Scarborough’s boys’ soccer team celebrates at the final horn of Tuesday’s 1-0 win over South Portland in a Class A South quarterfinal. The Red Storm advanced to meet top-ranked Gorham in the semifinals Saturday.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
SCARBOROUGH—Something had to give when South Portland traveled to Scarborough for a Class A South boys’ soccer quarterfinal Tuesday evening.
The Red Riots and Red Storm had been two of the hottest teams around, with Scarborough winning six in a row and nine out of 10 and South Portland riding a nine-game streak of its own.
Equally as impressive, neither team had surrendered a goal in the month of October.
For nearly 77 minutes, form held as the defenses ruled, but in a game with nearly no separation, a sensational individual effort proved to be the difference.
With 3:09 to go in regulation and overtime looming, Red Storm senior Noah Stracqualursi, who came oh-so-close to scoring on many prior occasions, only to miss or be denied by Red Riots junior goalkeeper Riley Hasson, scored a highlight reel goal that had to be seen to be believed to put Scarborough on top.
The Red Storm’s defense then completed their strong 80-minute showing and closed the door on a 1-0 victory.
Scarborough won a quarterfinal for the sixth year in a row, improved to 12-3, ended South Portland’s season at 12-4 and advanced to meet top-ranked Gorham (14-0-1) in the semifinals Saturday at a time to be announced.
“We had some chances throughout the game and I like how we played,” said Red Storm coach Mark Diaz. “I felt good about getting one. We stayed consistent and we didn’t press too hard. The kids executed and deserve all the credit.”
From 2004 through 2015, Scarborough was the top seed in the region 11 times. The Red Storm were a little more mortal this time around, falling at home to Deering and Gorham and at Portland (by one goal in each instance). Even with a late season surge, Scarborough only managed to garner the No. 4 seed in Class A South (see sidebar, below, for previous game stories).
The Red Riots, who have quietly become a perennial power under coach Bryan Hoy, making it to the semifinals in 2014 and 2015, started the 2016 campaign at 2-3, then they caught fire, winning their final nine games to earn the No. 5 seed in the region. Friday, South Portland had no trouble with No. 12 Sanford in the preliminary round, advancing with a 5-0 decision.
In the regular season encounter Sept. 15, Scarborough eked out a 1-0 decision at South Portland as Stracqualursi produced the lone goal.
The teams had met twice prior in the playoffs, with the Red Storm prevailing, 4-0, in the 2009 quarterfinals and 2-0 in the 2013 quarterfinals.
This time around, on a chilly evening (43 degrees with a 12 mile-per-hour wind), Scarborough found a way to score the one goal necessary to survive and advance.
The Red Storm got some good looks early, but both Stracqualursi and junior Alex Dobecki were denied by Hasson.
It took until the 15th minute until the Red Riots had a shot, as sophomore Aleks Kaurin sent a blast just high.
With 15:23 to play before the half, South Portland almost gave Scarborough an “own goal,” as Red Storm senior Spencer Petitingill’s shot was kicked by senior Sadiki Stewart and the deflection sent the ball just outside the near post.
Down the stretch in the first half, Hasson came out to break up a feed from senior Justin Perry to Stracqualursi, Scarborough senior Garrett King shot high and a left-footed bid from Stracqualursi with 2:53 remaining got through traffic, but was fired right at Hasson.
The Red Storm had a 4-0 edge in shots on frame and a 3-0 advantage in corner kicks in the first 40 minutes, but had nothing to show for it.
The close calls continued in the second half until Scarborough finally broke through.
With 33:48 remaining in regulation, Red Storm senior Marc Guerette got a shot off from the side, but Hasson made the stop.
Two minutes later, South Portland earned its first corner kick and the ball came out to junior Riley Ellis, who shot high.
With 27:51 to go, Stracqualursi fired a left footed shot which hit a defender, but it deflected right to Hasson.
With 22:04 left, King’s low shot forced Hasson to sprawl to make the save.
Six minutes later, after a King steal, Stracqualursi got the ball on the left side of the box, but his curling left footed shot went high.
With 10:27 to go, Scarborough junior Jared Greenleaf, who was a difference maker in the second half, got off a left-footed blast, but Hasson stopped it.
After Stracqualursi missed just high, the Red Storm got a corner with 4:47 left in regulation and almost scored, as with Hasson out of the goal, King sent a header on target, but at the last second, Red Riots senior back Brandon Gagne cleared it off the line.
Scarborough would one more chance and this time, found the net.
With 3:09 showing, Stracqualursi got some room on the right side of the box, crossed over past a defender, then lofted a left-footed shot toward the far post which sailed over Hasson and ducked under the bar, kissing the net in breathtaking fashion for a 1-0 lead.
“Their defense is really good and we knew we’d only get so many shots,” Stracqualursi said. “The ones I had, I should have put on net better, but the last one, luck was with me. I cut back to my left and I crossed it and it hit me that I scored with two minutes left and we could possibly win this. I wanted to place it back post. My left foot is my off foot, but I work on both of them. Sometimes when you kick a ball, you know it’s going in and that’s how it felt. We felt good, but we knew we had to keep going.”
“They haven’t given up many goals all year and you can see why,” Diaz said. “As a unit, they played well. We’re lucky to have (Noah). He’s been a great leader for us. Not verbally, but how he plays. He’s unselfish. That was a beautiful goal. You dream about those and I’m happy for him. He’s worked hard.”
“It’s a one-in-a-million shot he hit,” Hoy said. “There’s no way our keeper could get to it. It’s a beautiful play and he’s a great player.”
The Red Riots had one final chance, but a rush from junior Charlie Cronin was broken up in the box and Scarborough held on for the 1-0 victory.
“Our chemistry has gotten better and our mental toughness too,” Diaz said. “We were forced to get tougher. We had to look at ourselves and we’ve learned from it.”
Scarborough outshot South Portland, 10-1, and took five corner kicks to the Red Riots’ one.
Senior goalkeeper Chris Franklin only had to make one save as Scarborough’s defense smothered South Portland’s dangerous attack.
“The defense is a really hard working group of guys,” said Stracqualursi. “They get better every day. I love working with them, they’re so good.”
Hasson’s nine saves weren’t enough as the Red Riots suffered a painful defeat.
“I actually thought we outplayed them,” Hoy said. “We possessed better than they did and our attack was designed a little bit better. If a goal like that is what it takes to beat us, than we had a successful season. I told these guys all week leading up to the game, one little mistake and they can score. It’s been like that since I’ve been coaching. Give them a window and they put it in every time, that’s why it’s so hard to beat them. We need to generate three or four chances to get one or two goals. They need to generate a half a chance to get one. They always capitalize. They did a really good job defensively, getting back behind the ball. They had nine guys behind the ball and that makes it difficult to score. They knew they had to get guys back and pack it in. We needed to pass more quickly instead of trying to dribble through.”
South Portland deserved better than its fate Tuesday, but once again proved it was good enough to battle everyone in the conference.
“We closed out with nine in a row in the regular season and six or seven straight shutouts,” Hoy said. “I thought we faced the five best teams to start. When we got through 2-3, I knew it would be something special. I thought we should have won against Scarborough and Deering. We took care of business after that. I had a great group of guys. They did everything I asked. They did the little things and that’s why we were able to do the big things on the field.”
While the Red Riots will lose some key contributors, some of their best players will be back in 2017.
“I’ve got six seniors and four of them start and they’re important players, center-backs and center-mids, but I’m pretty confident we’ll be back here next year,” Hoy said. “We have a good group and a lot of guys are back. Hopefully, we’ll keep getting better.”
Arguably Scarborough’s most painful loss this fall came Sept. 13, when it let a 1-0 lead slip away in a 2-1 home loss to Gorham.
The teams have a long and rich playoff history, one which dates to 1974. The Red Storm have taken seven of eight meetings, including a 2-1 victory in the 2013 Western A semifinals, the most recent encounter.
Scarborough knows it won’t be easy Saturday, but no one should bet against this squad.
“In the beginning of the year, we had a lot of inexperience in big games, but we worked through it, watched film and gotten better,” Stracqualursi said. “We’ve got a solid group now. We have to work really hard. Gorham’s really good. They’re hard to match up with. It comes down to wants it more. I hope it’s us. It’ll be a tough game.”
“Gorham deserves to be the top seed,” Diaz said. “They’ve been fantastic all year. We’ll go there and play our game and see what happens. We’re excited. I expect another great game.”
Scarborough senior Marc Guerette races down the field with South Portland junior Liam Coyne in hot pursuit.
South Portland senior Princiel Kuniecki prepares to head the ball.
Scarborough senior Noah Stracqualursi gets past South Portland senior Brandon Gagne.
Scarborough senior Justin Perry heads the ball away from South Portland senior Khalid Suja.
Scarborough senior Garrett King sends a header on goal past South Portland junior goalkeeper Riley Hasson late in the game. Red Riots senior back Brandon Gagne managed to clear the ball and save a goal.
South Portland junior Charlie Cronin looks to pass to senior Princiel Kuniecki.
South Portland sophomore Alecks Kaurin looks for an open teammate.
Scarborough senior Noah Stracqualursi is mobbed his teammates after scoring the game’s lone goal late in regulation.