SOUTH PORTLAND—A year ago, en route to its first Class A state championship, the South Portland boys’ lacrosse team handled every foe.
With one glaring exception.
The Red Riots’ hope for a perfect season was denied at rival Scarborough, then the four-time defending champion, and that one blemish has stayed with them ever since.
Wednesday afternoon at Martin Memorial Field, South Portland had a chance to earn some revenge and served it up in a big way, along with a pointed message to the rest of the state.
That the road to the Class A title still goes through the Red Riots.
South Portland junior standout Jack Fiorini scored two first period goals, but the hosts went quiet on offense and the Red Storm got a goal back.
Then, in a dizzying display of offensive brilliance, South Portland absolutely blew the game open by scoring six goals (senior Kam Andrews had three of them) in just 3 minutes, 15 seconds, to take a commanding 8-1 advantage to halftime.
The Red Riots didn’t let up in the second half, turning to their smothering defense and star senior goalie T-Moe Hellier to shut Scarborough out for 11 minutes, 34 seconds in one stretch and after three periods, South Portland’s lead was up to 11-3. The Red Riots then put the finishing touches on their 14-4 triumph, just their second all-time against Scarborough.
Andrews and senior Andrew Whipple both scored four times, South Portland improved to 11-1, locked up the top seed for the upcoming Western Class A playoffs and snapped the Red Storm’s five-game win streak in the process, leaving them 8-4 as the postseason looms.
“The kids were ready to play,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “We’re not a yelling, jumping team. We just come out and do our job. We play smart lacrosse and stay focused. Six-on-six, with this group of kids, I’ll play with anybody.”
Both teams have made a lot of noise this season, as South Portland lived up to preseason billing as a title hopeful and Scarborough took some time to hit its stride.
The Red Storm stumbled out of the gate with home losses to Westbrook (6-5) and Falmouth (11-10), then got back on track with victories at Thornton Academy (4-3), at home over Portland (17-0) and at Deering (16-10). A 10-4 loss at two-time defending Class B champion Cape Elizabeth followed, but Scarborough hadn’t lost since, defeating visiting Cheverus (10-9), Windham (15-12) and Marshwood (20-3), host Gorham (8-3) and visiting Biddeford (14-3).
The Red Riots romped over Biddeford in their first outing, 21-3, then handled host Cheverus, 15-6. After dominating host Marshwood (23-1), visiting Westbrook (17-5) and host Kennebunk (19-4), South Portland finally got a stern test in Saco, but senior Chris Mitchell’s overtime goal allowed them to escape Thornton Academy, 8-7. The Red Riots then went to overtime again, at home versus two-time defending Eastern B champion Yarmouth, and fell short, 7-6. South Portland regrouped and had no trouble with visiting Deering (15-5), host Portland (12-2), visiting Bonny Eagle (23-2) and visiting Massabesic (25-4).
Heading into play Wednesday, Scarborough held a 13-1 all-time edge in the series (see sidebar, below), including a stunning 14-8 home win a year ago. The Red Storm never trailed in that one.
Scarborough hoped to have a chance to knock off the Red Riots again in the playoffs, but the Red Storm was ousted by Thornton Academy in the Western A semifinals and South Portland went on to win it all for the first time, holding off Brunswick in the championship game, 10-8.
Wednesday, Scarborough hoped to beat the Red Riots again, but South Portland beat the Red Storm for the first time since Garret Reuscher scored to produce an 8-7 overtime win April 17, 2010.
The Red Riots dominated possession early, but Scarborough goalie Isaac Rico denied senior Lucas Michaud and Jack Fiorini and Whipple hit the post, but with 7:30 left in the first quarter, Fiorini scored unassisted to break the ice.
That goal marked the first time since the early stages of a 10-4 Scarborough win in the 2010 Western A semifinals that South Portland held a lead against the Red Storm.
Fiorini then added a second goal, assisted by Michaud, with 4:17 to play in the frame and South Portland was up, 2-0.
The Red Storm needed nearly 10 minutes for their first shot on goal, a bid from sophomore Sam Neugebauer which Hellier saved, and the Red Riots took a two-goal lead to the second period.
There, Scarborough threatened to get back in it, when after Braeden Kane was robbed by Hellier, Kane set up Marco Manfra for a goal in transition with 6:55 to play in the half.
That goal served to awaken South Portland and by halftime, the competitive phase of the contest was over.
After Michaud hit the post and Rico denied Mitchell, Mitchell scored unassisted with 4:46 showing to snap an 11 minute, 31 second drought.
Andrews scored his first goal with 3:12 to go, when after taking a pass from Mitchell, he bounced a shot off Rico and into the goal for a 4-1 advantage.
A mere 28 seconds later, Whipple scored his first goal, unassisted, and 20 seconds after that, senior Eben Babbidge pounced on a ground ball and fed Andrews who finished to make it 6-1.
With 1:53 remaining, Michaud scored unassisted and 32 seconds later, Whipple set up Andrews to make it 8-1, capping a six-goal surge in 195 seconds.
“We had to get it going when it was 2-1,” Whipple said. “We went into a different gear. When we get going it’s hard to stop us. We worked the ball well. We have so many players who can handle the ball and know what they’re doing.”
“Jack had a couple really nice goals in the first quarter, but early in the second quarter, we tried to force it too much,” Tom Fiorini said. “Once we realized people were focusing too much on him, we had other guys open and moved the ball better. It opened the floodgates for us. Jack did a good job of moving the ball. He found the open man. Andrew, as always, had goals and assists. He always opens up the offense. Kam did a great job finishing on the crease today. I was proud of him.”
In the first half, the Red Riots won six of 10 faceoffs, held a 21-16 edge in ground balls, forced 15 Scarborough turnovers and enjoyed a 22-10 shots advantage.
South Portland refused to let up in the second half and extended its lead.
Playing man-up, the Red Riots made it 9-1 when Mitchell set up Whipple to make it 9-1 with 10:19 left in the third period.
The Red Storm answered with a man-up goal when Neugebauer scored (from Sam Ware) with 7:21 to go (snapping a nearly 12-minute drought), but Fiorini set up Whipple for a man-up tally 38 seconds later for a 10-2 lead.
Neugebauer (from Kane) produced a man-down goal with 4:04 remaining in the third, but with 51.6 seconds to play, Fiorini set up Mitchell, who finished for an 11-3 advantage.
Seventy-six seconds into the fourth period, Whipple grabbed a loose ball and fired it past Rico to make it 12-3. Two minutes later, Whipple fed Andrews for a 13-3 lead. With 6:12 to go, Fiorini set up senior Kyle Halvorsen for South Portland’s final goal. Cam Nigro (from Nate Howard) scored man-up for Scarborough with 3:54 to play and that proved to be the final goal of the game as the Red Riots went on to a most impressive 14-4 triumph.
“We decided we needed to come out big and we wanted to really beat them,” Andrews said. “We really started to move the ball well and finished.”
“It feels great,” Whipple said. “We knew coming in that it would be one of our biggest games and that there was a lot on the line. We thought about last year since they beat us. We wanted that game back. We put it all out on the field and got a good result. We weren’t going to let them get back in it. I’ve played with most of these guys since third grade. We said before the game, ‘This is it. Let’s do everything for each other and have some fun out there.'”
“This is a rarity,” Tom Fiorini added. “Who holds them to four goals? At the beginning of the year, I said our defense was our biggest asset and they came through tonight. They’re a great unit and then we have T-Moe right there.”
Andrews and Whipple both had four goals, while Jack Fiorini and Mitchell had two goals apiece and Halvorsen and Michaud both scored once. Fiorini had three assists, while Mitchell and Whipple both had two and Babbidge finished with one. Hellier stopped eight shots.
South Portland was successful on 12 of 22 faceoffs (Michaud went 11 of 20), won the ground ball battle, 44-32 (Mitchell had a game-high 10 and junior Nick Mezzanotte collected six), forced 26 turnovers while committing 21 and outshot Scarborough, 38-28 (27-12 on cage).
For Scarborough, Neugebauer scored twice and Mantra and Nigro had one goal each. Kane assisted on two goals, while Howard and Ware helped on one each. Rico made 12 saves and backup Dominic Joy had one. Rico had a team-high four ground balls.
“Lacrosse is a game of runs and offensively, they’re dynamic,” Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep said. “You give them too many chances and they’ll finish. After a tough third quarter, we had a long chat about what we believe in and who we are and we responded, played hard and I felt much better after that. It could have gone badly quickly, but we reined it in. We just couldn’t put the ball in the net, T-Moe is impressive and their defense played well.”
South Portland will be the favorite in Western A, but nothing is guaranteed.
For starters, the top-ranked Red Riots might have to go through Scarborough in the semifinals, or perhaps a capable Westbrook or Gorham squad.
Scarborough knows it can do damage if it plays to the best of its ability.
“This is a great league,” Hezlep said. “On any given game, a win can be had. It comes down to execution. We can’t afford to miss opportunities. It comes down to executing. We have more in the tank. We just have to find it.”
If South Portland (which will have a bye into the semifinals) passes its first playoff test, it will likely have to survive Thornton Academy in the regional final for the second year in a row. The Golden Trojans have been as successful as anyone over the past year holding the potent Red Riots offense in check.
But South Portland isn’t looking ahead. The Red Riots would love nothing more than to repeat and believe they have what it takes.
“We’re ready to start our playoff run,” Andrews said. “We just have to move the ball well and finish our shots. We’re excited.”
“We’re working together, we trust each other and I think we can do it,” Whipple said. “The playoff atmosphere will be fun.”
“Every team played their best game against us, it felt like, and the kids rose to the occasion, so I think we’re ready for the playoffs,” Tom Fiorini added. “Brunswick is still in my mind the team to beat and we’ll have challenges on our side, but we proved to ourselves today that we’re ready to make a run.”
South Portland junior Jack Fiorini leaps to avoid Scarborough senior Nate Howard.
South Portland senior Kam Andrews scores one of his four goals.
South Portland senior T-Moe Hellier keeps his eye on the ball.
Scarborough goalie Dominic Joy races up the field with the ball.
South Portland senior Trent Lloyd-Rees steals the ball from prone Scarborough sophomore Sam Neugebauer.
Scarborough’s Marco Manfra is defended by South Portland sophomore Benedetto Nappi.
South Portland senior Chris Mitchell is checked by Scarborough’s Brian Garber.
Scarborough’s Sam Neugebauer fires a shot which South Portland senior defenseman Trent Lloyd-Rees blocks.
Scarborough’s Cam Nigro shoots and scores in the fourth quarter.
South Portland senior Andrew Whipple holds the ball as Scarborough’s Wyatt Tanner defends. Whipple had four goals in the victory.
Scarborough 10 @ South Portland 1
@ Scarborough 11 South Portland 0
@ South Portland 8 Scarborough 7 (OT)
Western A semifinals
Scarborough 10 @ South Portland 4
@ Scarborough 14 South Portland 5
@ Scarborough 12 South Portland 3
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 17 South Portland 6
Scarborough 13 @ South Portland 9
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 13 South Portland 7
@ Scarborough 10 South Portland 3
Scarborough 9 @ South Portland 4
South Division Second Round
@ Scarborough 5 South Portland 4 (3 OT)
South Portland senior goalie T-Moe Hellier is hugged by junior Jack Fiorini at the final horn of the Red Riots’ 14-4 home win over Scarborough Wednesday afternoon.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
S- 0 1 2 1- 4
SP- 2 6 3 3- 14
7:30 SP Fiorini (unassisted)
4:17 SP Fiorini (Michaud)
6:55 S Manfra (Kane)
4:46 SP Mitchell (unassisted)
3:12 SP Andrews (Mitchell)
2:44 SP WHipple (unassisted)
2:24 SP Andrews (Babbidge)
1:53 SP Michaud (unassisted)
1:21 SP Andrews (Whipple)
10:19 SP Whipple (Mitchell) (MAN-UP)
7:21 S Neugebauer (Ware)
6:43 SP Whipple (Fiorini) (MAN-UP)
4:04 S Neugebauer (Kane) (MAN-DOWN)
51.6 SP Mitchell (Fiorini)
10:44 SP Whipple (unassisted)
8:40 SP Andrews (Whipple)
6:12 SP Halvorsen (Fiorini)
3:54 S Nigro (Howard) (MAN-UP)
S- Neugebauer 2, Manfra, Nigro 1
SP- Andrews, Whipple 4, Fiorini, Mitchell 2, Halvorsen, Michaud 1
S- Kane 2, Howard, Ware 1
SP- Fiorini 3, Mitchell, Whipple 2, Babbidge 1
Faceoffs (South Portland, 12-10)
S- Howard 8 of 15, Jepson 2 of 7
SP- Michaud 11 of 20, Boucher 1 of 1, Mitchell 0 of 1
Ground balls (South Portland, 44-32)
S- Rico 4, Hayward, Kane, Murray, Nigro, Ware 3, Garber, Manfra, Neugebauer 2, Caldwell, Howard, Jepson, Lagerquist, Nygren, Quintiliani, Tanner 1
SP- Mitchell 10, Mezzanotte 6, Fiorini, Hellier, Mitchell 4, Andrews 3, Elsemore, Murphy, Myers, Whipple 2, Babbidge, Graff, Halvorsen, Lloyd-Rees, Zechman 1
Shots on cage
S (Rico) 12 (Joy) 1
SP (Hellier) 8