SACO—With its lengthy league unbeaten streak a thing of the past, Scarborough’s field hockey team can now focus on what’s really important.
Being at its best in the biggest games.
Thursday evening at Hill Stadium, the Red Storm met Thornton Academy in a midseason showdown and got pushed for 60 minutes and then some, but managed to earn a critical victory.
Scarborough quieted the partisan crowd just 55 seconds in when junior sharpshooter Lily Nygren scored.
After the Red Storm fended off several Golden Trojans’ forays, they grabbed a 2-0 advantage with 5:36 left in the first half when junior Kristen Levesque scored on a penalty corner.
Not surprisingly, Thornton Academy got right back in the game early in the second half when sophomore Taylor Ouellette rattled the cage with 25:56 to play.
Down the stretch, the Golden Trojans had several chances to tie, but couldn’t do so.
Then, just before time expired, Thornton Academy had one final chance on a penalty corner and a blast from senior Grace Pickering appeared primed to send the game to overtime, but luck was on the Red Storm’s side as the shot rattled off the post and Scarborough held on for a 2-1 victory.
The Red Storm improved to 7-1, dropped the Golden Trojans to 6-2 and made it 14 victories without a loss all-time in the series.
“It’s a turning moment type of game,” said Scarborough coach Kerry Mariello. “I was expecting a game like this, no doubt. I was glad we brought the energy we brought. I’m glad we capitalized on their homefield.”
In a year devoid of a clear favorite, Thornton Academy has every bit as much hope as Scarborough and both teams entered the game having stumbled just once.
The Golden Trojans opened with shutout wins over host Deering (4-0), visiting Gorham (4-0) and host Bonny Eagle (2-0), then dropped a home overtime decision to Cheverus (3-2). Thornton Academy then defeated host Windham (3-0), host Biddeford (5-1) and visiting Westbrook (5-2).
The Red Storm opened with a 2-0 win at Marshwood, then outlasted visiting Massabesic in double overtime, 3-2. After blanking host Deering, 4-0, Scarborough downed visiting Gorham, 3-1, then held on for a 1-0 triumph at Bonny Eagle. Last Wednesday, the Red Storm’s five-year, 66-game league unbeaten streak came to a close with a 2-1 home loss to Cheverus.
That setback proved to be a valuable learning tool.
“It was a good wakeup call for us,” said senior defender Emma Hall. “It opened our eyes. We found out we had to step it up another level.”
“That loss was humbling,” Levesque said. “It made us kick it into gear. It showed us that everyone will play us tough this year.”
Last Friday, Scarborough bounced back with a 4-3 overtime win at Windham.
Entering play Thursday night, Thornton Academy had never beaten Scarborough, dropping all 13 meetings, including setbacks in the 2009 quarterfinals (2-0), 2012 quarterfinals (4-0) and last year’s semifinals (3-1). In last year’s regular season encounter, the Red Storm got pushed into overtime by the Golden Trojans before prevailing, 1-0.
Thursday, Thornton Academy had its chances to end its drought in the series, but Scarborough found a way to wind up on the winning side again.
The Golden Trojans made an initial push, but the Red Storm made the stop and transitioned to the offensive end. After a rush was broken up, the ball game to Nygren, who one-timed a blast past Thornton Academy junior goalie Isabella Capozzi for a 1-0 lead just 55 seconds in.
“It was very important to get the momentum,” said Levesque. “That carried us through the game.”
“What a great way to start a game,” Mariello said. “That us in a comfortable situation. Obviously, it was early in the game. There was a ton of time left. We knew what we needed to do.”
Three minutes later, Scarborough almost doubled its lead, but Levesque sent a backhander just wide.
The hosts then pressured for the equalizer, but junior Isabella Robinson sent a backhanded bid just wide, sophomore Claire Decker had a shot saved by Red Storm senior goalie Alyssa Souza and senior Libby Pomerleau had a shot saved by Souza.
With just under six minutes to play before halftime, Scarborough earned a penalty corner and it resulted in a goal.
As Nygren prepared to insert the ball, Levesque, in concert with her twin sister, junior Ashley Levesque, raised her stick to the sky in a menacing gesture which intimated trouble was in store. The ball came to Ashley Levesque, who sent it over to her sister and Kristen Levesque buried her shot for a 2-0 lead with 5:36 remaining in the half.
“We’ve always done that,” said Kristen Levesque, about the twins raising their sticks to the sky. “It’s just what we do. We’re ready. Ash gave me a pass. I saw the corner and I popped it in.”
“It’s a well executed play,” Mariello said. “It’s something we practice. She was open, took advantage and executed. It’s what we wanted in that situation for sure.”
Everyone on hand expected Thornton Academy to come out strong in the second half and it took the Golden Trojans all of one minute to produce a good opportunity, but Souza saved a shot off the stick of Ouellette.
The next Ouellette shot eluded Souza, however.
With 25:56 remaining in regulation, Pickering got the ball to Ouellette and her one-timer found the cage to cut the deficit to 2-1.
The Red Storm then had to hold on.
With 23:01 to play, Pomerleau fired a shot which was blocked by Hall.
With 16:30 remaining, a Ouellette rush showed promise, but at the last second, Souza came way out of the goal, dove and knocked the ball away.
Down the stretch, Souza knocked the ball away from Ouellette in close, Ouellette had a shot saved by Souza and sophomore Claire Decker sent a long shot wide.
Thornton Academy got one final chance in the waning seconds and with 12 seconds showing, earned a penalty corner.
By rule, a team can attempt a corner after time has expired in a half and the Golden Trojans would get a spectacular scoring chance.
The ball was inserted to Pickering, who ripped a shot that eluded the defense and Souza. The problem for Thornton Academy was that it hit the near post square and on the rebound, the ball hit the foot of a Golden Trojan, bringing the contest to a close.
Scarborough 2 Thornton Academy 1.
“It’s a great feeling to win,” said Kristen Levesque. “It was definitely nervewracking. We played a great game and they did too.”
“It was definitely a heart-race,” said Hall. “We knew we needed to shine. We kept our sticks down and we knew we could get it out. It was a close shot. It’s awesome. It’s always great to win here. It’s a really good atmosphere to play in. It’s great to walk away with a win. It’s a big confidence booster for us.”
“We had to dig deep at the end,” Mariello added. “It was about defending them. We hung tough. We know what kind of pressure that takes and we didn’t want to be on the losing end.
“We heard that Cheverus (the last undefeated team in the league) lost earlier today. The girls had it in the back of their minds. They were pretty excited. They know what the game meant.”
The Red Storm were outshot, 11-5, but got 10 saves from Souza.
“Alyssa played great,” Kristen Levesque said. “She was aggressive. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
“Alyssa needed a game like this,” said Mariello. “The entire defense needed this game.”
Scarborough had four corners to just one for the Golden Trojans, who got three saves from Capozzi.
Both teams now turn their attention to winning out and finishing as highly ranked as possible.
Thornton Academy goes to South Portland Monday, hosts Portland Wednesday and plays at Sanford Saturday. The Golden Trojans (who dropped to seventh in the Class A South Heal Points standings after the loss) then sandwich home games against Massabesic and Marshwood around a trip to Noble to end the year.
Scarborough, which moved into the top spot in the region, is back in action Monday when Westbrook pays a visit. After going to Biddeford, the Red Storm host South Portland, go to Sanford, then close at home versus Noble.
“It’s definitely different this year,” Hall said. “We’re meshing together, which you can see. We’ve gotten the hang of it. We still have some work to do. It’s an even league. We can’t take anyone lightly.”
“Going into preseason, we knew we’d get a battle all year,” Kristen Levesque said. “We have to keep playing the way we’re playing. If we keep that strong mentality, we can do it.”
“We’re in a pretty good situation right now,” Mariello added. “It doesn’t matter who we play and when. We have to play our hardest game, no matter what. We have to be ready to take on the top teams in the playoffs.”
Scarborough junior Kristen Levesque (22) is congratulated by junior Lily Nygren after scoring to stretch the Red Storm’s lead to 2-0 during Thursday’s contest at Thornton Academy. Scarborough held on for dear life and prevailed, 2-1.
Mike Strout photos.
Scarborough junior Ashley Levesque tries to get around Thornton Academy junior Ali Ouellette.
Scarborough junior Cara Reynolds has a rush broken up by Thornton Academy junior Sidney Hurst.
Scarborough junior Annika Battista is defended by Thornton Academy junior Emma Dutremble.
Scarborough senior Grace Bailer blocks the shot of Thornton Academy senior Grace Pickering.
Scarborough junior Kristen Levesque scores the game’s second goal on a shot off a penalty corner.
Scarborough junior Lily Nygren knocks the ball away from Thornton Academy senior Grace Pickering.
Scarborough senior Emma Hall winds up for a shot as Thornton Academy junior Isabella Robinson tries to poke at the ball.