SOUTH PORTLAND—There’s something about playing on Saturday that has proved magical for the South Portland field hockey team.
Two weeks ago, the Red Riots ended their season-opening four-game skid with a stunning 2-0 win at undefeated Cheverus.
This Saturday, South Portland did it again, holding off previously unbeaten Scarborough, handing the defending Class A state champion its first regular season loss in three seasons, 2-1.
The Red Riots got an early goal from junior Maraka Soule and the go-ahead tally from junior Brianna Bower, then relied on their stellar defense and sophomore goalie Lani Edwards to improve to 5-5, dropping the Red Storm to 8-1.
If South Portland keeps this up, it might just be playing some mighty big Saturday games later this month in the postseason.
“We came out with a lot of desire,” said Red Riots coach Heather Seavey. “We were home and it’s Spirit Week and Homecoming Weekend. We also beat Cheverus on a Saturday morning.”
Scarborough was expected to come back to the pack this season, but the Red Storm won their first eight contests by a composite 42-2 margin, including a 5-0 home drubbing of Sanford Thursday.
South Portland lost its first four games in 2010, but started a four-game win streak with the victory at Cheverus (a string which included a 1-0 home triumph over Gorham). Thursday, the Red Riots lost, 3-2, in overtime, at Portland, but they came out fired up Saturday, looking to beat Scarborough for the first time since Sept. 15, 2003 (3-1).
Just 1 minute, 29 seconds in, Soule rattled the cage for a 1-0 lead.
It was great to get an early goal,” Bower said. “It got us pumped up.”
“We wanted to get some corners and get some shots off,” Seavey added. “Maraka’s goal set the tone. I don’t think (Scarborough’s) been scored on much.”
Undaunted, the Red Storm came right back and made it 1-1 when senior Sarah Bunting set up classmate Rachael Millett for a goal with 25:25 to go in the 30-minute first half.
Seavey called timeout and South Portland responded, going toe-to-toe with the champions for the rest of the first half.
With 5:49 remaining before the break, Bower found a way to release a shot out of a scrum in front of the Scarborough cage and beat Red Storm junior goalie Rebecca Mitchell for a 2-1 lead.
“(The ball) was just right in front of me,” Bower said. “It wasn’t getting past me.”
As expected, the potent Red Storm came out guns ablazing in the second half and had ample opportunities to pull even, but they just couldn’t finish.
Early in the half, Edwards made a kick save on a shot off the stick of Scarborough senior standout Kristen Felt. Moments later, senior Christine Nguyen came up huge on a corner, kicking away a sure goal with Edwards out of the play.
With 11:30 to play, off another Red Storm corner (they had a 12-1 edge for the game), Nguyen and senior Michelle Callow were there to make the defensive save.
“I had two defensive saves,” Nguyen said. “There was a shot on goal that I stopped with my stick. The other one, Michelle Callow and I had our sticks together and we knocked it out.”
In the final 10 minutes, Scarborough had two shots deflect wide of the goal and junior Kelsey Howard’s rush was broken up at the last minute.
Down the stretch, the Red Riots were able to keep the Red Storm at bay and even gain possession on the Scarborough side of the field, eating up valuable seconds.
When at last the final whistle sounded, South Portland exulted, celebrating its improbable 2-1 victory.
“We wanted this since the beginning of the season,” said Bower. “We’ve worked for it. It was hard in the second half. They’re a good team and we respect that. The Cheverus game got us kicked off. We pulled together as a team. We came out and played our hearts out.”
“It feels so amazing to win against the best team in our region,” said Edwards (four saves). “I knew we could do it. Our defense kept it together. The offense came down and played defense. We knew (Portland) was a bad loss and we wanted to prove we could do it. We didn’t start out great this season, but we knew we had talent and skills and we definitely have heart. The team loves each other so much. We’re a huge family. We support each other through everything.”
“It’s my senior year so everything I’ve worked for, I let out in this game,” Nguyen added. “Same for the other seniors. We’ve come a long way. Since we started high school, we’ve come along. We’re such a close team now. We play with all our heart. I’m really confident in our defense. We talk really well and communicate. I had all the confidence in my team to get the ball out.”
Seavey was almost speechless afterwards after her biggest victory in five seasons as Red Riots’ head coach.
“I’m still amazed,” she said. “I’m just so happy right now. I think my kids play with a lot of heart this year. I think that’s the difference. We know we can be in every game and compete this year. We’ve come a long way this season and a long way in four years.
“Scarborough’s still a strong team this year. They didn’t make it easy on us. At halftime, I said, ‘Let’s act like we’re down 2-1 and we need another goal.’ We had to be focused for 30 minutes. We played our best field hockey for 30 minutes. This gives us confidence that we can play with any team. It will be huge Heal Points-wise.”
The Red Storm (who last dropped a regular season game Sept. 14, 2007, 3-0 to Sanford) finished with a 7-5 advantage in shots on frame and Mitchell made four saves, but it wasn’t enough as their win streak ended at 26 games..
“If we’re going to lose, this is the time,” said Scarborough coach Kerry Mariello. “It’s a learning experience. We’ll take it and move on. It’s a bit of a reality check. South Portland came to play today. They’re a good team and they deserved to win. I knew it would be a fight. They packed in the defense and we had few holes. We beat ourselves by not executing opportunities that were given to us. It would have been nice to fight through being down and overcome, but it’s OK.”
The Red Storm (still first in the Western A Heal Points standings) have a huge week upcoming. They host second-ranked Westbrook Monday, go to Biddeford Wednesday, then have a home showdown versus No. 3 Cheverus Friday.
The Red Riots are now fifth in Western A and still have a chance to not only make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but possibly even host a postseason game.
Perhaps on a Saturday.
“We just have to keep working as hard as we have been,” Bower said.
“Beating Cheverus, Scarborough and Gorham makes us more confident,” Nguyen said.
“I just wanted to make the playoffs, but now we could get homefield advantage,” Seavey added. “That would be nice.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scarborough’s Abbie Rutt goes low to block a shot by South Portland’s Brianna Bower. Bower’s goal late in the first half proved to be the difference in the Red Riots’ 2-1 upset win.
South Portland goalie Lani Edwards kicks away a shot by Scarborough’s Kelsey Howard as South Portland defender Michelle Callow looks on. Edwards (and the Red Riots defense) came up huge in the second half to protect the lead.
Scarborough’s Lauren Sullivan and South Portland’s Maraka Soule battle for a loose ball as Victoria Brookings (3) looks on from behind. Soule opened the scoring just over a minute into the game.
Scarborough’s Karli-An Gilbert moves the ball upfield against South Portland’s Jaclyn Salevsky.
Led by Katie Murphy (13), players from the South Portland sideline rush the field at the conclusion of the Red Riots’ win.
The South Portland field hockey team piles on goalie Lani Edwards after upsetting defending state champion and previously undefeated Scarborough 2-1 Saturday morning.
More photos below.