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PORTLAND—After a decade of futility, what was 14 more minutes to the Portland field hockey team?
Absolutely, positively and unequivocally worth the wait.
Monday afternoon, the Bulldogs, riding a six-game win streak, made the short trip across the city to visit a Cheverus squad which has long been its nemesis.
On the 10th anniversary of its last win over the Stags, Portland found a way to do it again on a day when 60 minutes of regulation, one eight-minute overtime and most of a second would be required to finish the job.
In a game that was equal parts breathtaking and gutwrenching.
Cheverus, in the midst of a five-game winless stretch and coming off a disappointing performance Saturday at Noble, needed all of 1 minute, 10 seconds to demonstrate that they would be a far different team on this day, taking a 1-0 lead when junior Colleen Slattery scored on a penalty corner.
But these Bulldogs weren’t about to lower their heads and accept another loss.
Two goals in just over a two minute span from junior standout Lauren McIntyre turned things around and gave Portland a 2-1 lead, which it took to halftime.
The Stags quickly responded in the second half, as Slattery set up junior Becca Archer with 26:19 to play to tie the score.
The rest of regulation would see great chances, especially for the hosts, but no goals.
Cheverus peppered Bulldogs junior goalie Gianna Gaudet the final seven minutes and had a golden opportunity to win in with five minutes remaining, but junior Abby Ford sent a penalty stroke just wide of the mark.
In the first eight-minute, “sudden victory” overtime, the Stags continued their onslaught with five corners in five minutes, but Gaudet made three key saves and it was on to the second OT.
There, after Portland got the ball across midfield for the first time in seemingly forever, the Bulldogs earned a corner and ended it when junior Holly Hinchliffe crossed to senior Gabby Wagabaza, who rattled the ball home for a 3-2 victory.
If the win itself weren’t dramatic enough, mix in the fact that Wagabaza was a Stag for two seasons, and this was the type of script that a Hollywood producer would scoff at and reject.
But truth was stranger than fiction on this day and Portland made it five wins in succession, improved to 8-3 and dropped frustrated Cheverus to 5-4-2 in the process.
“It was worth the wait,” said Bulldogs coach Beth Arsenault. “This was a game that I don’t think we played our best, yet we managed to prevail. I think this is a turning point for us. In the past if we came out and didn’t bring our best and got pressured, we wouldn’t be able to convert. In many facets and for large chunks of the game, they outplayed us. We had enough experience and heart to weather the storm.”
Since the Cheverus varsity program began in 2004, the Stags have owned the Bulldogs. Portland won the first meeting, 4-1, but entering Monday, Cheverus had won each of the previous nine (see sidebar, below). After a 3-2 win in 2005 and overtime victories in 2006 and 2007, the Stags took the next six by a composite 30-3 margin, including a 3-1 triumph at Fitzpatrick Stadium last Oct. 4
So far this fall, both teams have turned heads.
The Bulldogs opened with home wins over Noble (3-0) and Windham (7-2). After falling at Sanford, 3-1, Portland lost at home to defending Western A champion Scarborough, 7-0, then rallied for a 5-3 victory at South Portland. After losing, 4-1, to visiting Thornton Academy, Portland won at Westbrook (2-1) and Bonny Eagle (4-0) and at home over McAuley (5-0) and Biddeford (2-1).
Cheverus opened with a 3-2 win at Westbrook, then downed visiting Biddeford (4-1), host Bonny Eagle (1-0), visiting McAuley (7-0) and visiting Windham (2-1). Then, the Stags hit a rough patch. After tying host Deering (2-2), Cheverus lost at home to Gorham (1-0) and at Marshwood (5-1). The Stags played visiting Massabesic to a 2-2 tie, then lost at Noble Saturday, 2-0.
Monday, the Stags hoped to make it 10 in a row over the Bulldogs, but Portland turned back the clock a decade by winning in exhilarating fashion.
First, Cheverus set the tone by earning a penalty corner in the first minute and cashing it in.
The goal came out of a scrum, as Ford got the ball to Slattery, whose shot bounced off Gaudet and a defender and into the cage for a 1-0 lead just 70 seconds in.
In the eighth minute, the Stags almost doubled their lead, but Archer shot just wide on a corner.
The Bulldogs then settled in and in the 10th minute, earned their first corner.
It didn’t produce a shot, but the goals would come.
With 18:35 to play before halftime, McIntyre, who has emerged as a star this autumn, scored an unassisted goal to make it 1-1.
With 16:12 left, off a corner, on a play which was a harbinger of the winner to come much later, Wagabaza crossed to McIntyre, who beat Cheverus senior goalie Casey Simpson for a 2-1 lead.
“Lauren comes up big a lot,” Arsenault said. “Even if she doesn’t score, she gets the ball from the 50 to the 25 and in. She’s our engine offensively. It’s nice we have other kids who can execute when she does get the ball down there.”
The Stags hoped to answer, but a shot from junior Emily Michaud was saved by Gaudet and a redirect by freshman Hannah Abbott on a corner went just wide.
McIntyre almost completed her hat trick and made it 3-1 with 6:59 to play before halftime when she lofted a shot on target, but Simpson managed to turn it aside.
After Portland senior fullback Meggie Parker, who had a stellar game, broke up rushes by Michaud and sophomore Carrie Hight, junior fullback Kate Brewer blocked a shot by Michaud on a corner to preserve the Bulldogs’ 2-1 advantage at the break.
In the first half, Cheverus enjoyed a 9-3 edge in shots and a 7-3 advantage in corners, but Gaudet made three saves and her defense was a tremendous help.
Those trends would continue in the second half and beyond.
As they did in the first half, the Stags came out hot again in the second and it resulted in the tying goal when Slattery fed Archer for a shot which Gaudet couldn’t stop and with 26:19 left in regulation, the score was 2-2.
Gaudet wouldn’t be beaten again.
With 22:34 to play, Michaud almost put Cheverus ahead, but Gaudet stopped her bid.
With 16:30 left, Simpson had her finest sequence, stopping a shot from sophomore Taylor Sargent on a corner, rejecting a Parker rebound, then stopping Sargent again.
A minute later, off another corner, Bulldogs senior playmaker Georgia Drew just missed wide.
With 9:43 remaining, Michaud sent a blast just wide.
A minute later, McIntyre sent a shot wide.
Portland’s offense would then go into a long hibernation.
The Stags transitioned into the Bulldogs’ zone and would stay there for the rest of regulation.
With 6:23 left, Gaudet stopped a Michaud blast and the rebound was cleared.
Portland wasn’t as fortunate a little over a minute later when there was a scrum in front of the goal and in all the excitement, Gaudet fell on the ball and trapped it, giving Cheverus a penalty stroke.
Stags coach Amy Ashley selected Ford to do the honors and with 5:03 left, she fired a promising shot to Gaudet’s right. It was out of the goalie’s reach, but unfortunately for the hosts, it whistled just wide of the post and the game remained even.
“I was hoping for the best,” Gaudet said. “My teammates were cheering. It was a big relief (when she missed).”
If Portland thought it could exhale, it never had a chance, as Cheverus immediately earned another corner.
Michaud again had a good look, but Gaudet made the save and a Slattery rebound bid was also denied.
With 2:25 to go, the Stags got another corner, but a timely defensive save from junior Alysha Alling kept the game tied.
Cheverus got another corner with just over a minute to go, but Michaud’s shot was deflected wide.
As time wound down, Michaud got one more look, but Gaudet stood tall one final time to send the game to overtime.
“It was hard, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Gaudet said. “My team helped me out.”
“Gianna’s incredible,” Wagabaza said. “She’s an amazing goalie. She has resilience.”
“Gianna was terrific,” Arsenault added. “She made big saves. It’s awesome to have a goalie like that that we can count on. Having her back there is huge for the team.”
The first overtime session was essentially the continuation of regulation.
It took all of 65 seconds for the Stags to earn a corner, which was followed by a second and a third and a fourth, which finally resulted in a shot, by Michaud, which was saved.
With 1:47 to go in the first OT, Cheverus earned another corner and coach Amy Ashley called timeout, hoping to diagram the winning play, but it didn’t result in a shot.
With 10 seconds remaining, Archer had a look at the goal, but shot wide and it was on to overtime number two.
Where we’d finally get resolution.
The Stags again started hot as Archer raced in, but Parker broke it up.
With 6:26 left, Portland got a break, as Drew, as she so often does, lofted a free hit high into the air. Michaud batted it down and by rule, was given a yellow card as a result and had to sit for five minutes.
Suddenly playing a man-up, the Bulldogs got into the offensive zone for the first time in a long time and earned a corner, but even though McIntyre had a good look, she didn’t make solid contact and Simpson made the save.
Cheverus went back on offense, earned a corner, but shots from Ford and Abbott were turned aside by Gaudet.
After Portland cleared a final Stags’ corner, it was off to the other end of the field after Drew sent the ball ahead.
The Bulldogs were able to earn a corner and managed to bring a decade of frustration to an end.
After the ball was inserted, Portland wasn’t able to get an initial shot, but the ball came to Hinchliffe on the right side and she crossed it into the box.
Waiting was Wagabaza and in her final game on the field on which she played so many games, she calmly redirected the pass past Simpson and it rattled the cage to end the 73 minute, 56 second epic.
For the first time since this year’s seniors were in the second grade, this year’s freshmen were in preschool, gas cost $1.66 a gallon and the Red Sox were three weeks away from winning their first World Series in 86 years, Portland had vanquished Cheverus.
Bulldogs 3 Stags 2.
“You only need one chance to score and that’s what it took,” said Wagabaza. “Holly got it over. She did what she’s supposed to do, cross it. I was there and I got to capitalize. It was a great feeling. Complete emotion. It was a hard-fought game. It’s amazing to hear that sound everyone wants to hear and know we won.
“I was a student here for two years. I went up through the program and I know how great they are. I honestly believe I’m who I am as a player because I played here. It’s nice coming back here as a senior and beating them. We’re up and coming, but we want to play and win. We trusted ourselves and we knew everything we do in practice was going to come out here. We just kept it going and trusted each other.”
“Holly didn’t take herself out of the play and Gabby was in the right spot,” Arsenault said. “We have the experience to not only know what to do, but to be able to execute it. If I could have scripted it, (Gabby’s) who I would have had score the game winner for sure. That was sweet. She played every minute of the game. To have that left in her was impressive.”
Portland exulted and one of the biggest regular season wins in program history was in the books.
“Me and Alysha were screaming,” Gaudet said. “It was a big relief. I’m glad we didn’t tie. I’m glad we pulled through. It was really tiring. We didn’t give up.”
“This would have been one we regretted greatly if we lost,” Arsenault said. “We have more wins and more experience than them. Cheverus is tough and skilled, but we had to go out and beat a team ahead of us to prove we’re contenders.”
Portland was outshot, 30-11, but got 17 saves from Gaudet.
Cheverus, which had a 20-8 advantage in corners and got five saves from Simpson, was left shaking its head.
“It’s frustrating, but I have to think of it in a positive way,” Ashley said. “When I take a step back, I’m happy with the team that showed up today. I was nervous after Saturday’s loss. The team I saw Saturday and the team I saw today are two totally different teams. We’re heading in the right direction. I’m very proud. We were like centimeters away. That’s field hockey, you can dominate and not score. We have to work on being clutch. I can see that the girls are psyching themselves out. They want to do it so badly that they lose their chance to score. They have to trust and believe in themselves and their teammates.”
With just three games left, both squads hope to win out to get the best possible playoff position.
The Stags’ challenging road continues when they go to Sanford Wednesday and host Scarborough Friday. The regular season ends Tuesday of next week at South Portland. Cheverus is ninth in the Western A Heal Points standings at press time. Twelve teams qualify for the postseason.
“All season long, our goal has been to get to the playoffs,” Ashley said. “We have to make sure to get in and from there, anything can happen. We don’t have much time left. We’re hoping to turn it around. We have tough games, but it’s good to play those games. It will be tournament atmosphere-like.”
The Bulldogs are in the midst of their best season in ages, even better at this stage than the 2011 squad which reached the Western A Final. Arsenault said there are similarities between that squad and this one, but that this edition of the Bulldogs is truly unique.
“(The 2011 team) was interesting because we had a lot of leadership and a large senior class,” Arsenault said. “One of the things that happened with them, was they developed into a true team. I think this team has had that from the start. We don’t have a hierarchy here. Everyone plays a role. We have that team feeling and we have good leadership from not only the captains, but from all the seniors.”
Portland (now seventh in Western A) has another city showdown Wednesday, when it plays its home finale versus Deering. After a test at Gorham Friday, The Bulldogs close at dangerous Marshwood Tuesday of next week.
“We’ve had some bumps, but it’s only made us stronger,” Wagabaza said. “We know every win means more to us than a lot of teams. We’re trying to keep it going. We still have games we have to finish out. We’ll give it our all.”
“We’re heading up in the standings,” Gaudet said. “We can have a home playoff game. It’s going to be my first time in the playoffs. I’m so excited. We just work better as a team this year. We have more chemistry. We’re having fun.”
“Going into playoffs, you want to go in playing the best teams,” Arsenault added. “The teams we have left are very competitive and are in the playoff hunt. I think that will serve us well.”
Portland senior Georgia Drew lofts the ball down the field.
Cheverus junior Becca Archer possesses the ball as Portland senior Meggie Parker defends.
Cheverus junior Abby Ford fires a shot.
Portland senior Gabby Wagabaza lunges to win the ball away from Cheverus senior Kelsey Masselli.
Cheverus sophomore Carrie Hight and Portland junior Holly Hinchliffe reach for the ball.
Dangerous Portland junior Lauren McIntyre eludes Cheverus junior Abby Ford. McIntyre scored twice.
Cheverus junior Emily Michaud sends the ball up the field.
Cheverus junior Colleen Slattery tries to keep the ball away from Portland senior Renata Serio.
Portland junior goalie Gianna Gaudet smiles after the win. Gaudet was a huge reason the Bulldogs prevailed, making 17 clutch saves.
Cheverus 3 @ Portland 1
Cheverus 7 @ Portland 1
@ Cheverus 5 Portland 0
@ Cheverus 3 Portland 1
Cheverus 6 @ Portland 0
@ Cheverus 6 Portland 0
Cheverus 2 @ Portland 1 (OT)
@ Cheverus 2 Portland 1 (OT)
Cheverus 3 @ Portland 2
@ Portland 4 Cheverus 1
Portland senior Gabby Wagabaza (23) is congratulated by (from left) junior Holly Hinchliffe, junior Lauren McIntyre and senior Georgia Drew after finding the cage in the second overtime to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 win at Cheverus Monday. It was Portland’s first victory over the Stags in a decade.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.