A year ago, the South Portland boys’ lacrosse team got off to a blazing, undefeated start that ultimately resulted in receiving the top seed for the regional playoffs.
This spring, the Red Riots will have to about things differently.
South Portland opened the year undermanned and playing three very strong teams, but managed to go 1-2, while suggesting better days are ahead.
South Portland enjoyed the best season in program history last spring, but was upset, 10-4, by eventual state champion Scarborough in the Western A semis. After losing a good chunk of that team to graduation, the Red Riots aren’t thinking state title in 2011, but they should remain in the hunt.
South Portland was blanked at Scarborough in the opener (11-0), but bounced back for an inspirational 7-6 double overtime win over visiting Cheverus.
In that one, senior standout Harrison Keithly had all seven Red Riots goals, including one that tied the score and forced OT with 10 seconds to go and the winner in the second extra session, but in the aftermath of that goal, Keithly reinjured a separated shoulder and is expected to miss several games.
Saturday morning, in rainy (and for a fleeting moment, snowy) conditions, South Portland found Deering too tough to handle.
A year ago, when the host Red Riots beat the Rams, 15-9, Deering standout Carleton Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury. Saturday, he got payback.
The Red Riots actually got the game’s first goal as senior Brian Cleary beat Rams’ sophomore backup goalie John Deloach just 26 seconds in.
With 8:18 to go in the 12-minute opening stanza, Allen first made his presence felt as he set up senior teammate Zach Poulin for the equalizer.
A mere six seconds later, after Poulin won the faceoff, Allen set up senior Noah Whittenburg for a shot that eluded South Portland senior goalie Connor Igo for the goal which put Deering ahead to stay.
With 5:10 left in the first, Allen scored his first goal, unassisted. In the final minute, Allen took a pass from sophomore Brett Harmon and scored again to make it a 4-1 game.
As he did in the first, Cleary opened the second quarter scoring with an unassisted goal 17 seconds in, but the rest of the period would belong to the hosts.
First, six seconds after the South Portland goal, junior Anthony Verville got in the scoring column after taking a pass from Poulin, who had won the faceoff. Forty seconds later, junior Matt Flaherty scored unassisted to make it 6-2.
With 10:14 to go in the first half, Verville set up senior Isaac Wipfler for a goal. With 4:38 remaining, Poulin assisted on a goal by senior Cody Marcroft.
The Red Riots ended a 4-0 run when junior Mike Salvatore scored a man-up unassisted goal with 4:15 left in the half, but Whittenburg scored after a rebound and Allen scored unassisted to make it 10-3. After a Cleary unassisted goal, Allen scored unassisted with 26.1 seconds showing to give Deering a commanding 11-4 lead at the break.
As the rain continued to fall, the Rams kept the pressure on in the second half.
Allen would score three unassisted goals in the third period and Poulin added another for a 15-4 lead.
Another Poulin unassisted goal, 29 seconds into the fourth, induced a running clock, that all on hand, even the South Portland faithful, had to welcome. Marcroft (from Wipfler) scored with 8:36 remaining and after Cleary delivered his fourth unassisted goal with 6:28 to play, Flaherty ended the scoring with an unassisted tally with 4:18 left, giving Deering the 18-5 win.
Allen’s seven-goal performance turned heads.
“For Carleton, this was special,” Deering coach Bob Rothbart said. “He came up big. I wasn’t surprised to see him score seven goals. He’s had this one marked on the calendar since before the season. It was good for him. He did well.”
For South Portland, Cleary had four goals and Salvatore one. Salvatore had a game-high 13 ground balls, while Hannigan grabbed nine. Igo made 12 saves, many of them point blank.
“Generating some offense without Harrison was a positive,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “Connor’s standing tall. He’s doing a nice job.
“It was a tough day. The kids were a little depressed (without Harrison), there’s not getting around that. We accomplished what we wanted this week. We got one of three. We’re right where we need to be. We’re fine.”
South Portland returned to action Wednesday at Massabesic and has a crossover game at Camden Hills Friday. Monday brings a visit from Westbrook and Wednesday a trip to Windham.
The schedule is in the team’s favor the next couple weeks and the Red Riots hope to earn some wins in advance of Keithly’s return.
“We’re getting there,” Fiorini said. “We have five games that are going to be good games for us to play. Hopefully we’ll be able to turn things around. We’ll be alright. We need to get some confidence for our younger and inexperienced players. Hopefully Harrison will be back by (the Thornton Academy game, May 17). That’s our goal.”
South Portland senior Robert Hannigan looks to drive around a Deering defender during the Red Riots’ 18-5 loss last week, which dropped them to 1-2 on the season.
South Portland senior goalie Connor Igo has stood tall for the Red Riots during the tough early stages of the season.