Portland girls meet their match in regional final

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The finest season in the history of the Portland girls’ lacrosse team has come to a close, but what an incredible ride it was.

The Bulldogs overcame a 2-4 start to the season to win five of their final six regular season games and their 7-5 mark earned them the No. 3 seed for the Eastern Class A playoffs.

And then the fun really began.

Portland and sixth-ranked Cheverus, the two-time reigning regional champion, played on and on into the night in their quarterfinal as regulation, two overtime periods and a third “sudden victory” OT weren’t enough to decide a winner. Finally, in the fourth overtime, senior Ella Coose ended it and the Bulldogs advanced with arguably the most exciting win in program history, 16-15.

Well, most exciting for all of two days, as Portland faced second-ranked Mt. Ararat in the semifinals at Bowdoin College in Brunswick and rallied from an 8-4 second half deficit, tied the game late on junior standout Merritt Ryan’s goal, then won it in overtime, 10-9, on Ryan’s 99th career goal.

That sent the Bulldogs to Thomas College in Waterville to play top-ranked Messalonskee in the program’s first-ever regional final last Wednesday, where Portland finally met its match.

Ryan got her 100th career goal early in the game, but the Eagles gradually pulled ahead to lead, 7-3, at halftime. The Bulldogs trailed, 11-5, late, but made one final valiant push before losing, 11-8, to finish 9-6. Coose had three goals, while Ryan added two.

“We were anxious and we played scared at first,” said Portland coach Cameron McManus. “Messalonskee knew that our fastbreak and transition were our strong suit and they did a good job shutting that down. We talked at halftime about being down four in the Mt. Ararat game, but our push came too late.”

For a week, the Bulldogs were the feel-good story of the sport and their season will be the benchmark that future Portland squads seek to emulate.

“It’s been amazing,” McManus said. “I’m so proud that we got to this point. We accomplished more than anyone expected and more than even we thought was possible. It was unreal. I love every year with the girls. To see their progression and see them accomplish their goals has been so rewarding. It’s been such a joy to be with them every day.”

Portland loses eight seniors, seven of whom are starters, including Coose, goalie Liz Victor, who came up huge in the playoffs, and do-everything Ellis Linsmith.

“When the seniors got called out for the medals (in the postgame after the Eastern A Final), I got emotional,” McManus said. “We’ll have holes to fill.”

The Bulldogs will be in good shape offensively next year behind Ryan and rising senior Isabel Stehli and have several other promising players either returning or joining the program in 2016.

“I have a pretty deep bench,” McManus said. “Having Merritt back will be awesome. She’s a great player, teammate and leader. She doesn’t think it’s all about her. 

“We won’t be anonymous anymore. We might have a target, but I think that the girls are ready to rise to the occasion and keep the program moving forward.”

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

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It was a postseason of celebration for Portland’s girls’ lacrosse, team which got to the Eastern A Final for the first time before losing to Messalonskee last week.

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