SACO—The South Portland field hockey team has flourished as the underdog this season, but the Red Riots couldn’t pull off another upset in Tuesday afternoon’s Western Maine Class A quarterfinal against third-seeded Thornton Academy.
No. 6 South Portland rallied late to close within a goal, but ran out of time before it could find the equalizer, falling 2-1 to the Golden Trojans (11-3-1), who advance to Saturday’s semifinal against No. 7 Bonny Eagle.
The Red Riots, in the postseason for the first time since 2006, wrapped up their season at 8-7, a monumental leap from last year’s 4-9-1. They are just two years removed from successive winless campaigns in 2007 and 2008.
“We’ve had a great season,” said South Portland coach Heather Seavey. “Some of these seniors played their first two years without winning a game, then last year we won four and tied one. Then this year we made it to a quarterfinal game, which is huge for us. This hasn’t happened in four years. We’ve come a long way.”
South Portland developed a reputation as giantslayers during the regular season, despite starting off 0-4. The Red Riots shocked Cheverus, last year’s regional runner-up, 2-0, on the road to get their first win, then knocked off Gorham, another strong program, the next time out.
Yet neither of those victories could compare to what happened on the morning of Oct. 2, when South Portland hosted defending state champion Scarborough, which brought with it a 26-game winning streak across town lines. The Red Riots put a halt to that, pulling out a thrilling 2-1 victory, the only regular season loss in the past two years for the Red Storm, who once again hold the No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament.
Two days after that colossal upset, South Portland and Thornton Academy met in Saco for the only time during the regular season. The Red Riots led 1-0 and 2-1 before ultimately falling 4-2. A letdown game, perhaps, but South Portland bounced back to win its final three games of the regular season to shore up a playoff spot and despite the outcome, the game gave the Red Riots confidence when they returned to Saco for the quarterfinal showdown with the Golden Trojans.
“We were seeded lower, but even in the last game we played against them, we scored first and were up 2-1 before they scored three goals in the last 20 minutes, so we knew we could play with them,” Seavey said. “It was just their day today. They’re a good team.”
Play was fierce from the onset, but scoring chances were scarce in the early going. Thornton finally broke the scoreless deadlock with 8:40 left in the first half, as freshman Morgan Dube’s shot trickled over the goal line following a botched clear by South Portland.
“It was not the prettiest goal, but we were determined to get it back,” Seavey said. “That was one we don’t normally allow in. It would have been better if it was a nice, hard, pretty goal, but a goal is a goal.”
The game stayed 1-0 until the break. South Portland came out aggressively to start the second half, winning the possession battle in the early going. Eight minutes in, Red Riots senior Victoria Brookings teed up a hard shot on net that Thornton Academy sophomore netminder Abbey Siulinski was able to knock away. Just a minute after that, senior Felicia Farnham worked her way in to create a scoring chance, but again Siulinski was there for the save.
With 8:04 left in the game, senior Rebecca Roberts sent a nice ball into the circle from some 30 yards out, but no Red Riots were in the vicinity to deflect it on goal. Instead, Siulinski kicked it away.
Thornton Academy tallied again, making it 2-0, with 7:31 left in the game as junior Breanna Thibodeau tapped in a rebound. Senior Katherine Campisi took a shot from the left side that South Portland sophomore goalie Lani Edwards managed to deflect as she charged out, but the ricochet went straight to Thibodeau, who found her self uncontested on the far post.
Junior Jaclyn Salevsky cut the South Portland deficit to 2-1 with 1:42 left in the contest as she tucked in a rebound while positioned on the left post following prolonged Red Riots pressure in front of the cage.
Time expired with South Portland on the attack.
“I credit the girls,” Seavey said. “They played the best that they could. They gave everything out there, and I think it was a better game than the last game we played against (Thornton Academy). We played for the full 60 minutes. Time just ran out. We had our chances. If we only could have played five more minutes I felt like we had the momentum going.”
While the disappointment was evident in the tears of the South Portland players afterward, the season, one that began with some disciplinary issues and four straight losses, must be considered a huge success, as well as a surprise to everyone outside the South Portland huddle.
“We had some leaders,” Seavey said. “We had some strong personalities. We had great teamwork. We went through a lot of stuff at the beginning of the season that could have gone either of two ways. And they came together and overcame things. I’m really proud of them.”
The seniors, Brookings, Farnham, Roberts, Samantha Drivas, Katie Murphy, Christina Peaco, Michelle Callow and Christine Nguyen, have certainly left their mark on the program. After taking their lumps as underclassmen, they persevered and raised the bar for the program. While graduation will take its toll on the Red Riots, Seavey has high hopes for 2011, as six starters are expected to return.
“We graduate eight seniors, but I do have four juniors and a strong sophomore class, along with a few freshmen who had some experience this year,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
South Portland senior midfielder Rebecca Roberts and Thornton Academy junior forward Morgan Ouellette-Foss pursue the ball form opposite directions.
South Portland senior forward Felicia Farnham gets ready to turn and fire a shot as Thornton Academy senior back Jasmine Roy and sophomore goalie Abbey Siulinski stand in her way.
South Portland senior back Michelle Callow reaches in to attempt to knock the ball away from Thornton Academy junior forward Morgan Ouellette-Foss.
South Portland sophomore forward Jaclyn Salevsky, shown here attempting to get a shot off past Thornton Academy senior back Ashley Gaudette, scored the Red Riots’ only goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 quarterfinal loss.
South Portland junior midfielder Maraka Soule and Thornton Academy freshman forward Morgan Dube jockey for position as they chase down the ball.
Players on the South Portland field hockey bench watch anxiously as time ticks away during the second half of the Red Riots’ 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Thornton Academy on Tuesday.
More photos below.