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Boys’ lacrosse state championships aren’t won in the month of April, but the upstart South Portland program has certainly laid the foundation for greatness in the season’s first week.
The Red Riots, semifinalists in four of the past five seasons, entered 2010 with high expectations and have stolen the show, shooting to a program-best 3-0 start behind inspirational wins over Scarborough, Cheverus and Deering.
Best of all, it appears as if the fun is just beginning.
Turning the corner
The opener, way back on April 17, had a ton of impact, as it marked the only time this regular season that the two favorites in Western A, Scarborough and host South Portland, would square off.
The pedigreed Red Storm, who have won a pair of state titles and had never lost to the Red Riots, appeared in control most of the way, racing to an early lead. South Portland rallied to tie the game at 4-4, 6-6 and 7-7 (in the final minute, on a goal from senior Garret Reuscher), then set the tone for their season late in the first “sudden-victory” four-minute overtime session, when Reuscher scored again, giving the Red Riots an 8-7 triumph.
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,” senior Adam 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.”
A visit to Cheverus last Wednesday resulted in an easier win for the Red Riots, who rode a timely, balanced offensive attack and 16 saves from senior goalie Travis Wibby to an 8-3 victory. South Portland went up 3-0 at the half, got goals from Burpee and Reuscher in the third period to make it 5-0 and after allowing the Stags’ first goal, which didn’t come until 3:01 was left in the quarter, put it away behind goals from senior Chad MacLeod (unassisted), sophomore Mike Salvatore (from Burpee) and MacLeod (unassisted).
“It was a good game,” said 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. 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, a first-year starter, was arguably the difference maker.
“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.
“We didn’t want to come out flatfooted. 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 added. “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.”
Saturday afternoon, at home, South Portland made it three in a row, by outlasting Deering, a team that had beaten the Red Riots in the preseason. South Portland gained separation with two goals in the final minute of the first half before cruising in the second half to a 15-9 victory.
The Red Riots led 3-1 early before the Rams tied the score. The game then turned midway through the second period when Deering’s junior standout Carleton Allen suffered a knee injury after a late hit. The hosts went ahead to stay with 5:21 left in the half when junior Harrison Keithly scored a pretty unassisted goal. Thirty-five seconds later, MacLeod fed Reuscher for a goal and a 5-3 lead. The visitors got one back and it looked like the shaken Rams would be within a goal at the half before South Portland erupted for two goals in a 38-second span. First, Keithly scored unassisted. Then, with just 4.8 seconds left, MacLeod fed Reuscher for a fastbreak goal, giving the Red Riots a little breathing room and a 7-4 advantage at the break.
“I think it took a little wind out of their sails and it helped us out quite a bit,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “We capitalized on it.”
While the first half was relatively even, South Portland got some separation in the second half.
The Red Riots pushed their lead to 12-5 before Deering got back within four, 12-8. South Portland then put it away behind goals from Keithly (unassisted), senior Jake Leeman (on a rebound) and Keithly (unassisted once more). The Rams got a late goal, accounting for the 15-9 final score.
Keithly finished with a whopping seven goals.
“I don’t keep count,” Keithly said. “If we win, that’s all I care about. Credit goes 110 percent to the defense I practice against. They make me work hard every single day.”
“Harrison’s been doing the work,” Fiorini added. “I’m proud of him. He’s playing hard. He looks to pass the ball in addition to shooting.”
Reuscher added four goals, MacLeod had two and Burpee and Leeman each scored once. MacLeod had four assists, while Burpee added a pair. Wibby finished with 10 saves.
“Everybody from the middies to the defense is really clicking,” Keithly said. “Ground balls are a competition on our own team. Who can get the most. It’s great to get off to a start like this. It’s a great group of guys. We take it one game at a time. We don’t care if it’s a team from nowhere or if it’s Syracuse. We come out 110 percent.”
“It feels good,” said Fiorini. “The kids are starting to come together and play as a team. This is the first time in three games we’ve played 48 minutes. I’m very proud of them. They’re working hard. Deering’s a tough team. I think if (Allen) didn’t go down, it would have been a different game. He’s a heck of a player. That’s a tough break. We lucked out.”
South Portland returned to action Wednesday at home against Massabesic. Friday, the Red Riots visit Westbrook.
“We have to stay focused and keep going one game at a time,” Keithly said. “Obviously, states is our goal.”
“We’re very happy and confident, but we’re very conscious,” Fiorini added. “We have nine games left. It’s a long ways to go. A lot of bad things can happen. We’d really like to go beyond the semifinals this year. It’s a goal of ours.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Junior Matt Welch and his defensive counterparts helped the Red Riots enjoy the finest start in program history.
Sophomore Mike Salvatore has emerged as another top offensive weapon for the Red Riots this spring.
Senior Brian Hyson made life miserable for the Deering defense during Saturday’s win.
South Portland junior Harrison Keithly scored seven goals in the Red Riots’ 15-9 home win over Deering Saturday.