SANFORD – Beth Arsenault has coached field hockey at Portland High for 11 years now. In her first 10 seasons, the Bulldogs never beat Sanford or advanced to the regional semifinals.

They accomplished both in one stunning swoop Tuesday at Goodall Park.

Raechel Allen scored one goal and set up another, and the defense withstood continuous pressure as the seventh-seeded Bulldogs upset second-ranked Sanford 3-1 in the Western Class A quarterfinals.

Portland outraced Sanford to loose balls, outworked the Redskins in tight situations and advanced to Saturday’s semifinals at sixth-seeded Westbrook.

“We just wanted to go out there and show that we’re good,” said Allen. “Everyone has looked at us for the last, what, 10 years, ‘Portland, yeah, they’re an OK team.’ But now we’re going out and winning in the playoffs.”

The teams didn’t play in the regular season and Arsenault felt that was to the Bulldogs’ advantage. “We knew Sanford was going to be tough, strong and skilled,” she said. “We can’t always brag about being those things. But this year we are. And they didn’t see us.”

What the Redskins found was a team that rallies around defense, then strikes quickly.

“They played a great game,” said Sanford Coach Diana Walker. “They took away our offense. If we didn’t go to the ball, and we didn’t do that very well in the first half, we didn’t get a second chance.”

Well, the Redskins (12-2-1) had a second – and third – chance early in the first half that was denied.

Coming off a penalty corner, Lauren Sawyer had a shot from the middle of the circle that was stopped by Portland goalie Rachel Waterhouse. Caroline L’Heureux got the rebound, only to be stopped by Waterhouse – who then stopped L’Heureux on the second rebound.

“If we were able to capitalize there, it probably would have made a huge difference,” said Walker.

But Portland’s defense, led by Eleni Anderson, Ellen Jewett and Alexandra Thompson, regrouped and held firm. Then the Bulldogs (11-4-1) struck off their own penalty corner.

Anderson put the ball in play to Kylie Dalbec on the right of the circle. She evaded a defender and chipped the ball to the far side, where Carissa Porcaro was at the left post to knock it in with 9:29 left in the first half.

The Bulldogs went up 2-0 just 9:23 into the second half on an odd-man rush. Allen and Catherine Flaherty carried the ball up the left side with Allen taking it into the circle. There she passed to Natalie Anderson, alone at the right post, and she knocked it in.

Sanford responded four minutes later when Natalie Ledue scored off a corner.

But Allen scored, suddenly, with 6:32 left, another odd-man rush. This time Natalie Anderson carried up the right and flicked ahead to Allen, who touched the ball past a defender, then beat goalie Sarah Stanley to the ball.

“That was huge,” said Allen. “But I think our first goal was a huge goal, too. It showed we could go out and win.”

And when it ended, the Bulldogs raced onto the field in a joyous team embrace.

“This is the farthest we’ve gotten in a long time,” said Eleni Anderson. “So it was all, honestly, new for us. I don’t think this is going to hit us until tomorrow. But it’s definitely a good feeling.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:
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Twitter: MikeLowePPH