SACO—On the heels of a terrific regular season, South Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team came into the Western Class A playoffs believing they could do something special.
And for a half Wednesday afternoon, the sixth-ranked Red Riots gave No. 3 Thornton Academy fits in a quarterfinal round battle at Hill Stadium.
South Portland shot to a 3-0 lead behind goals from senior Abby Letourneau, freshman Paige Fleming and senior Colleen Fleming and took a 3-1 lead to the second half.
Then, the Golden Trojans came to life.
Thornton Academy drew even with 15:10 to play and took the lead for good when junior Faith Sinclair scored unassisted with 6:15 remaining.
The Red Riots tried their best to answer, but the Golden Trojans milked the clock and added two more goals and went on to a 9-6 triumph.
Letourneau scored twice and senior goalie Lily SanGiovanni had six saves, but South Portland’s season came to a close at 8-5 as Thornton Academy won its ninth game in a row, improved to 10-3 and advanced to battle No. 2 Marshwood (10-3) in the semifinals this weekend.
“We played a good game, but I have to give it to TA,” said Red Riots’ first-year coach Leslie Dyer. “We had a nice ride. Better than what I expected. Overall, we had a good season.”
South Portland started the year 1-3, but rattled off six straight wins and wound up 8-4 to earn the No. 6 seed in Western A.
Thornton Academy, which got to the regional final in 2014 before losing to eventual state champion Massabesic, lost its first two games (to Massabesic and Gorham) and fell to 1-3 after a loss to Western B powerhouse Falmouth, but closed on an eight-game win streak to lock up the No. 3 spot.
The teams did not play this year.
The Golden Trojans won both prior playoff meetings: 8-4 in the 2010 quarterfinals and 13-12, in overtime, in the 2011 quarterfinals.
Wednesday, on a beautiful June day, South Portland looked good early, but couldn’t close it out.
SanGiovanni made an immediate statement by robbing Thornton Academy sophomore Paige LeBlanc 55 seconds in. Golden Trojans sophomore Amanda Cyr then hit the post.
The Red Riots’ first shot resulted in a goal, as Letourneau converted a free position, beating Thornton Academy senior goalie Allie Spinney for a 1-0 lead.
After Letourneau won the ensuing draw, Paige Fleming finished unassisted with 19:18 to play in the first half to make it 2-0.
SanGiovanni saved a free position from Sinclair and with 14:38 remaining in the half, Colleen Fleming took a pass from Letourneau and beat Spinney to make it 3-0.
Just when it appeared South Portland was primed to seize control, however, its offense went cold.
SanGiovanni stood tall, robbing Golden Trojans senior Katie McCrum and LeBlanc, but with 7:39 left, McCrum took a free position shot and while SanGiovanni got her stick on it, it trickled past her into the net and Thornton Academy was within two, 3-1.
Late in the half, Sinclair had a shot saved by SanGiovanni, then shot wide and the Red Riots took a two-goal advantage to halftime.
SanGiovanni made five saves in the first half, but she and the South Portland defense weren’t able to stem the Golden Trojans’ onslaught in the second half.
After Red Riots junior Mary Cronin hit the crossbar on a free position 28 seconds into the second half, LeBlanc fed Sinclair for a goal with 22:47 to go and Thornton Academy was within a goal.
South Portland got that goal right back nine seconds later off the ensuing draw, as Letourneau won the ball to junior Maddie Hasson, who passed ahead to Cronin, who finished for a 4-2 lead.
Undaunted, the Golden Trojans answered as junior Julianna Grondin scored unassisted with 21:13 to play and with 15:10 showing, Sinclair scored unassisted to make it a brand new game, 4-4.
After a Red Riots’ timeout, the hosts took their first lead, as senior Lauren Wells scored unassisted with 14:45 left.
South Portland countered as Hasson scored an unassisted goal 46 seconds later, making it 5-5, but with 11:43 left, McAlary struck unassisted and Thornton Academy was on top again, 6-5.
After Hasson hit the post, the Red Riots got the ball back and with 8:24 remaining, Letourneau scored unassisted to tie the score, 6-6, but after a South Portland turnover, Sinclair curled around the goal before beating SanGiovanni to put the Golden Trojans ahead to stay with 6:15 left on the clock.
Thornton Academy won the ensuing draw and ran some time off the clock before Wells set up McAlary for a goal with 3:47 left, pushing the lead to 8-6.
With 2:43 to go, Spinney made her lone save of the game, denying Red Riots sophomore Kayla Brown and after taking two more minutes off the clock, the Golden Trojans iced it as Cyr scored on a free position with 15.3 seconds showing and Thornton Academy closed out its 9-6 triumph.
“I knew it would be a problem when I heard the game was at 3 this afternoon,” Dyer said. “It was 80 degrees and man, did we throw the ball away. We knew they’d stall and we had to take chances.”
Thornton Academy got three goals from Sinclair, two from McAlary and one apiece from Cyr, Grondin, McCrum and Wells. LeBlanc and Wells both had assists. Spinney had one save. McCrum won nine of 17 draws. LeBlanc had a game-high six ground balls. The Golden Trojans overcame 11 turnovers and outshot the Red Riots, 20-10 (15-7 on cage).
Thornton Academy now goes to Marshwood, where it won, 8-4, on May 28.
For the Red Riots, Letourneau scored twice, while Cronin, Colleen Fleming, Paige Fleming and Hasson each tickled the twine once. Hasson and Letourneau both had one assist.
South Portland had a 25-17 edge in ground balls (Cronin, Hasson and Letourneau all finished with five). The Red Riots committed 14 turnovers.
SanGiovanni bowed out with six saves.
“Lily’s done phenomenal things,” Dyer said. “She was such a big part of our program. You really can’t compare anyone to Lily.”
Considering South Portland started the season 1-3, it came a long way.
“After the Gorham game, the girls knew they were better than how we’d been playing,” Dyer said. “It’s nice to have seven athletes who were seniors and who knew their potential.”
The Red Riots will have to bid adieu to some key contributors, but hope to contend again in 2016.
We lose seven, including Lily, so we’ll be rebuilding,” Dyer said. “We had eight freshmen on varsity this year and we’re gaining some other athletes. We’ll be young, but we’ll have talent. Things are looking up for the program.”
2011 Western A quarterfinal
Thornton Academy 13 @ South Portland 12 (OT)
2010 Western A quarterfinal
@ Thornton Academy 8 South Portland 4
SP-3 3- 6
TA- 1 8- 9
19:43 SP Letourneau (unassisted)
19:18 SP P. Fleming (unassisted)
14:38 SP C. Fleming (Letourneau)
7:39 TA McCrum (free position)
22:47 TA Sinclair (LeBlanc)
22:38 SP Cronin (Hasson)
21:13 TA Grondin (unassisted)
15:10 TA Sinclair (unassisted)
14:45 TA Wells (unassisted)
13:59 SP Hasson (unassisted)
11:43 TA McAlary (unassisted)
8:24 SP Letourneau (unassisted)
6:15 TA Sinclair (unassisted)
3:47 TA McAlary (Wells)
15.3 TA Cyr (free position)
SP- Letourneau 2, Cronin, C. Fleming, P. Fleming, Hasson 1
TA- Sinclair 3, McAlary 2, Cyr, Grondin, McCrum, Wells 1
SP- Hasson, Letourneau 1
TA- LeBlanc, Wells 1
Draws (Thornton Academy, 9-8)
SP- Letourneau 8 of 16, Hasson 0 of 1
TA- McCrum 9 of 17
Ground balls (South Portland, 25-17)
SP- Cronin, Hasson, Letourneau 5, Boyce, Bushey, C. Fleming, SanGiovanni 2, Laplante, Tolan 1
TA- LeBlanc 6, McAlary 3, McCrum 2, Grondin, LeClair, Richard, Sinclair, Sirois, Wells 1
Shots on cage
SP (SanGiovanni) 6
TA (Spinney) 1