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PORTLAND—Despite an 0-4 start, the South Portland field hockey team felt it was still formidable and was about to turn the corner.
Saturday morning, the Red Riots made the turn.
Visiting an undefeated Cheverus squad which was coming off an inspirational victory, South Portland scored penalty corner goals in each half, then turned to its seasoned defense and goalkeeping to keep the potent Stags off the board as it improved to 1-4 with a 2-0 victory, dropping Cheverus to 5-1 in the process.
“It’s a huge win for us,” said Red Riots coach Heather Seavey. “We needed it. We had to prove ourselves. I’m so happy for the girls.”
South Portland, which played short-handed early in the season as several players missed time to due disciplinary reasons, lost at Noble (3-1), at home to Sanford (2-0), at Westbrook (3-1) and at home to Biddeford (2-1, in a painful overtime decision) to start the season.
Cheverus, meanwhile, has built on last year’s first-ever regional final appearance, downing host Deering (5-0), visiting Kennebunk (3-0), host Massabesic (2-1), visiting Noble (3-0) and Thursday night, perennial powerhouse host Sanford (2-1). The Stags’ potent offense had carried the day, but Saturday, they couldn’t rattle the cage.
South Portland broke the ice with 10:38 to play in the first half when junior Maraka Soule scored off a penalty corner, rattling home a loose ball in front of the cage. The hosts looked to answer, but first junior Sarah LaQuerre, then senior standout Emily Sawchuck were denied in close by Red Riots sophomore goalie Lani Edwards.
With 18:26 to go in the contest, South Portland got some breathing room when junior Olivia Edwards set up senior Rebecca Roberts for a blast off a penalty corner, which eluded Cheverus senior goalie Katie Semo to make it 2-0.
The goal (and ultimately the win) were extra sweet for Roberts, who spent her freshman and sophomore seasons with the Stags.
“I was hoping someone would tip (the shot),” said Roberts. “I didn’t expect it would go in, but it did. We hadn’t clicked until today. We were ready from the start. We went into the half like it was still 0-0.”
“We had scored off a corner against Biddeford,” Seavey added. “(Cheverus) had no one up top, so we dumped it up top and Becca’s shot was on. After the goal, I told the girls we know how to play defense and we did.”
A minute after Roberts’ goal, the Stags’ last, best chance came when Sawchuck unleashed a patented rocket off a corner, but Edwards (nine saves) calmly kicked it aside. South Portland’s defense smothered Cheverus from there and went on to the 2-0 victory, the Red Riots’ first win over the Stags since Sept. 20, 2004 (4-1).
“It’s a big win,” said Roberts. “We really came together as a team. The passing was great. The defense was awesome.”
“This is the biggest win we’ve had in the last four years,” Seavey added. “We had a rough start (to the season). We let one get away against Biddeford and I think we were ready to redeem ourselves. It’s good confidence for the girls to know they can beat one of the best teams.
“I think every one of them played with heart. (Junior) Bri Bower on the wing had the best game of her life. (Senior) Michelle Callow was strong on defense. Becca, everyone, was focused.”
Cheverus coach Amy McMullin was appreciative after the setback
“We thought we were unstoppable so I thank South Portland for a great wakeup call,” she said. “It’s a good thing. I hurts right now, but they deserved to win. They played better, outhustled us and wanted it more. It’s unfortunate that it took us until the second goal to realize we needed to start playing.”
The Stags have a big test Monday when they go to Westbrook and Wednesday brings a home tilt against Biddeford. Look for the team to rally and remain one of the top threats in Western A.
“We know we can play well against strong teams,” McMullin said. “This won’t hurt us that much. Next week’s a big week for us. This is a perfect time for this to happen. We’ll see how strong and tough we are mentally. It’s a mental game.”
As for the Red Riots, they hope to continue their climb back into playoff contention Monday when they host another top team, Gorham. Wednesday brings a trip to Marshwood.
“This is a big step, but we still have a long way to go,” said Roberts.
“I hope we turned the corner today and can keep the momentum going,” Seavey added. “We still have some big games coming up.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org