PORTLAND—On the heels of arguably the most important win in program history, the South Portland boys’ lacrosse team didn’t come close to suffering a letdown Wednesday afternoon at Boulos Stadium.
Instead, the Red Riots rode a timely, balanced offensive attack and 16 saves from senior goalie Travis Wibby to improve to 2-0 on the young season with an 8-3 victory over the host Cheverus Stags.
South Portland didn’t surrender a goal until 3:01 remained in the third period and cruised from there, as it added another reminder that it is indeed a legitimate title contender.
“It was a good game,” said senior Adam Burpee, who had a goal and two assists. “We definitely came into the game and knew we had to keep the same intensity and keep it going. We did it.”
Riding the wave
After an 8-6 season which included a trip to the semifinals (where they lost 20-2 to eventual state champion Portland), the Red Riots liked their chances entering 2010.
South Portland’s status was legitimized big-time in the opener, a stunning, 8-7, come-from-behind overtime victory over traditional power Scarborough. The Red Riots rallied late to tie the score, then won it on senior Garret Reuscher’s tally in the extra session.
It was believed to be the first win over the Red Storm in program history. Just how seismic the victory will prove to be in the long run remains to be seen, but there’s no denying it was a huge affirmation of how good the team can be.
“Since I’ve been here, (Scarborough has) always been the powerhouse,” Burpee said. “We never beat them. To finally beat them feels really good.”
“After all this time, it was a big confidence booster for these kids,” said coach Tom Fiorini. “It was important to them. I think it was something the program needed as a whole. It shows we can go out and compete with the top teams in the county.”
Cheverus, which was 5-9 a year ago (losing 12-1 to Scarborough in the quarterfinals), had yet to play a countable game in 2010 and it showed Wednesday (in the first meeting between the schools since the Red Riots enjoyed a 14-11 win on May 31, 2007) as despite the final score, possession and scoring chances were relatively equal, but South Portland was able to finish while the Stags were not.
In a penalty- and turnover-marred first period, which was interrupted at times by rain, the Red Riots got on the board with 6:37 to go when junior standout Harrison Keithly scored an unassisted goal.
South Portland then got a little breathing room in the second quarter, going up 2-0 with 8:57 left on a goal from Reuscher (assisted by senior Alex Catrett) and making it 3-0 with 2:43 to go in the half, when Keithly picked up a rebound and fired a shot past Cheverus goalie Sean Oddy.
In the first 24 minutes, the Red Riots won all five faceoffs and Wibby (a backup in 2009) denied the Stags on several occasions.
“I love starting,” Wibby said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve been to camps to try to better myself as an individual so I can help the team be more successful in the end.”
Just 46 seconds into the third period, Burpee intercepted a pass, raced in and beat Oddy to make it 4-0. With 7:58 left in the quarter, Burpee set up Reuscher for a transition goal and South Portland was in command, up 5-0.
The hosts finally broke a 32 minute, 59 second scoring drought when Stefano Caiazzo set up Peter Dyche. The Red Riots countered just 18 seconds later, however when senior Chad MacLeod scored unassisted.
Goals from sophomore Michael Salvatore (from Burpee) and MacLeod (unassisted) pushed the advantage to 8-1 early in the fourth. Cheverus accounted for the 8-3 final score on late goals from Tommy Sullivan (from Caiazzo, man-up) and Garrett Naimie (unassisted).
Keithly, MacLeod and Reuscher all had two goals, while Burpee and Salvatore finished with one each. Burpee finished with two assists, while Catrett had one.
“It does feel good to jump on them, but we have things to work on,” said Burpee. “With our offense, we just move it around. We have six kids out there who can score the ball. There’s a lot we can do.”
Wibby finished with 16 saves and was arguably the difference maker.
“We didn’t want to come out flatfooted,” Wibby said. “We knew we had to take it to them early on. Coach is definitely riding us to keep it on the down low and to not get ahead of ourselves. We try to avoid inflated egos. We knew we could have a run this year. I think we’re living up to our potential.”
“Travis had a nice game today,” Fiorini said. “The defense played all right. There were a lot of mistakes. We have things to work on. It’s a work in progress. We’ll fine tune it and try to make it better. Cheverus is obviously a well-coached team with good kids. They did a good job playing defense on us. We have a new offense and some injuries. We’re working on it. We have a lot of guys stepping up and putting the ball in the cage.”
Cheverus got goals from Dyche, Naimie and Sullivan. Caiazzo finished with two assists.
“We had some good, long possessions, but there was a lot of standing and watching,” lamented Stags coach Deke Andrew. “We just played poorly. No excuses. We have a lot to work on in practice before we play Scarborough.”
Cheverus goes to Scarborough Friday at 6 p.m. South Portland looks to keep the good times rolling Saturday (12 p.m.) when it hosts Deering, just another step on what the Red Riots hope will be a triumphant roll deep into the postseason.
“(Rams coach) Bob (Rothbart) is a great coach and he has some great players,” said Fiorini. “We’d really like to go beyond the semifinals this year. It’s a goal of ours”
“Coming into the season, since the end of last season, we really looked forward to it and we think it’s our year to come out and be strong,” Burpee added. “We lost to (Deering) earlier in the (preseason) Casco Bay Cup, but we’ll definitely come ready for that game.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com