SACO—Sometimes the mountain is just a little too steep.
Saturday evening at Hill Stadium in a Western Class A semifinal, Scarborough’s boys’ lacrosse team dug an 8-1 hole against second-ranked Thornton Academy, but the third-seeded Red Storm were far from finished.
A fourth quarter uprising, capped by a highlight reel goal from sophomore Sam Neugebauer, pulled Scarborough within a single goal, 9-8, but one final chance resulted in a turnover which led to a Golden Trojans goal on an empty net with 52.3 seconds to play. Thornton Academy added one more 27 seconds later and went on to an 11-8 victory.
The Red Storm, who scored just one goal through two-and-a-half quarters, almost pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory, but despite four goals from Cam Nigro, fell short and their season ended at 9-5 as the Golden Trojans improved to 11-3 and advanced to battle top-ranked, defending state champion South Portland (12-1) in the Western A Final Wednesday at a time to be announced.
“It’s about getting better every day and I sure think we did,” said Scarborough coach Joe Hezlep. “It’ll sting for a little while, but the guys put in the effort and the work and put themselves in a position to have a chance.”
Scarborough saw its four-year reign as Class A champion end with a loss to Thornton Academy in last year’s semifinals. This spring, the Red Storm started 0-2, but a 4-3 win at the Golden Trojans April 29 got them on track and they only lost two more games the rest of the regular season. Scarborough earned the No. 3 seed in Western A and had no trouble with sixth-ranked Biddeford, 19-3, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Thornton Academy, which let a sure win slip away in last year’s gutwrenching regional final loss at South Portland, lost only at home to Scarborough and South Portland (in overtime) and at Cheverus this spring, by one goal in each setback. The Golden Trojans went into the playoffs with the second seed and had no trouble downing No. 7 Noble (20-1).
Last spring’s 13-4 win at Scarborough was Thornton Academy’s first in four playoff tries against the Red Storm.
Saturday night, the Golden Trojans did it again, but almost suffered an even more agonizing collapse than the one which befell them a year ago.
The first period was a barrage of turnovers, but Thornton Academy managed to score three times and get the jump.
With 9:17 to play in the opening stanza, senior Zach Bryant set up classmate Isaac Sinclair for the game’s first goal.
After Golden Trojans senior goalie Chris Camire robbed Scarborough’s Marco Manfra, Neugebauer set up Cam Nigro for a shot which tied the game, 1-1, with 5:27 to play in the first.
The Red Storm wouldn’t score again until the second half.
After Scarborough goalie Isaac Rico preserved the tie with saves against junior Gregory Ruff and sophomore Jon Camire, Camire pounced on a rebound and finished to put the hosts ahead to stay.
With 15.3 seconds remaining in the frame, Bryant again fed Sinclair and it was 3-1 Thornton Academy after one.
With 10:22 to go before halftime, Sinclair fed Jon Camire for a goal and 14 seconds later, Camire decided that turnabout was fair play and he set up Sinclair to make it 5-1.
The Golden Trojans kept the pressure on, with help from a sloppy Red Storm offense, and made it 6-1 when Bryant scored from senior Tyler LaPointe at the 2:42 mark and 7-1 when Ruff set up sophomore Cameron Cadorette with 1:14 left in the half.
In the first 24 minutes, the teams combined for 41 turnovers, but Thornton Academy appeared to be in good shape.
When sophomore Thomas Pike set up Sinclair 76 seconds into the third quarter, the Golden Trojans had visions of pulling away for good, but finally, Scarborough’s offense hit its stride.
Moments after Nigro hit the post, Nigro scored unassisted with 4:04 showing, snapping a 25 minute, 23 second drought and Thornton Academy’s 7-0 run.
Late in the quarter, Sinclair hit the post, but the Golden Trojans appeared in good shape going to the final period.
Then, the Red Storm erupted and made the partisan crowd very nervous.
With 9:46 to play, Braeden Kane finished a feed from Manfra. Twenty-two seconds later, Manfra set up Nigro and the deficit was 8-4.
After Chris Camire denied Kane, Scarborough stuck with it and with 6:25 remaining, Nate Howard set up Kane to cut the Golden Trojans’ lead to three.
Thornton Academy appeared to restore order when Bryant, after being robbed by Rico, got the ball back and set up Jon Camire to snap a 17:13 drought and push the lead back to four, 9-5.
The Red Storm kept coming, however, and with 4:28 to go, Ware set up Neugebauer for a goal. Just over a minute later, Ware fed Nigro and the deficit was only 9-7.
Chris Camire tried to hold Scarborough at bay, but after denying Neugebauer, Neugebauer collected a ground ball in front of the cage and somehow beat Camire with 1:21 left and the Red Storm, with all the momentum, only trailed by one, 9-8.
Thornton Academy managed to get possession as Pike won the ensuing faceoff and Golden Trojans’ coach Ryan Hersey called timeout, but the hosts gave the ball away.
Scarborough got possession in the corner, deep in its defensive zone, but never got a chance to transition to offense for a chance to tie.
Instead, an errant pass was snared by Jon Camire and when he looked up, he saw an empty goal in front of him. Camire took a couple of steps and finished and Thornton Academy, with 52.3 seconds to play, could finally exhale as its lead was back to two.
“It just happened, I have no clue,” Camire said. “It was like a dream come true. I wish I could describe it.”
Howard won the faceoff to give desperate Scarborough the ball back, but the Red Storm committed their 44th and final turnover and with 25.3 seconds left, senior Tyler LaPointe put an exclamation mark on the victory with an unassisted goal and the Golden Trojans went on to a grueling 11-8 triumph.
“It was nuts at the end, but we fought the whole time,” Jon Camire said. “Our mental toughness has progressed so much this year. We’ve worked as a team and played so hard. We stayed focused.”
“We worked so hard and I’m so proud of the guys,” Hersey said. “Every one-goal game we’ve had we’ve lost this year. For us to go out and grit our teeth and get the win was huge. At halftime, we said that we were working too hard to be throwing the ball away that much. You can’t go that hard and expect to have something left in the fourth quarter. I was fine with an even third quarter. Once they got a couple, that’s what scared me.”
The Golden Trojans got four goals apiece from Jon Camire and Sinclair and one apiece from Bryant, Cadorette and LaPointe. Bryant had two assists, while Camire, LaPointe, Pike, Ruff and Sinclair had one apiece. Chris Camire made eight saves.
Thornton Academy had a 12-11 edge in faceoffs, enjoyed a 62-45 advantage on ground balls (senior Myles Gamage led the way with nine and LaPointe scooped up eight), outshot Scarborough, 29-21 (20-16) and somehow overcame 45 turnovers.
The Golden Trojans dropped an 8-7 overtime decision to South Portland back on May 13. Thornton Academy is 0-4 all-time against the Red Riots in the playoffs, with last year’s 12-11 setback (South Portland scored three times in the final 48.7 seconds, producing the winner with 1.9 seconds showing) being the one the Golden Trojans will never forget.
Wednesday, they’ll have a chance at revenge and an opportunity to advance to the state final for the first time.
“We’ll stay together as a team,” Jon Camire said. “We’ll listen to Coach and play our game.”
“I’m excited,” Hersey said. “We’ve been close to them. Two one-goal games in the last year. I think our kids will be motivated to go out and get that one.”
The Red Storm got four goals from Nigro and two apiece from Kane and Neugebauer. Ware had three assists, Manfra added two and Howard and Neugebauer both had one. Rico made nine saves and Kevin Caldwell had a team-high nine ground balls (Howard collected six).
In a microcosm of its season, Scarborough started slowly and finished strong, but the season came to a close.
“We got close,” Hezlep said. “We’ve talked all year about never giving up, never being out of the fight. I said at halftime, ‘When you go home and look in the mirror, feel good about yourself. Have fun and let’s finish’ and boy, did they. We won some faceoffs so we didn’t have to clear it and when we had to, we actually did. We couldn’t clear anything in the first half. You can’t win against a good team if you don’t get chances. We had to take chances at the end. We had to make them throw long passes and hope they missed. Credit to them for making enough gritty plays to close it. Coach Hersey has done a phenomenal job here developing lacrosse players and turning their IQ up. We used to kill them in transition and they’ve turned that around. We didn’t get a single transition goal tonight.”
As always, the program loses some terrific seniors, but as always, look for the Red Storm to be in the title hunt next spring.
“We lose great leadership, but they set a great example for the kids coming up,” Hezlep said. “We had younger kids play a lot this year, so we’ll try again.”
Scarborough’s Cam Nigro is lifted by Braeden Kane after scoring a goal during the Red Storm’s rally.
Scarborough’s Braeden Kane is shadowed by Thornton Academy junior Elijah Ayotte.
Scarborough’s Camden Jepson battles Thornton Academy’s Thomas Pike for a faceoff.
Scarborough’s Braeden Kane fires a shot.
Scarborough goalie Isaac Rico races up the field with the ball.
Scarborough’s Marco Manfra looks for a shot.
Scarborough sophomore Sam Neugebauer drives on Thornton Academy junior Elijah Ayotte.
Scarborough goalie Isaac Rico makes a save.
Scarborough’s Sam Ware is defended by Thornton Academy junior Ethan Wiggan.
Scarborough’s boys’ lacrosse team leaves the field after Saturday’s loss.
2014 Western A semifinals
Thornton Academy 13 @ Scarborough 4
2012 Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 7 Thornton Academy 1
2011 Western A Final
@ Scarborough 8 Thornton Academy 3
2010 Western A Final
@ Scarborough 5 Thornton Academy 3
Scarborough sophomore Sam Neugebauer prepares to shoot past Thornton Academy senior Chris Camire for a goal late in Saturday’s Western Class A semifinal. The Red Storm cut a seven-goal deficit to one, but ultimately lost, 11-8.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.