junior Ella Altidor, and ensured the game remained 0-0.

Then, with just over 24 minutes to play in regulation, Portland got an offensive chance, freshman Annika More was taken down in the box to set up a penalty kick and Johnson converted for a 1-0 lead.

From there, the Bulldogs just needed to hold the Golden Trojans at bay and while Thornton Academy did send a ball off the post late in the regulation, they couldn’t score and Portland held on for an inspirational 1-0 victory.

The Bulldogs beat Thornton Academy for the first time in 12 years, improved to 2-0-2, moved into the top spot in the Class A South Heal Points standings and dropped the Golden Trojans to 2-2 in the process.

“This year, we know we have the chance to do something really special,” Johnson said. “We’ve worked toward this since I was a freshman. We’re looking to be one of the teams to beat.”

No more futility

Portland has enjoyed success in recent seasons and hopes to be a top contender in 2016. The Bulldogs, under new coach Curtis Chapin, opened with a 3-0 home win over Cheverus, then settled for 1-1 draws at Noble and at home against perennial powerhouse Windham.

Thornton Academy was a .500 team a year ago, but upset Falmouth in the Class A South preliminary round before losing to eventual regional champion Gorham in the quarterfinals. The Golden Trojans began 2016 with a 3-1 victory at Massabesic. After blanking visiting Westbrook, 3-0, Thornton Academy suffered its first loss Saturday, 3-1, at Marshwood.

A year ago, the Golden Trojans blanked the visiting Bulldogs, 3-0, in Saco.

Wednesday, on an overcast afternoon, Portland beat Thornton Academy for the first time since Oct. 12, 2004 (3-0 in Saco), snapping the Golden Trojans’ seven game unbeaten streak in the series.

Just over two minutes in, Thornton Academy earned a corner kick and junior Talia Profenno’s serve had to be punched away by Crosby,

In the fifth minute, Golden Trojans junior Elizabeth Bell’s free kick was headed by sophomore Hannah Niles just wide.

In the eighth minute, junior Hannah McAlary floated a shot on target which Crosby snared and with 27 minutes to play, Bell got behind the defense but couldn’t generate a powerful shot and Crosby made the save.

It took nearly 20 minutes for Portland to get its first chance, but it almost resulted in a goal.

In transition, Johnson set up junior Gracie Lagrange for an open look from about 25 yards out and Lagrange drilled a high shot which Thornton Academy senior goalkeeper Abigail Cook had no chance to stop, but the ball kissed off the top of the crossbar.

After Johnson had a 30-yard blast saved by Cook and Johnson shot wide, Profenno had a shot saved, sophomore Hannah Niles had a shot saved and in the final minute of the half, Niles got some room in the box, but shot just high, sending the game to the break scoreless.

At the half, the skies opened up, but by the start of the second half, Mother Nature cooperated and the squads battled under dry skies to produce the one goal that would likely win the game.

Early in the half, Thornton Academy senior Kerrigan Goudreau had a shot on a corner which was saved by Crosby and then, after the ball was kicked around, Goudreau had a shot in the box which sailed high.

After Niles sent a header off a corner kick just high, Niles had a 20-yard free kick which just went over the bar.

The Bulldogs began to generate some offense with 27 minutes remaining, but More’s rush into the box resulted in her being brought down with no call.

Then, with 24:02 left in regulation, More again got into the box, beat a defender to the right of the goal and was brought down by a defender. This time, play was stopped and a penalty kick was awarded.

As an injured player was tended to, Johnson had time to think about the moment, but she wasn’t fazed.

Johnson then stepped to the line and fired a shot to her right. Cook, lunging to her left, got a hand on the ball, but couldn’t stop it and the shot wound up in the net for a 1-0 lead.

“Annika’s gotten taken down quite a bit lately,” Johnson said. “They made the right call. She got her feet taken right out. She wasn’t quite prepared to take the PK, so she asked if I would and I did. PKs aren’t usually my strong suit. I like to be in motion when I score goals, but I’ve taken them. I had to compose myself. The goalie got her hands on it a little bit. I would have wanted it to be more in the corner, but it went in.”

“When we shorten up our game and take advantage of our midfield, we play better,” Chapin said. “We’re a better team on the ground. Annika kept her composure and kept fighting all game and earned that PK. That was brilliant. I have no doubt in Kate Johnson when the ball is at her feet. Only good things will happen.”

Portland then had to hold on for dear life.

With 22 minutes left, the Golden Trojans earned consecutive corner kicks, but the first didn’t result in a shot and the second was steered high by senior Abbey Carignan.

With 7:25 to go, Thornton Academy came oh so close to drawing even, but Bell’s feed to Goudreau resulted in a shot which hit the near post and the Bulldogs retained the lead.

Down the stretch, Portland was able to keep the ball in its offensive end for the most part and the Golden Trojans didn’t have another opportunity.

At 5:21 p.m., the horn sounded and the Bulldogs had their historic 1-0 victory.

“I’m happy,” Altidor said. “This is big. We were ranked number one in Heal Points, so we were pumped and we wanted to maintain it.”

“It’s huge for us,” Johnson said. “Last year, we felt like we played a poor game against them. This year, we came into it fully prepared, we did everything we needed to do and pulled out a win. They had some chances at the end, but we came together as a team and pulled it out.”

“We followed up a solid game against Windham with another strong performance today,” Chapin added. “They’re a very good team. It was rough, duking it out in the first half, but we caught our breath and took hold of the game in the second half. The girls stepped up and I’m really proud of the entire team.”

Thornton Academy had a 7-5 shots advantage and took six corner kicks to three by the Bulldogs, but Crosby made seven saves and Portland’s defense consistently made key plays to limit chances.

“They were playing well, but our defense worked together and we pulled it out,” Altidor said. “We know that Taylor’s behind us, always.”

“I can’t say enough good things about Ella Altidor and Taylor Crosby, there aren’t enough words to describe how I feel about them,” Chapin said. “C.C. Ritter, a freshman, also stepped hard to everything and Gracie Lagrange won every ball in the box.”

Tough games to come

Thornton Academy gets no rest, as Windham pays a visit Friday. Next week, the Golden Trojans host Noble, then go to improved Cheverus.

Portland visits Marshwood Friday and returns home next Wednesday to meet Massabesic.

The Bulldogs have a chance to make this season something special, but they still have work to do.

“I feel like we’re heading in the right direction and I expect we’ll continue to move forward, but we still need to generate more offense,” Chapin said. “We have great players. We just need to finish.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Portland freshman Cecilia Ritter plays the ball.

Portland sophomore Grace Stacey drives the ball. Stacey saw her first action after missing three games with injury.

Portland senior Maggie Hosmer throws the ball inbounds.

Portland senior goalkeeper Taylor Crosby punts the ball up the field as junior defensive standout Ella Altidore keeps watch.

Portland freshman Annika More shadows Thornton Academy junior Adeline Paradis.

Thornton Academy sophomore Hannah Niles is sandwiched by Portland freshman Isabella More, right, and senior Kate Johnson.

Portland’s girls’ soccer team mobs senior goalkeeper Taylor Crosby as it celebrates Wednesday’s 1-0 home victory over Thornton Academy.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.