SP girls ride fast start to quarterfinal round win over Gorham

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South Portland senior Paige Fleming and Gorham senior Bridget Rossignol battle in the draw circle during the Red Riots’ 8-4 victory in Tuesday’s Class A South quarterfinals. South Portland will face top-ranked Kennebunk in the semifinals Saturday.

Adam Birt photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 8 Gorham 4

G- 1 3- 4
SP- 5 3- 8

First half
23:28 SP Pappalardo (unassisted)
17:35 SP Backman (unassisted)
10:38 SP Backman (Cyr)
9:53 SP Walker (unassisted)
8:06 SP Walker (Pappalardo)
7:38 G Morrill (unassisted)

Second half
23:57 SP Fleming (free position)
23:37 SP Leckie (Cyr)
21:50 SP Leckie (Fleming)
21:29 G Lowell (Dillon)
1:32 G Barr (free position)
26.3 G Keefe (free position)

Goals:
G- Barr, Keefe, Lowell, Morrill 1
SP- Backman, Leckie, Walker 2, Fleming, Pappalardo 1

Assists:
G- Dillon 1
SP-Cyr 2, Fleming, Pappalardo 1

Draws (Gorham, 8-6)
G- Forgues 3 of 6, Battaglia 1 of 3, Walker 2 of 3, Rossignol 2 of 2
SP- Fleming 6 of 14

Ground balls
G- 45
SP- 48

Turnovers:
G- 27
SP- 29

Shots:
G- 16
SP- 20

Shots on cage:
G- 9 
SP- 13

Saves:
G (Hume) 5
SP (Ellington) 5

SOUTH PORTLAND—Class A South girls’ lacrosse is the Kennebunk and Massabesic Show, right?

Not if the South Portland Red Riots have anything to say about it.

Tuesday evening at Martin Memorial Field, the fourth-ranked Red Riots hosted a quarterfinal round contest for the first time in seven years and rode fast starts in each half to victory over No. 5 Gorham.

Senior Amelia Pappalardo, a former Ram, gave South Portland the lead for good and senior Kaya Backman tacked on a pair of goals for some early breathing room.

After junior Molly Walker scored consecutive goals to make it 5-0, Gorham got a goal back before halftime on a free position shot from junior Hailey Morrill.

The Red Riots have learned of late that halftime leads aren’t safe and they learned that lesson well, essentially ending the competitive phase of the contest early in the second half.

A goal from senior Paige Fleming and a pair from junior Jena Leckie stretched the lead to seven and while South Portland wouldn’t score again, that cushion was more than enough to render late tallies from Rams sophomore Haley Lowell, senior Molly Barr and senior Haley Keeffe meaningless as the Red Riots prevailed, 8-4.

South Portland got goals from five different players, won a quarterfinal round game for just the second time in program history, improved to 6-7, ended Gorham’s season at 4-9 and in the process, advanced to meet top-ranked, 12-0 Kennebunk in the Class A South semifinals Saturday at 11 a.m. 

“It means so much,” Backman said. “We’ve worked so hard. We put it together this game. We’ve learned from our mistakes in past games.”

Deja vu?

Two years ago, South Portland beat Gorham, 11-10, in a double overtime thriller to reach the semifinals for the first time.

Tuesday, the Red Riots were hoping to do it again.

South Portland started 0-2, won five of six, then lost its final four to earn the No. 4 seed in Class A South.

Gorham started 2-0, but won just two of its final 10 games to finish fifth in the region.

The teams didn’t play a countable game this spring and had met just once before in the postseason.

Tuesday, on a chilly, rainy evening (just 51 degrees at the start), the Red Riots came out and seized control early en route to a satisfying victory.

Fittingly, it was a former Ram scoring first for South Portland, as Pappalardo finished unassisted just 92 seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead.

Backman doubled the advantage after a terrific individual play, scooping up a ground ball and beating Gorham sophomore goalie Paige Hume with 17:36 to go in the half.

After Red Riots sophomore goalie Maya Ellington denied Rams sophomore Jillian Nichols and Walker hit the post, Backman scored her second goal, taking a pass from senior Madi Cyr on a free position and finishing for a 3-0 lead with 10:38 to play before halftime.

Rams coach Mary Guimond called timeout, but it didn’t help, as Walker scored unassisted with 9:53 remaining in the half and with 8:06 on the clock, after a nice catch off a pass from Pappalardo, Walker scored again to make it 5-0.

Gorham finally broke through 28 seconds later, as Morrill finished a free position, but South Portland took a 5-1 lead to the break.

In the first 25 minutes, the Red Riots had a 15-4 shots advantage and forced 16 Rams turnovers.

With the game still very much in hand, South Portland looked to deliver the knockout blow early in the second half.

Just 63 seconds in, Fleming scored off a free position to make it 6-1.

“We go into each half thinking each half is one game,” Backman said. “We won the first 25 minutes and we got fired up when we scored first in the second half.”

“We were ahead at halftime the last two games against Windham and Cheverus and in the second half, the other team wanted it, so we had to come out strong,” said Red Riots coach Leslie Dyer.

Twenty seconds after that, off a Fleming draw win, Cyr got the ball to Leckie, who finished.

Then, with 21:50 to play, Leckie scored the Red Riots’ final goal, off a feed from Fleming, for an 8-1 advantage.

While South Portland was content to milk the clock as best it could, the Rams did manage to make things interesting.

With 21:29 to play, Lowell, off a feed from sophomore Faith Dillon, scored to cut the deficit to six.

After Ellington denied a couple free position shots from Keeffe, Barr scored on a free position with 1:32 remaining and Keeffe finally solved Ellington on a free position with 26.3 seconds to play, but the Red Riots ran out the clock from there and celebrated their 8-4 victory.

“Normally, we try to do it individually, but today we did it together and believed in ourselves,” Backman said.

“The past couple games we’ve fallen short because we were thinking, ‘Me, me, me,’ but today was one of the days when we realized that together, we’re strong,” Dyer said. “That’s what we worked on. We lost to Gorham twice in scrimmages this season, so we knew what to expect. Mary is a fantastic coach. We know they’re physical and they have some key players. They played really hard. Five more minutes and the game could have been different. This was my first home playoff game. We knew it was a big deal.”

South Portland got two goals apiece from Backman, Leckie and Walker and one each from Fleming and Pappalardo. 

Cyr had two assists, while Fleming and Pappalardo each finished with one.

Ellington made five saves.

The Red Riots had a 48-45 edge in ground balls (Fleming and Pappalardo each collected seven) and outshot the Rams, 20-16 (13-9 on cage).

South Portland committed 29 turnovers, but most of those came in the second half with a big lead.

Gorham got one goal apiece from Barr, Keeffe, Lowell and Morrill and an assist from Dillon, who had a team-high seven ground balls.

Hume made five saves.

The Rams won eight of 14 draws and committed 27 turnovers.

Rams await

South Portland lost at home to Kennebunk, 15-4, May 22. The Rams won both prior playoff meetings, with a 12-5 decision in the 2012 Western A quarterfinals the most recent.

The Red Riots are decided underdogs, but they plan to give their all Saturday.

“There are eight seniors who have been on varsity since freshman year and we’ve waited for our time to shine,” Backman said. “We’re so excited to keep playing. No one expects much from us. We have to play like we did tonight. Believe and work together. After tonight, our confidence is boosted.”

“I’m hopeful,” Dyer said. “We know we have to be on. I think if we play our ‘A’ game and play smart, we could potentially do it.”

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

South Portland junior Molly Walker gets past Gorham sophomore Maddy Sweatt.

South Portland junior Eileen Porterfield races up the field.

South Portland senior Amelia Pappalardo looks for the ball as Gorham junior Hallie Shiers defends.

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