SP boys win prelim in PKs

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SOUTH PORTLAND—It took 155 minutes for the South Portland boys’ soccer team to accomplish something for the first time, but it was certainly worth the wait for the Red Riots.

Saturday evening at Martin Memorial Field, in a Western Class A preliminary round playoff game that went on and on and on and on, the eighth-ranked Red Riots and No. 9 Kennebunk traded goals early, then never scored again as the game went through two overtimes without resolution, forcing penalty kicks to decide matters.

Penalty kicks in which the South Portland program had never before participated.

After each team made their first two attempts, Red Riots junior goalkeeper Henry Curran made a save. Sophomore Brady Cyr then put his team ahead for the first time. When Curran made a dazzling kick save on the next Rams’ attempt, South Portland needed just one more successful conversion to prevail and senior Ben Michaud stepped to the line and buried his shot giving his team a 2-1 (4-2 PKs) victory.

The Red Riots improved to 9-5-1, ended Kennebunk’s season at 6-6-3 and advanced to meet top-ranked, defending state champion Scarborough in the quarterfinals Tuesday or Wednesday at a time to be announced.

“It was worth the wait,” said South Portland coach Bryan Hoy. “I knew if we could get to PKs, we’d have them. I just told them to put it in the back of the net. Don’t think about it too much and just rip it. We have a very good goalie, who’s excellent at PKs, and we have guys who can knock it in the back of the net.”

First time

South Portland posted its sixth straight winning record this fall, overcoming a decisive 5-0 loss at Scarborough to start the season. The Red Riots got in the win column with a 4-2 victory at Thornton Academy, then lost at home to Gorham, 3-1. After a 3-1 home win over Westbrook, South Portland’s up-and-down play continued with a 4-1 setback at Noble, a 2-1 home victory over Windham and a 3-2 setback at Deering. The Red Riots finally posted consecutive wins when they downed host Biddeford, 5-0, and visiting Portland, 2-1. After a hard-fought 1-0 home loss to Cheverus, South Portland rolled at Massabesic, 5-2, tied visiting Sanford, 0-0, beat visiting Bonny Eagle, 1-0, and closed with a 4-2 triumph at Marshwood to lock up a home playoff game.

Kennebunk played a Western Maine Conference schedule in the regular season, seeing powers like Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely, Yarmouth and York multiple times. The Rams tied York twice and Cape Elizabeth once, lost to Falmouth and Yarmouth twice each and Greely once and defeated Cape Elizabeth, Greely, Fryeburg, Lake Region, Poland and Wells before returning to Class A for the playoffs.

The teams had met twice before in the playoffs, a 1-0 Kennebunk win in the 2007 preliminary round and a 3-2 South Portland overtime triumph in the 2009 quarterfinals.

Saturday, scoring chances were plentiful early and it looked like the game would be a shootout, but instead it turned into a marathon.

The tone was set 13 seconds in, when Red Riots junior Andrew Whipple broke in but shot wide.

The hosts kept the pressure on, forcing a Kennebunk defender to clear a ball in front, another to break up the rush of dynamic sophomore Ahmed Suja and five minutes in, Rams senior goalkeeper Ben Wilson had to make a save on a blast from senior Robert Graff, after Suja set him up.

The Rams then set up shop in the South Portland end and with 33:25 to play in the first half, took a 1-0 lead, as senior Pip Butterfield’s long throw from the side found the head of senior Robby Burns, who directed the ball past Curran.

The Red Riots, after Whipple shot just high, got the equalizer with 25:46 to go before halftime, as Suja trapped the ball with his chest and fed Whipple, who one-timed a blast past Wilson to make it 1-1.

Neither team would score a regular-run-of-play goal the rest of the evening.

Not that both didn’t have ample opportunities.

A minute after South Portland tied the score, Kennebunk almost went back on top, but sophomore Spencer Thibodeau’s feed just missed the far post and Butterfield couldn’t quite reach it.

Five minutes later, a blast from Rams senior Griffin Drigotas was tipped high by Curran over the bar to set up a corner kick.

With 14:27 to play before halftime, a blast from Graff went just wide.

Late in the half, a Butterfield throw was headed high by senior Sam Whalen and another Butterfield throw was punched away by Curran.

In the first 40 minutes, Kennebunk enjoyed an 8-7 shots advantage. Each team had one corner and both goalies made three saves.

There wouldn’t be much separation in the second half either.

Just 38 seconds in, a Burns shot forced Curran to sprawl and make a save which he bobbled before settling.

Curran had to react quickly again with 35:53 to play, as a shot from senior Nate Gilbert appeared ticketed for the upper corner, but Curran tipped it away, setting up a corner kick.

South Portland’s first good look of the second half came with 28:51 remaining, as Suja unleashed a left-footed shot in close, only to have Wilson make the save.

Seconds later, a Suja rush was broken up by Rams junior back Tyler Dolan.

Another Butterfield throw with 23:35 to play was headed on target by Burns, but Curran made the save.

In the 68th minute, a low shot from Kennebunk senior Dany Reyes Caballero was denied, setting up a corner kick.

At the other end, Cyr had a shot, but it was saved by Wilson.

With 8:54 to go, Burns received a yellow card and the Red Riots earned a free kick from the top of the box, but senior Danny Fox’s bid was saved in sprawling fashion by Wilson after it was deflected on target.

With 6:22 remaining, Michaud was given a yellow card, sidelining him for the rest of regulation, but more importantly, Kennebunk had a free kick from a makeable distance and Caballero’s blast was tipped away by a leaping Curran.

Down the stretch, Curran denied a soft shot from Drigotas, Curran beat senior Ryan Keefe to a feed from Drigotas, Suja chipped a shot wide and a last second Rams’ corner resulted in Curran batting the ball away, sending the game to overtime.

In 80 minutes of regulation, Kennebunk enjoyed a 19-12 shots advantage (11-8 on frame). The Rams had five corner kicks, but couldn’t convert any of them, while the Red Riots only had one. Curran made 10 saves (he would make more), while Wilson had seven.

In the first OT session, South Portland had the better of the chances, as sophomore Gary Maietta’s rush was broken up by Kennebunk senior back Stephen Price, senior Austin Mills sent a one-timer just wide, Suja’s blast resulted in a tremendous save by Wilson and an ensuing corner kick, which Graff headed wide, Graff sent a shot wide and a header by Whipple went wide as well.

Late in the overtime, Curran punched out a Price free kick and later punched away a Butterfield throw, sending the game to a second OT.

Just 37 seconds in, Suja was given a yellow card and the Rams pushed play.

Senior Ryan Keefe sent a shot wide, a Butterfield throw landed in the box, forcing Curran to clear it, and another Butterfield throw was headed out of harm’s way by sophomore back Brian Elsemore.

As time wound down, Thibodeau couldn’t handle a feed from Caballero and a free kick by Fox in close sailed high and that ended the regular run of play with the game still tied, 1-1.

“I was getting nervous when the clock was winding down in the second overtime,” said Curran. “I just focused on the ball when it came in. I trusted my defense and we got it done.”

Each coach then selected five players to take penalty kicks, with the team making the higher amount determined the winner.

Price went first for the Rams and beat Curran to the far right corner. Fox answered with a high shot into the net and it was 1-1.

The next round was similar, as Caballero beat Curran to the left corner and Suja pounded a shot up top past Wilson.

Then, the tide turned as Keefe didn’t get much on his shot and kicked it directly at Curran, who made an easy save. Cyr then got Wilson to dive to his right and settled his shot into the opposite corner to give the Red Riots a 3-2 lead.

Butterfield, he of the masterful throws, then stepped to the line and fired a low shot to Curran’s left, but at the last second, Curran stuck out his left foot and make a kick save and a beauty.

“I just had a blank mind and it worked out,” Curran said. “Coach tells me to watch the planter foot. Whichever way it plants, it’s hard to go the other way. I guessed right, I guess.”

“Henry’s saved our (bacon) many, many times,” said Michaud.

Suddenly, South Portland was on the brink of victory.

It came down to Michaud and the senior didn’t waver, firing the ball into the net past Wilson and jubilation reigned as the Red Riots earned the win, 2-1 (4-2 on PKs).

“I just had to clear my mind and I knew I had to put it in the back of the net,” Michaud said. “I thought I had to just keep my knee over the ball and put it in. It was a great feeling. I expected it to be hard-fought both ways the whole game and that’s exactly what it was.”

“We were playing a little defensive in the overtimes to make sure we didn’t let up a goal,” said Hoy. “Once we both settled in, both teams had a lot of opportunities, but guys on both sides made big plays left and right. It was a hard-fought game. It was physical, but everyone put everything out there. It’s great. We want to play as long as we possibly can.”

Kennebunk ended up with a 26-22 shots advantage (16-13 on frame) . Curran wound up with 13 saves. Wilson stopped eight shots.

Nothing to lose

South Portland goes to Scarborough (13-1) having never beaten the Red Storm in 12 all-time meetings (the Red Riots do have one tie in that span), which includes a 4-0 Scarborough victory in the 2009 quarterfinals.

South Portland welcomes the challenge.

“Scarborough’s an amazing team, but I think this intensity gets us going,” said Curran.

“We got steamrolled the first game and now we have another chance,” said Michaud. “We’re a much better team now. We didn’t have Ahmed the first time. We’ll have our full team and be ready to go.”

“We have a tough opponent in Scarborough,” Hoy added. “We’re a much different team than we were at the beginning of the season. I’m sure they’re a much different team too. We’ll go out there and lay it all out there.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

South Portland sophomore Ahmed Suja eludes a Kennebunk defender.

South Portland senior Robert Graff heads the ball forward.

South Portland junior Andrew Whipple heads the ball away from Kennebunk senior Nate Gilbert.

South Portland sophomore Ahmed Suja jumps on junior Andrew Whipple after Whipple game-tying goal in the first half.

Sidebar Elements

South Portland sophomore Brady Cyr lines up a penalty kick which he would bury to put the Red Riots on the brink of victory against Kennebunk in Saturday evening’s Western Class A preliminary round playoff game.

Mike Strout photos.

South Portland junior goalkeeper Henry Curran stands tall during PKs, making two critical saves.

From left, senior Danny Fox, sophomore Brady Cyr, senior Calvin Cronin and sophomore Ahmed Suja hang on to each other as senior Ben Michaud prepares to end it..

After Michaud converted his kick, South Portland celebrates its 2-1 (4-2 PKs) victory, just the 10th postseason triumph in program history.

More photos below.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.