South Portland sophomore Molly Walker drives the ball during the Red Riots’ 4-1 home loss to Massabesic Tuesday.
Joe Carpine photos (365digitalphotography.com)
More photos below.
SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s field hockey team wasn’t able to produce a win on Senior Day Tuesday, but the Red Riots did show signs in the second half of being a squad that could be a thorn in someone’s side in the upcoming playoffs.
Hosting talented Massabesic at Wainwright Farms, South Portland dug an early 4-0 hole, as the Mustangs got goals from senior captain Emma Desrochers, junior Jacklyn Bearse, junior captain Morgan Pike and sophomore Grace Tutt in the first half.
The Red Riots were a much different team in the second half, keeping Massabesic off the scoreboard and creating pressure before they were finally rewarded with 4:13 remaining, when sophomore Molly Walker rattled the cage.
South Portland wasn’t able to get any closer, however, and the Mustangs went on to a 4-1 victory.
Massabesic snapped a two-game skid, finished its regular season at 10-3-1 and ended the Red Riots’ regular campaign at 6-8 in the process.
“I’m proud of how my girls came out in the second half,” said South Portland coach Leslie Dyer. “If we played that way all game, it might have been something different.”
Early in the 2016 season, Massabesic looked like a state championship contender while South Portland was at the other end of the spectrum.
The Mustangs started by winning their first seven games, downing visiting Sanford (8-0) and Scarborough (2-1), host Noble (9-0), visiting Portland (10-1), visiting Marshwood (2-1), host Biddeford (4-0) and visiting Deering (9-0). Massabesic then went just 2-3-1, tying host Gorham, 2-2, beating visiting Bonny Eagle (5-0), falling in overtime at Cheverus (2-1), blanking visiting Windham (8-0), then losing at home to Thornton Academy (3-2) and at Westbrook (1-0).
South Portland’s season began inauspiciously with a 6-0 home loss to Gorham, followed by a 3-0 setback at Marshwood and a 4-1 home loss to Cheverus. The Red Riots then righted their ship on the road, rolling at Deering (5-0) and Bonny Eagle (6-1). After a 1-0 home loss to Westbrook, South Portland won at Windham, 5-2. Losses to visiting Biddeford (3-1) and host Thornton Academy (7-1) were followed by a 4-1 victory at Sanford. The Red Riots played powerhouse Scarborough tough, but lost, 2-0, at home, then downed host Noble (4-1) and visiting Portland (5-1) to lock up a playoff spot.
Last year, South Portland lost, 4-2, at Massabesic.
Tuesday, the Red Riots hoped to beat the Mustangs for the first time since Oct. 15, 2006 (5-2 at home in a Western A preliminary round contest) and avoid a losing record for the first time since 2010, but Massabesic prevailed.
South Portland freshman goalie Maddie Drolet kept the Mustangs off the board early, swatting away a shot with her glove at one point, but with 17:40 to go before halftime, the visitors went on top to stay when Desrochers scored unassisted.
It took exactly three minutes for Massabesic to score again, as Bearse did the honors, extending the lead to 2-0.
After Mustangs sophomore Madyson Pomerleau robbed Red Riots senior Lydia Henderson, the visitors added a third goal, as Pike found some room in the circle and beat Drolet.
Dyer called timeout, but it didn’t help as Massabesic took a 4-0 lead with 2:04 to go before halftime when Tutt buried a shot from the top of the circle.
South Portland was a different team in the second half, but was frustrated for a long time before breaking through.
After Drolet turned away shots on penalty corners by junior Emma Rutledge and junior Logan Champlin, Henderson had a shot on a corner tipped wide, Walker’s shot on a corner was saved and two rebound attempts by senior Amelia Papi were also denied.
With 20:14 to play, Henderson was robbed point blank and a rebound shot from senior Sophia Cummings went just wide.
After Champlin hit the post at one end, the Red Riots returned to the attack and were finally rewarded with 4:13 left, when Walker rebounded a Papi shot into the cage.
A minute later, Papi had a chance to get South Portland closer and make things truly interesting, but her bid was saved and the Mustangs prevailed, 4-1.
The Red Riots got six saves from Drolet and finished with a 13-10 edge in shots and a 9-5 advantage in corners, but fell short, thanks in part to 12 saves from Pomerleau.
“There are still things we’re developing, but if we get another shot at them, we know we can hang with them,” Dyer said. “They have so many strong players. Their stickwork is very good. They have a nice deep bench of just as talented players. That makes it hard.”
Massabesic appears bound for the No. 5 seed in Class A South, which would mean a trip to No. 4 Westbrook (11-2-1) for the quarterfinals next week.
South Portland will be the No. 10 seed and now gears up for a road prelim Saturday, likely at Cheverus (10-4). The Red Riots dropped a 4-1 home decision to the Stags way back on Sept. 7. The teams have no playoff history.
“We knew we could (make playoffs),” Dyer said. “The team dynamic is wonderful. The girls want it and know what they need to do. Playoffs were a goal of ours from the beginning of the season. We never hit our potential last year, but the girls did the work in the offseason and they’re motivated. We know we can make a statement. We’re excited.”
South Portland senior Lydia Henderson fights for possession.
South Portland senior Amelia Papi gets past a Massabesic defender.
South Portland senior Sophia Cummings, left, and senior Jessica Angelova protect freshman goalie Maddie Drolet during a penalty corner.
South Portland senior Molly Skeffington and freshman Lydia Grant poke at the ball.
South Portland senior Jessica Angelova fights for the ball.