Portland, SP girls settle for scoreless tie

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South Portland senior Madison Cyr and Portland freshman Toni Stevenson battle for the ball during the teams’ scoreless draw Saturday morning.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Two teams jockeying for playoff positioning did battle for 90 minutes Saturday morning at Fitzpatrick Stadium and at the end of the day, could only commend the other on a game well played and split valuable Heal Points.

Portland hosted a resurgent South Portland squad and the hosts had the better of the chances, but they never were able to put the ball in the net.

The Bulldogs’ best opportunities came in the second half, when senior captain Morgan Kierstead hit the post, Kierstead bounced a shot which forced South Portland sophomore goalkeeper Maria Buck to make a critical save, freshman Lydia Stein grazed the crossbar and Buck robbed junior Grace Stacey late in regulation.

The Red Riots looked to steal it in overtime, but were equally stymied and the game ended in a 0-0 draw.

South Portland is now 1-2-3 on the season, while Portland hit the midway point at 1-5-1.

“We’re at the point now where a tie feels like a loss, but we didn’t deserve a tie, Portland outplayed us,” said Red Riots coach Jeff Selser. “I thought we controlled the overtimes, which is 10 minutes out of 90. Portland controlled most of the other 80.”

“South Portland has some impressive results,” said Bulldogs coach Curtis Chapin. “They’re a fun team to coach against because you know you’ll compete.”

Turning it around

Portland has been a playoff regular in recent seasons and entered 2017 confident. After a 5-1 win at Massabesic in the opener, however, the Bulldogs have struggled putting the ball in the net and earning wins. Portland lost at home to Marshwood (2-1) and defending regional champion Gorham (3-0), at Kennebunk (3-0) and Cheverus (2-0) and at home to Windham (4-3).

South Portland hopes to make the jump to playoff contender  this fall. After starting with losses at Windham (2-0) and Cheverus (2-1), the Red Riots played host Marshwood to a scoreless tie, won at home over Thornton Academy (3-2), then settled for a 2-2 draw against visiting Kennebunk.

Last year, in a game also played at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Portland held off South Portland, 2-1, to make it three in a row in the series and take a 10-6 edge (with one tie) since 2001 (see sidebar, below, for previous results).

This time around, the teams played to a tie for the first time in a dozen years.

In the second minute, Bulldogs senior Gracie LaGrange fired a long shot on target, but Buck made the save. 

In the eighth minute, the Red Riots, who were playing without senior standout Juliana Selser, who is nursing a shoulder injury, earned a corner kick, but a shot was blocked.

After Buck stopped a long shot by LaGrange, freshman Toni Stevenson missed just wide, sophomore Isabella Moran headed a ball wide and Stein set up sophomore Annika More for a shot that Buck saved.

South Portland then got a second corner, but junior Jena Leckie’s shot went just wide.

With 12:47 left in the half, Buck and Isabella More collided and the ball came to Kierstead, who shot wide. Buck was hurt on the play and came to the sidelines for a few minutes before returning.

Late in the half, Red Riots sophomore Mackenzie Farnham sent a one-timer just wide and LaGrange was high on another free kick.

Scoring chances picked up in the second half.

Portland had a couple corner kicks early on, then LaGrange had a shot save and LaGrange shot wide on a free kick.

With 25:58 to play, Bulldogs sophomore back C.C Ritter broke up the rush of South Portland freshman Evelyn Selser.

With 19:54 to play, Kierstead got the ball from LaGrange in a great spot in the box, turned and sent a kick to the left of Buck, but to Portland’s chagrin, it rang off the post.

With 18:24 left, Kierstead shot again, lobbing a ball that bounced over Buck. Buck got back just in the nick of time to swipe the ball away from the goal line and on a subsequent bounce, the ball appeared to hit the hand of a South Portland defender in the box, but no call was made.

With 17:58 left, Stein’s shot from the side grazed off the crossbar.

Down the stretch, Kierstead shot just wide, LaGrange was high on a free kick, LaGrange sent a one-timer from 30-yards out just high and with 52.8 seconds to play, Bulldogs junior Grace Stacey broke in free, but Buck got out just in time to make a game-saving stop.

The contest would go to overtime, which in the regular season is decided with two five-minute, “sudden victory” sessions.

In this case, no team could score and the contest ended in a draw.

In the first OT, LaGrange shot high, as did South Portland junior Bela Cloutier on a corner.

In the second extra session, Stevenson shot wide, a rush by Red Riots sophomore Brooklynn Ortiz was broken up at the last minute by Ritter, Evelyn Selser shot wide and a last-second rush by Selser was broken up by Portland junior Delaney Darling, which brought the curtain down on the 0-0 tie.

“It’s about turning the corner,” said Chapin. “I feel like the second half against Windham, we did everything but draw level against a good team. Today, we had to get a result.”

“(Portland’s) a much better team than their record reflects,” Jeff Selser said. “Anyone who thinks they’re a 1-5-1 team is crazy. They did a great job disrupting our rhythm. We hung on by the skin of our teeth in the first half. We usually possess the ball, but we got out-possessed by Portland. I’m proud of how we kept it together. Bela was a lifesaver over and over again.”

Portland had a 9-1 advantage in shots on frame and a 7-3 edge in corner kicks. Bulldogs sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Legere stopped the only shot she saw. Senior back Ella Altidor’s presence was a big reason South Portland couldn’t generate any offense.

“Ella is all-region for a reason,” said Chapin. “I think she has a chip on her shoulder and she should because you didn’t hear much about her in the preseason, but she’s invaluable.”

“Ella is terrific in the back,” Jeff Selser said. “We wanted to wear her down, but without Juliana, who can match her in speed, it was tough. Juliana and (junior) Grace Steady were out and (senior) Meg Graff is coming back from the flu, so we weren’t at our best.”

Buck made seven saves for the Red Riots and the Bulldogs twice hit the goal frame.

“Maria was huge for us,” Jeff Selser said. “She got some big saves and stopped the one-on-one. She’s only a sophomore and plays like a senior. She’s a great asset to our team. She’s a game-changer in the back.”

Work to do

South Portland’s next two games are at home, versus Massabesic Monday and Biddeford Wednesday. Next Saturday, the Red Riots visit Falmouth. 

“We’ve played six games and we have a win and three ties,” Selser said. “If we can keep our heads about us and eliminate the silly mistakes, we’ll be fine. We don’t need to change huge things, just little things. I think we’ll keep building. We have eight left. If we win five of those, I think we’ll be in.”

Portland is at Falmouth Wednesday, then hosts Westbrook and Thornton Academy.

The Bulldogs know they need some wins to help their playoff cause.

“I believe things are coming together,” Chapin said. “I look at our schedule and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoffs.”

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

South Portland senior Meghan Graff boots the ball away from Portland sophomore Annika More.

South Portland sophomore Brooklynn Ortiz heads the ball away from Portland freshman Lydia Stein.

South Portland senior Meghan Graff shields the ball from Portland senior Morgan Kierstead.

Portland junior Grace Stacey chases after the ball in front of the goal.

South Portland junior Julia Banks and Portland freshman Emma Merrill fight for possession.

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