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Back in April and for most of the month of May, suggesting that the Cape Elizabeth and/or Scarborough boys’ lacrosse teams would be playing in the state championship game would have been met with, at best, a guffaw.
Now, it’s reality.
The Red Storm overcame a 7-5 regular season and the No. 3 seed to represent Western A after upsetting second-ranked South Portland, 10-4, in Saturday’s semifinal round, then beating No. 4 Thornton Academy, 5-3, Wednesday in the regional final. Scarborough will do battle with defending champion Portland (14-0) in Class A Final Saturday at 5:30 p.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The Capers, meanwhile, opened the year by being drubbed, 11-4, at home by Falmouth, then lost to the Yachtsmen for a second time in May, but with the hardware on the line, they made sure the third time was a charm as they eliminated the top-seeded Yachtsmen in stunning and dramatic fashion, 7-6, in overtime, setting up a third straight state game against two-time defending Class B champion Yarmouth (13-1), Saturday at 12:30 p.m., in Portland.
Turning the tables
The tone for the 2010 season appeared to be set way back on April 17 when South Portland rallied to beat Scarborough for the first time ever, 8-7, on senior Garret Reuscher’s overtime goal. The Red Riots wound up 10-2, good for second in Western A.
The Red Storm, meanwhile, struggled early on, losing at home to Kennebunk (13-11), at Falmouth (4-3) and at home to North Yarmouth Academy (8-6). Scarborough closed strong, however, winning three straight before falling, 16-12, at undefeated, defending Class A champion Portland in a game which saw Bulldogs junior Caleb Kenney erupt for 10 goals.
After holding off No. 6 Bonny Eagle, 9-6, in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round contest, the Red Storm went to South Portland Saturday. The teams had met three previous times in the playoffs with Scarborough winning each time (5-4, in OT, in the 2001 second round, 13-7, in the 2006 semifinals, and 17-6, in the 2007 semis).
This time, the Red Storm held off an early Red Riots push, then gradually seized control to advance. Freshman John Wheeler’s goal with just over a second to play in the first period put Scarborough ahead to stay.
“I heard there was a little time left,” Wheeler said. “I had the ball and just went in and shot.”
“That Johnny Wheeler kid is one heck of a 14-year-old,” said Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep. “That was huge goal.”
The Red Riots held off the visitors for most of the second period behind a strong defensive effort and timely saves from senior goalie Travis Wibby, but every time South Portland tried to go on the attack, it turned the ball over. Scarborough then scored three times in the waning moments of the half to go up, 5-1.
As expected, South Portland played much better in the second half, but every time it scored, Scarborough had an answer and it was still a three-goal game, 8-4, heading for the fourth period. There, the Red Storm scored twice more to win, 10-4.
“Our offense played really well today and did things we haven’t done all season,” Hezlep said. “They’re really starting to figure it out. We’ve been increasingly getting better. Our guys have experience. They’re no longer first-year players. They’ve played a full season and it showed today.”
Wheeler continued to dazzle with four goals.
“It definitely feels good,” Wheeler said. “We had a heartbreaker here the last time. Today, we kept our composure and didn’t take stupid penalties. We came out with a victory.”
South Portland (which posted its finest record, 10-3) got two goals each from Reuscher and junior Harrison Keithly, but it wasn’t enough.
“We seemed to give up goals at the end of each period,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “We couldn’t hold them each time we scored. We couldn’t get a break. We got momentum, but we’d make a mistake and they’d respond.”
“It was really heartbreaking. The kids are heartbroken, I’m heartbroken. This isn’t how we expected to end the season. This is a very special group of kids. I’m really proud of this team. I thought we had a chance to do something. In a couple weeks, I’ll look back and realize we had a heck of a season with a lot of firsts.”
The Red Riots graduate 11 seniors, but have established themselves as a contender. Saturday’s semifinal marked the fourth time in five years South Portland has made it to within a game of the regional final. It has yet to reach that next round.
“We have a lot to build on,” Fiorini said. “We have a lot of good kids leaving, but we have a lot of good kids staying too. The future is bright.”
Scarborough finished the job Wednesday against a Thornton Academy team that started the year 1-6, wound up fourth in the region, then upset top-ranked Kennebunk to advance. The Red Storm beat the Golden Trojans, 6-4, in the regular season and did it again, leading 3-0 after one period and holding on for the 5-3 win behind two goals from sophomore John Blaisdell and 17 clutch saves (including seven in the fourth quarter alone) from goalie Brett Leighton.
“It was a really good win,” said Hezlep. “We had control most of the game, but couldn’t put them away. We didn’t have a good regular season, but it was a learning experience. We’re a better team now for going 7-5. We started to play to our strengths and we’ve really found ourselves the past few weeks.”
Saturday afternoon, Scarborough squares off with Portland for the first time in a state game. The teams have played in three of the past four postseasons, with the Red Storm winning the 2006 regional final (8-7) and losing the 2007 regional final (12-10) and last year’s regional final (14-1).
“It’s a great matchup,” said Hezlep. “We plan on the same thing as the last game, which was much closer than 16-12. We need to do a better job on (Kenney). We can’t let them get settled on offense. We need to win one more.”
Cape Elizabeth completed its resurgence with a stunning, come-from-behind 10-7 home win over Yarmouth, May 28, as the Capers handed the Clippers their first loss since 2008. Cape Elizabeth wound up 9-3 and earned the No. 2 seed in Western B. In the semifinals Saturday, against No. 3 Waynflete, the Capers romped 15-1, behind six goals and two assists from junior Teddy Smith and four goals and five assists from senior Tommy Foden.
That set up Act Three with Falmouth.
Cape Elizabeth trailed 4-1 at halftime, but rallied to go ahead 5-4. After the Yachtsmen tied the game, the Capers went up 6-5, but Falmouth answered late force overtime. There, sophomore Tim Lavallee played the hero, scoring for the 7-6 triumph.
“The kids were pretty tired and pretty excited,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond. “We had a chance at the end of regulation to go for the last shot and turned it over and took a penalty. We started OT a man down and killed the penalty and got the ball. (Lavallee) went down, spun around his defender and had a great bounce shot.”
Junior Timmy Takach led the team with two goals. Junior goalie Jack Roos made 15 saves.
“We’ve just continued to get better,” said Raymond. “The kids have worked hard. I credit the seniors. They’re very good leaders.”
Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth know each other all too well. The Clippers won the first regular season meeting, 8-4, May 3 at home. The teams have played in five of the past seven state finals with the Capers winning in 2003 (9-8, in OT) and 2005 (7-6) and Yarmouth triumphing in 2004 (11-6), 2008 (9-4) and last year (12-9). Cape Elizabeth also beat the Clippers in the 1995 semifinals (13-7), 1996 state final (11-10, in OT) and 1997 semifinals (15-7).
“We’ve played twice and split,” Raymond said. “The teams know each other well. It’ll come down to who executes the most. We need to play well for the entire game, not just the second half. The kids feel good about their chances having beaten them once. Five years without a championship is quite a long time.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Scarborough freshman John Wheeler gets leveled by South Portland junior Matt Welch, but still manages to score one of his four goals during Saturday’s 10-4 Red Storm victory in the Western A semifinals.
Scarborough senior Tennessee Peters runs past South Portland junior Matt Welch. The Red Riots chased the Red Storm to no avail much of the day.