PORTLAND—It was the worth the wait.
Every agonizing second.
Friday evening at Memorial Field, the Deering girls’ soccer team hosted Portland in a Western Class A preliminary round playoff game and as it turned out, 80 minutes couldn’t determine a winner.
Nor could 30 minutes of overtime.
After Portland senior Madison Bolduc’s first half goal was matched by a penalty kick from Deering sophomore Ewka Varney in the second half, the ancient rivals had to go to penalty kicks to decide this instant classic and the tension could be cut with a knife.
Through four rounds, each team only made one kick, but Bulldogs junior Isabel Stehli stepped to the line and calmly buried her shot. Portland sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Crosby then made the save of her young life and for the first time in six years, the Bulldogs had won a playoff game, 2-1 (2-1 on PKs).
Portland continued its dizzying resurgence, improved to 9-6, advanced to meet top-ranked 13-0-1 Windham, the defending Class A champion, in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round and in the process, ended the Rams’ strong season at 8-6-1.
“It’s such a good feeling,” said Bulldogs coach Arthur Mosen. “I’m so proud of the girls. They approached the game in the right way. From start to finish. As soon as we stepped on the field, we got the job done. Every minute. They just worked for every ball.”
Not only were Deering and Portland squaring off for the second time this fall, they were also meeting for only the second time in the postseason.
Back in 2003, the top-ranked Bulldogs were upset in the semifinals by the fifth-seeded Rams, 1-0, who went on to lose to Greely in the Western A Final.
This season, both teams turned heads and at times and caused their fans to scratch their heads at others.
Portland produced its best record in five years. After going 5-8-2 and losing in the preliminary round to Biddeford in 2013, this year, the Bulldogs started 1-3, then won five in a row before dropping two straight. Portland bounced back by winning two of its last three and its 8-6 mark resulted in the number nine seed.
Deering was 11-4-1 a year ago and reached the quarterfinals before losing to Thornton Academy. After graduating standout Alexis Elowitch (who is now starring at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire), the Rams were expected by many to struggle, but instead started 6-1. Deering wasn’t as strong in the second half, going just 2-4-1 to finish 8-5-1 and earn the No. 8 seed.
On Sept. 12, the Rams edged the visiting Bulldogs, 1-0, on Varney’s penalty kick.
This time around, Portland got the jump, but Deering answered, then the teams played on for a long, long time.
The Bulldogs had tremendous energy from the start and just 25 seconds in, they had a good look at the goal, but Stehli’s shot was tipped at the last second by Rams senior goalkeeper Emily Mooney.
A minute later, Stehli had another look, but this time, she shot high.
In the seventh minute, Mooney came out to beat dangerous Portland sophomore Kate Johnson to a ball int he box.
At the other end, the hosts had their first offensive chance, but senior captain Meaghan Wells, who missed most of the season with a collarbone injury, had her shot saved by Crosby.
The Bulldogs then pounced and took the lead.
Portland managed to pressure and get the ball into the box, where it was batted around until it found the feet of Bolduc, who scored the biggest goal of her career to date for a 1-0 lead with 30:55 to play in the first half.
“Kate Johnson was in there and the defense got the ball away, then it came to me and I kicked it in,” Bolduc said.
“We came out with the first goal early,” Johnson said. “They got the early goal with a PK last time and that was the only goal of the game. It was a defensive error. The ball got batted around and the goalie came out. (Madison) put it right in the corner. We rode that most of the game,”
“The game is all mental,” said Bulldogs senior defensive wizard Rachel Glover, who was in the middle of everything all evening. “We focused hard on sticking together and staying positive. We wanted to go as hard as we could from the get-go.”
“That gave us a lot of confidence,” Mosen added. “We needed to score early to get some momentum going. We were able to do that. The difference in this game was that we won the majority of 50-50 balls. We showed we wanted it.”
The Bulldogs almost doubled their lead in the 11th minute, but a long shot from sophomore Hayleigh Blanchard was saved by Mooney and on the ensuing corner kick, junior Chessa Hoekstra headed the ball over the crossbar.
After Deering saw junior Simone Lauture have a shot from the side saved by Crosby and a bid from senior Courtney Brett saved as well, Blanchard almost scored, but her 30-yard free kick was punched away by Mooney.
Late in the half, Mooney sprawled to get to a through ball from Portland freshman sparkplug Ella Altidore to Blanchard and freshman Gracie Lagrange headed the ball off a corner kick just high, keeping the score, 1-0, at halftime.
In the first 40 minutes, the Rams had an 8-7 edge in shots, but five saves from Crosby kept the Bulldogs on top.
Not surprisingly, Deering came out strong in the second half, but it would take quite awhile for the equalizer to be scored.
With 37:28 left in regulation, Rams junior Sinead Scott took a pass from classmate Cora Melcher and fired a shot, but Crosby made the save.
After Hoekstra weaved through the Deering defense and shot, only to have Mooney make the save, the hosts went back on offense and got the ball to Lauture, but she shot wide on a break.
With 27:39 remaining in regulation, the Rams earned a free kick, but it came at a steep price as Wells reinjured her collarbone and had to leave the game.
Varney then a strong shot on target, but Crosby made the stop.
“We had a good talk at halftime and we made some tactical changes, but we told the girls that we just had to win the ball,” Olson said. “We came out stronger in the second half.”
The Bulldogs then ramped up their attack again, but after eluding a defender, Stehli had a shot tipped out by Mooney as Bolduc just missed tipping it home at the far post.
Deering returned to the attack, but after Portland senior defender Oriana Smith broke up a feed from Rams junior Micary Verville to Lauture, Brett sent a long shot wide and Brett had a shot saved by Crosby.
Then, just when it appeared the Bulldogs were going to escape with a 1-0 regulation victory, Deering answered.
A foul just outside the box afforded Varney a free kick opportunity and her shot appeared on target until a Bulldogs defender headed the ball away.
The official nearest to the play felt that the player got more than her head on the ball, however, and ruled a hand ball (if anything, it struck her upper arm) and just like that, the Rams had their break.
Varney took the ensuing PK and while Crosby got a fingertip on the ball while diving to her right, it rolled into the net to tie the score, 1-1, with 9:24 to play.
Crosby would face five more PKs before the night was over and would only allow one to get past her.
Suffice to say, Portland wasn’t happy with the ruling.
“We weren’t thrilled with it,” Johnson said.
“It was extremely frustrating for our team,” Bolduc said. “We had to recollect ourselves and remember how badly we all wanted it.”
Late in regulation, both Hoekstra and Varney had shots denied and it was on to overtime.’
In Maine high school girls’ playoff soccer, teams play two 15-minute, “sudden victory” OTs and if no one scores, it’s on to penalty kicks to determine a winner and that’s how this one would play out.
As was the case to start the game, Portland had a great opportunity in the first minute, but Bolduc, after running down a long pass, shot just wide.
After Scott shot wide for Deering, Brett went down with an apparent knee injury and didn’t return.
With 8:43 left in the first 15-minute OT session, Hoekstra got her head on a Blanchard free kick, but Mooney made the save.
The Rams then raced the other way and Melcher sent a through ball to Lauture, but Crosby raced out and beat her to it.
With 7:36 to go, after fighting through the defense, Verville managed a shot, but it went wide.
After the Bulldogs had nothing to show for back-to-back corner kicks, Lauture transitioned the other way and that led to a Deering corner, which was broken up.
Late in the OT, Stehli tried to feed Bolduc, but a Rams defender cleared it away and it was on to the second session.
Just 95 seconds in, a Lauture rush was broken up by Altidore.
Deering kept the pressure and got a pair of bids from Melcher, but the first was wide and the second sailed high.
After Hoekstra shot wide for the Bulldogs, Stehli threaded a pass in Bolduc’s direction, but Mooney came out to snare it.
With 2:24 to go, Lauture launched a high shot that Crosby had to stretch to reach, but she caught it.
Then, in the final minute, Portland had a flurry of chances as a Bolduc rush led to a corner, then a second and finally a third.
As time wound down, Johnson had a shot blocked and Hoekstra’s bid to end it went just high.
After 110 palpitating minutes, the game would have to be settled in PKs.
After a five minute break (something the fans needed every bit as much as the players and coaches), Deering and Portland took turns shooting five penalty kicks with the team making more advancing.
All eyes were on Hoekstra, who started it off. She fired a shot which a diving Mooney got a fingertip on, but she couldn’t stop the ball and it rolled into the net.
Melcher’s bid to tie was right at Crosby, who made the save.
“I’ve gotten used to facing (PKs),” Crosby said. “We practice them in practice. I got the mindset to settle down and focus. I was extremely nervous, but then I settled down and focused. That first one definitely helped me. I knew it was on me, not anyone else.”
Blanchard had a chance to give the Bulldogs a little breathing room, but her shot was too high and nicked the top of the crossbar before sailing over.
That brought Rams sophomore defensive standout Sophie Silva to the line and she beat a diving Crosby to the left corner to make it 1-1 after two rounds.
Deering wouldn’t tickle the twine again.
Glover hoped to put Portland back on top, but Mooney dove and made a stellar save.
Lauture then had a chance to give the Rams the lead, but she shot right at Crosby and again, the goalie stood tall.
Bolduc had a chance to give the Bulldogs the lead, but her shot was too high.
“It’s so stressful,” Bolduc said. “We practice PKs too. It’s the most high-pressure situation I’ve ever been in. (Missing) was not a good feeling at all.”
Verville could have brought Deering to the brink of victory, but she shot wide.
That left it up to Stehli and Rams junior Megan Violette. If both missed or both converted, the PK sequence would have gone to one round of “sudden victory,” but resolution was close at hand.
Stehli calmly stepped to the line and and pounded a shot into the left corner. Mooney guessed right and dove, but couldn’t reach the ball.
“The biggest thing is that Coach told us to stay calm and focus,” Stehli said. “He calmed us all down and it really worked. I blocked everything else out. My team was so supportive. I wasn’t really aiming for anything. Honestly, I’m just so happy it went in.”
“Isabel was money,” Bolduc said. “We knew she’d make it.”
Violette then had a chance to extend the game and the season, but Crosby wasn’t about to let it happen. Violette tried to go to the left as well, but Crosby anticipated it, dove and batted the ball away to bring about a storybook conclusion.
“It was one of the best saves the program has seen in a long time,” Mosen said.
At 8:29 p.m., after a nearly three-hour passion play of memorable soccer, it was over.
Portland 2 Deering 1 (2-1 on PKs).
The Bulldogs’ win was a long time in coming (six years and far more than the 80 minutes of regulation normally required) and their celebration was a mix of exhilaration and relief.
“It means so much,” Bolduc said. “Beating Deering was the one thing I wanted to do before leaving high school. They’re our biggest rival. To beat them in playoffs is such a great feeling.”
“It was really amazing,” Stehli said. “I’ve never felt so good before. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point. It’s so great to win this. Deering has always been our biggest competitor. It was a huge game. I think we were really even.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” Johnson said. “It’s like no feeling compares. We had to make it through two overtimes and PKs. It was stressful, but we made it. I was next in line (to shoot), so I was thrilled when Taylor made the save. I can’t even describe how proud I am of this team. It’s huge for us. We’re building on last season. To win in the first round is incredible.”
“It was insane,” Glover said. “Ever since I was a freshman, we’ve always brought it hard against Deering. To be a senior and win, this is incredible.”
“The girls didn’t let their heads drop when (Deering) scored,” Mosen added. “We’ve practiced PKs. I had a good idea of who the five (shooters) would be. After a long game and overtime, legs are a little tired. A couple girls missed, but the most important thing is we stuck together as a team. I had confidence in Taylor. Luckily, it turned out in our favor.”
Portland had a 10-7 edge in corner kicks and received 14 saves (most of them critical) from Crosby.
“It’s so exhilarating, so nice,” Crosby said. “It feels amazing, but I couldn’t have done it without my defense, without my offense, without everyone on the field. It was a team effort.”
“Taylor played so great,” Bolduc said.
“Taylor’s amazing,” Stehli said. “I’m so proud of her. She showed what she could do. She was awesome.”
“Taylor’s been a rock for us this season,” Mosen added. “She’s got such a good presence about her. She keeps (the defenders) strong. She has a good spring in her step. She has the mentality to play that position.”
In addition to Crosby’s play, Mosen singled out Glover’s effort.
“If there’s an MVP tonight, it would certainly be Rachel,” he said. “She had a small MCL tear a couple weeks ago. She’s back with a bang and she keeps our back line solid. She has a calm head, which helps the rest of the team. She’s great under pressure. She had the right mentality tonight.”
Lost in the giddiness of victory was an appreciation for just how far this program has come.
After making the playoffs in 2009 for the 11th time in 13 years with a winning record for the fourth consecutive season, the Bulldogs endured campaigns of 1-13, 0-13-1 and 2-10-2. Last fall, Portland won five times and got back to the playoffs. Now, the Bulldogs have a winning mark and are heading to the quarterfinals.
Even better, they just beat Deering for the first time since a 2-1 triumph at the Rams Sept. 10, 2008 (snapping a six-game skid to their rival).
“A lot of credit has to be given to our coach,” Stehli said. “He’s worked with us so much.”
“I wanted to build a program,” Mosen said. “I have the right people around me to make it work. Curtis Chapin, the JV coach, is at every varsity game. He’s a huge help. It started with building team morale. The belief has grown and I feel like this season, the belief has just exploded.”
Deering ended up with a 21-19 advantage in shots and got 13 saves from the excellent Mooney, in her swan song.
“Emily has been a great competitor,” Olson said. “She’s come up huge all season.”
For the third time in six years, the Rams’ playoff run ended in PKs.
“It’s never fun to lose,” Olson said. “We played 110 solid minutes of soccer. We just came up short. The girls made Deering proud. They fought hard. I’m proud of them. It was definitely a hard-fought game. I told the girls to keep their heads held high. They left everything on the field. They played hard. Going into overtime, we dug deep. We were down three starters, but the girls came off the bench and played well. We had opportunities. There’s no way to simulate PKs in practice. There’s so much pressure on the shooters. I just told them to stick with their routine and with their shot. To have confidence and put it on frame. They had the courage to take those kicks.
The Rams defied the pundits this fall, as they remained a top contender. They figure to be in the mix again in 2015.
“We did a lot of great things this season,” Olson said. “Overall, it was great. It’s tough to lose these seniors. Our ultimate goal is to get back to the playoffs. The underclassmen will learn from this.”
Windham has had no peer the past two years, winning Class A for the first time in 2013, then going 13-0-1 this fall.
On Oct. 18, Portland played the visiting Eagles tough before losing, 2-0. The Bulldogs won the only prior playoff meeting, a 1-0 decision way back in the 1987 Western A quarterfinals.
They know they have nothing to lose Wednesday (game time is 6 p.m.) and are more than willing to take their chances.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” said Johnson. “We’re proud to have made it this far. We’ll give Windham our best shot.”
“If we go in confident, I think it could be a really good game,” Crosby said.
“We kept our composure well last time,” Stehli said. “Anything can happen. We’ll just play for us.”
“We have to stick together, stay strong mentally, stay focused,” said Glover. “We know deep down we can win.”
“We were proud of how we played Windham last time,” Bolduc said. “We’re going to go into it with a positive attitude. Whatever happens happens. We’ll do our best.”
“We did play them tough,” Mosen added. “I’m looking forward to the game. We have a game plan. We know what works for us. We’ll tweak things a little bit, but we’ve got every reason to feel confident.”
Portland sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Crosby makes a pivotal save during the penalty kicks phase of Friday’s contest.
Deering senior goalkeeper Emily Mooney dives to make a save.
Deering senior captain Courtney Brett boots the ball away from Portland senior Madison Bolduc.
Deering junior Micary Verville is sandwiched by Portland sophomore Hayleigh Blanchard (11) and senior Rachel Glover.
Deering senior Jade Jordan heads the ball away from Portland senior Madison Bolduc.
Portland sophomore Kate Johnson and Deering junior Cora Melcher fight for possession.
Deering junior Simone Lauture manages to shoot despite the defensive pressure of Portland senior Rachel Glover.
Portland senior Rachel Glover and Deering junior Cora Melcher meet at the ball.
Portland senior Oriana Smith plays the ball.
Deering senior captain Meaghan Wells shields the ball from Portland senior Jess Wolfe.
Portland senior Oriana Smith (21) hugs junior Isabel Stehli following the win.
2003 Western A semifinals
Deering 1 @ Portland 0
Portland sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Crosby is met by an oncoming wall of celebratory Bulldogs after her save in the final round of penalty kicks secured a scintillating preliminary round win at Deering Friday night. Portland won the PK round, 2-1, and the game, 2-1, and will meet top-ranked, defending Class A champion Windham in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.