PORTLAND—Everyone loves a prolific offense, but the Scarborough girls’ soccer team has managed to go a long way with its shutdown defense.
Two years ago, the Red Storm won the Class A state championship for the first time while not allowing a single goal in the normal run of play.
Now, it appears the 2012 Scarborough defense is a worthy heir to that tradition.
Friday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, under a gorgeous late summer sky, the Red Storm held the high scoring host Cheverus Stags at bay for 80 minutes and took advantage of a few offensive opportunities to win a highly anticipated battle of unbeatens.
While three, sometimes four and even five defenders kept a close eye on Stags junior standout Abby Maker, Scarborough took the lead for good just three minutes into the second half when senior Sarah Martens scored on a penalty kick. A rebound goal from sophomore Ashley Gleason and a dagger from junior Hadlee Yescott put the finishing touches on a 3-0 win as Scarborough improved to 5-0, dropping Cheverus, which had averaged eight goals per contest, to 4-1 in the process.
“It was a good job of us gutting out a win,” said Red Storm coach Mike Farley. “It was a good, physical game. It always is against Cheverus. We started to move the ball better in the second half. Their pressure got to us in the first half and we were defending. The second half was better, settling the ball, quick touches and out.”
Scarborough, which won the 2010 Class A championship and made it back to the state game last fall, before losing to Bangor, 4-0, opened the 2012 campaign by downing visiting South Portland, 4-0. Impressive 3-0 victories followed at Marshwood and Gorham. Wednesday, the Red Storm continued its shutout parade by blanking visiting Portland, 3-0.
Cheverus, which was ousted in the quarterfinals last fall, has been lighting up the scoreboard. The Stags opened by dominating host McAuley (6-0) and Biddeford (8-2), then beat visiting Bonny Eagle (7-2) and host Noble (11-0).
Heading into Friday, since the teams began playing in 2003, Scarborough held a 9-3 all-time lead, including a 3-0 mark in the playoffs. Last year, the teams tied, 1-1, in the regular season before the Red Storm eliminated the Stags, 2-0, in the Western A quarterfinals.
Friday, Scarborough made it six straight over Cheverus and left fans hoping for another meeting come late October.
The Stags’ strategy was clear from the get-go as they tried to hit a proverbial home run by playing long passes over the top toward Maker, but the likes of Red Storm seniors Maria Philbrick and Katie Wahrer, junior Ainsley Jamieson and sophomore Sam Sparda made that impossible.
Each team had a couple chances in the first half.
In the 12th minute, Martens tried to get to a through ball from classmate Jessica Meader, but Cheverus senior goalkeeper Mikayla Mayberry beat her to it.
With 18:33 left in the half, after a corner kick was deflected up top, Stags sophomore Abby Biegel fired a shot that went just wide of the goal.
In the 29th minute, Maker got a little breathing room, but had to shoot left-footed from 30-yards out and Scarborough junior goalkeeper Sydney Martin (seven saves) made a routine stop.
With 3:51 to go before the break, Gleason lofted a shot that Mayberry corralled.
Things changed quickly after halftime.
After the visitors dodged a pair of bullets (a shot by Cheverus junior Sadie Lyons was saved by Martin and a Maker rush was broken up by Philbrick), Scarborough transitioned to offense and Meader was taken down in the box, was hurt on the play and took one for the team as the officials stopped play to award a penalty kick.
Normally, Meader would have done the honors, but she was physically unable, so Martens stepped in to go one-on-one with Mayberry.
Martens’ launched a low shot to Mayberry’s left. The goalie guessed correctly, but despite diving, couldn’t stop the ball and the Red Storm had a 1-0 lead with 37:07 to play.
“Jess pressured the defense and wound up getting tripped up,” Martens said. “It’s a play we weren’t expecting to get much out of. That showed us anything can happen when we go hard. I was just trying to fake the goalie out. I was looking to the left, but I knew I was going to go to the right the whole time. It’s always kind of a hit-or-miss. I was confident and it turned out good.”
The hosts looked to answer as senior Danielle Kane (who played a strong game all over the field) sent a low shot on goal that Martin saved.
By the time Cheverus had another opportunity, its deficit would be doubled.
Scarborough rode the momentum of its goal and began to control the ball.
With 25:57 remaining, Gleason got her head on a pass from senior Ashley Ronzo, but Mayberry made the save.
A minute later, a shot in the box by Yescott was blocked by a defender.
Then, with 23:19 showing, a long shot from Sparda forced Mayberry to leap. She got her fingertips on the ball and deflected it off the crossbar, but Gleason was in the right place at the right time to bang home the rebound and the Red Storm had a 2-0 advantage.
The game went from bad to worse for the Stags with 17:33 showing as Maker hit the turf hard after a collision and stayed down. She had to be helped off the field with an apparent ankle injury (severity unknown).
Scarborough then set out to finish Cheverus off.
After a shot by senior Kate Daniels forced Mayberry to make a sprawling save, Yescott ended all doubt.
With 6:33 left, Yescott won possession and sent a seemingly harmless shot on goal, but Mayberry couldn’t handle it and it got past her into the net.
That was all she wrote and the Red Storm went on to the impressive 3-0 triumph.
“Once we get our momentum going, we go strong all the way,” Martens said. “We work so well together. We work so hard to keep it going. It feels good to know we can go away from our home field and hold on to the game and possess the ball and win on a grass field.”
“I was just waiting for us to settle in and start possessing the ball,” Philbrick said. “Once we did, we dominated and put the ball in the back of the net.”
“If we can keep the scores low, we know we have a good forward combination,” Farley added. “The first goal was a hustle play by Jess to get to the ball to get a penalty kick. The second one, Ashley got to a ball off the bar. The keeper made a nice save, but she was at the right place at the right time. Even the third goal, Hadlee’s on a dangerous spot on the field and she shot the ball like she should do.”
While the three goals were great, the Scarborough defense effort is what lingers most from this victory.
“If one player steps, the other drops behind,” Philbrick said. “I think we handled it well. It’s just a mentality for us. Play the best defense we can. We take a lot of pride in defense. If we do our job, it’s worth it. We tried to be aware of (Maker). Our defense is strong enough to play her like we play anyone else.”
“Our defense, as a group, is very solid,” Farley said. “They do a good job defending. Those forwards pressure quickly. Every time someone got beat, the next player was there. The four of them play well and cover for each other. I’m comfortable with any of our defenders, Maria, Ainsley, Sam and Katie, even (senior) Avery (Pietras) at the end, marking anyone in this league. Maybe I’m biased because I played back in college, but I think defense is the foundation of every team.”
Cheverus coach Dan LaVallee wanted a victory, but wasn’t distraught afterwards.
“I was really pleased with how we played,” LaVallee said. “We came out pretty defensive, but we didn’t end up playing that way. I thought we played great in the first half. We played 79 minutes and 30 seconds great. The other 30 seconds cost us. A team like Scarborough will punish mistakes. Abby had a couple of really good runs at their goalie. If she’d popped one in, it was a different game. That’s the way it is. You’ll get five quality chances against a team like Scarborough and you’ve got to hit one. I’m disappointed in the result, but not in the performance at all.”
Cheverus returns to action Tuesday at undefeated, preseason favorite Windham.
“We’ll bounce back,” LaVallee said. “Frankly, this may be a good thing for us. We’d been untested. Now we know what it’s like. We have Windham, Sanford, Gorham and TA still. There’s definitely stuff we need to work on.”
Scarborough is home with Kennebunk Tuesday. The following week sees the Red Storm sandwich home games against Deering and Windham with a trip to Thornton Academy.
After last year’s state disappointment, Scarborough once more has its eye on the biggest prize.
“We still have big games coming up, but I’m excited,” Philbrick said. “We have to start games off stronger. We need to start more intense and do better in the first half. Last year was really irritating. I think we’re ready. We want revenge for last year. That drives us.”
“We still have huge games,” Farley said. “TA and Windham, I think, are two of the best teams in the league. I’d put Gorham and Cheverus up there too. We don’t play Sanford, but they’ll be good. We have huge tests. We want to be consistent and want to play well for the playoffs and be hitting on the same cylinder.”
@ Scarborough 1 Cheverus 1 (tie)
Western Class A quarterfianals
@ Scarborough 2 Cheverus 0
Scarborough 2 @ Cheverus 0
Western Class A semifinals
@ Scarborough 2 Cheverus 1
@ Scarborough 1 Cheverus 0 (OT)
@ Cheverus 3 Scarborough 2
Cheverus 2 @ Scarborough 0
Scarborough 3 @ Cheverus 0
@ Scarborough 3 Cheverus 0
@ Cheverus 3 Scarborough 2 (OT)
Western Class A semifinals
@ Scarborough 1 Cheverus 0 (2 OT)
Scarborough 3 @ Cheverus 1