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SOUTH PORTLAND—When the 2010 boys’ lacrosse schedule came out and South Portland coach Tom Fiorini saw that his up-and-coming team opened with rivals Scarborough, Cheverus and Deering, he hoped his squad could manage a 2-1 start.
Well, coach, perhaps you underestimated your team.
Saturday afternoon in a contentious showdown at Martin Memorial Field, the Red Riots continued to be the story of the young season, gaining separation with two goals in the final minute of the first half before cruising in the second half to a 15-9 victory, thanks to seven goals from junior Harrison Keithly.
“It’s great to get off to a start like this,” Keithly said. “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.”
The Rams fell to 2-1, but of much greater import, lost junior standout Carleton Allen to a knee injury. One that could sideline one of the state’s best players for the remainder of the season.
South Portland, a semifinalist in three of the past four seasons, has high hopes in 2010 and got off to an ideal start with a come-from-behind 8-7 overtime victory over perennial power Scarborough (the Red Riots’ first win over the Red Storm) and an 8-3 triumph at Cheverus.
Deering, meanwhile, which missed the playoffs each of the past two years, opened with victories over Marshwood (16-3) and Thornton Academy (6-2).
Saturday’s game was close for a half before the game turned for good in the second period.
In the first 12 minutes, the hosts got six saves from senior goalie Travis Wibby and grabbed the lead on an unassisted goal from senior Chad MacLeod 4 minutes, 51 seconds in. With 3:11 left in the opening stanza, Keithly scored his first goal, unassisted, and it was 2-0 South Portland. After the visitors got on the board when Riley Asbury set up Jackson Sewall man-up with 2:09 to go in the first, MacLeod fed senior Adam Burpee for a man-up goal and a 3-1 advantage. In the final minute, Deering crawled back within a goal when Sewall scored unassisted.
The Rams turned momentum in their favor in the second quarter and tired the score 37 seconds in when Noah Whittenberg fed Sewall for a man-up goal.
With 8:50 left in the half, Burpee hit the post with a shot. Then, with 6:37 remaining, the game, and possibly Deering’s season was altered when Allen was leveled by a late hit on the sideline. He hit the ground, writhed in pain while his leg was attended to and didn’t return.
“It doesn’t look good,” said Deering coach Bob Rothbart. “It might be his season. (Stuff) happens. Psychologically, losing him was a big blow. We miss him on ground balls, faceoffs, offense, clearing. He’s one of the best players around.”
The hosts went ahead to stay with 5:21 left in the half when Keithly scored a pretty unassisted goal. Thirty-five seconds later, MacLeod fed senior Garret Reuscher for a goal and a 5-3 lead, but with 4:18 to go in the half, Asbury (from Isaac Wipfler) scored and it was 5-4.
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.
Burpee set up MacLeod for a goal a minute, 28 seconds into the third quarter, making it 8-4. After an unassisted goal from Deering’s Arjan Nekoie, Keithly scored unassisted, Burpee set up Reuscher, MacLeod assisted Reuscher and with 3:27 to go, Keithly again scored unassisted to put the hosts firmly in control, up 12-5.
“We knew it wasn’t over and we had to finish it,” said Keithly.
The Rams rallied late in the third and got goals from Sewall (from Asbury) and Asbury to make it 12-7.
When Matt Flaherty scored unassisted 58 seconds into the fourth, Deering was back within four, down 12-8, but the hosts put it away behind goals from Keithly (unassisted), senior Jake Leeman (on a rebound) and Keithly (unassisted once more). With 1:17 to play, Wipfler scored unassisted to account for the 15-9 final score.
“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. Bob’s a great coach. 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. Deering never gave up and fought to the end. They really controlled the ball, but fortunately for us, we were able to 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.”
For the Rams, Asbury and Sewall each had three goals, while Flaherty, Nekoie and Wipfler all scored once. Asbury, Sewall, Whittenberg and Wipfler had assists. Nick Holton made 10 saves. Deering, thanks to Karl Rickett, won 18 of 23 faceoffs.
“We fell apart (after Allen got hurt),” said Rothbart. “We pulled it together late and remembered how to play lacrosse. We still have a solid attack and have kids who can score. We have a little time to regroup.”
The Rams will get a chance to lick their wounds as they’re idle until Friday when they host Biddeford.
South Portland is back in action Wednesday when it hosts 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.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever been 3-0,” added Fiorini (in fact, this year is the first time South Portland started 2-0). “We’re very happy and confident, but we’re very conscious. We have nine games left. It’s a long ways to go. A lot of bad things can happen.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
South Portland sophomore Mike Salvatore gets a step on Deering sophomore Karl Rickett during Saturday’s contest.
Deering’s Matt Flaherty finds his progress impeded by the long stick of South Portland senior Brian Hyson. The Red Riots broke open a close game in the second half and improved to 3-0 on the season.
South Portland junior Harrison Keithly eludes Deering’s Jackson Sewall Saturday. The Rams chased Keithly all day to no avail as the standout had seven goals in the Red Riots’ win.
Deering junior Carleton Allen was closely watched by South Portland junior Matt Welch during the first half of Saturday’s showdown. Allen was injured moments later and the Red Riots pulled away to win, 15-9.
More photos below.