Bulldogs earn inside track for Western A top seed

PORTLAND — Any remaining question as to who was the team to beat in Western Class A boys’ lacrosse at this stage of the season was put to bed Friday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The host Portland Bulldogs put on a defensive clinic and received some timely offense as well, as they dominated the defending Class A champion Scarborough Red Storm from start to finish.

The Bulldogs held the potent Red Storm without a goal for almost 40 minutes and tickled the twine 12 times en route to a stunningly decisive 12-1 triumph, their fourth emphatic victory without a loss this spring.

“I didn’t expect this,” said Portland coach Eric Begonia. “I knew our defense would have to play well and we played beyond well to hold a team like that scoreless for so long.”

Changing of the guard?

Since lacrosse went to two classes in 2006, Scarborough and Portland have been the standard-bearers in Western A, with the Red Storm winning state titles in 2006 and again last year. The Bulldogs won the region in 2007.

Last season, Portland looked like world-beaters at the start of the season, but struggled down the stretch and was upset at home by Cheverus in the quarterfinals. Scarborough overcame a slow start and peaked late to win it all.

In the last meeting, May 20, 2008, the Red Storm edged the visiting Bulldogs 7-5. Portland’s last win over Scarborough was 12-10 in the Western A Final, June 13, 2007.

This spring, the Bulldogs haven’t been challenged, rolling over Greely (14-4), Waynflete (18-2) and Cheverus (14-2). The Red Storm had a more challenging road, winning 7-5 at Falmouth, 13-6 at Massabesic, 13-1 at home over Deering and 11-8 at home over North Yarmouth Academy.

Friday night would see the Bulldogs excel beyond their wildest dreams.

The tone was set early on when Scarborough’s initial forays into the Portland zone were met with physical punishment at the hands of the Bulldogs’ stellar defensive unit, led by seniors Erik Casparius, Dylan Kenney and Jason Smith.

The Red Storm played without senior standout Jake Barrett, who missed the contest for unexplained reasons. They managed four shots in the first period, but two were saved by Portland senior goalie Nick Sterling and two others were off target.

The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead just 59 seconds in when senior Kyle Roberts took a feed from classmate Sam Guimond and beat Red Storm senior goalie Ryan Kane. Portland wasn’t able to put it away early due to excessive turnovers (eight in the first period), but late in the quarter, the hosts got a pair of goals from senior standout K.R. Jurgelevich (one a pass from Kenney, the other unassisted) to lead 3-0 heading for the second.

Then Portland essentially put the game out of reach.

Just 14 seconds into the stanza, Jurgelevich scored again to make it 4-0. With 8:30 left in the half, junior Kevin Nielsen set up Casparius for a goal. With 2:02 to play, Guimond passed to senior Tyler Sandler who scored to make it 6-0.

Then, with just 13.8 seconds remaining, Kenney scored unassisted to cap a half of brilliance at 7-0.

“We don’t have a lot of left-handed players,” said Begonia. “I made an adjustment a couple weeks ago to put (Dylan) on offense in certain situations so we have more threats than just K.R. When you put a short pole in a long pole’s hands, they get pretty excited. They never say no. He’s going Division I. He’s a talented athlete. He’s having a blast. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Bulldogs won six of the first half’s nine draws, had a 26-25 edge in ground balls and outshot the Red Storm 17-7 while forcing 22 turnovers.

Little changed in the second half.

With 10:18 to play in the third quarter, Kenney took a pass from his brother, junior Caleb, and scored to make it 8-0. Late in the period, Jurgelevich went unassisted one final time for a 9-0 lead.

In the first minute of the fourth, Caleb Kenney (unassisted) and Guimond (from Jurgelevich) scored for an 11-0 lead.

Finally, with 8:06 to play, the Red Storm got on the scoreboard when senior Danny Clark converted sophomore Peter Moore’s pass for a goal. Thirty nine minutes and 54 seconds had elapsed before Scarborough managed to score.

With 11.1 seconds to play, Caleb Kenney (from Nielsen) brought the curtain down with a goal that accounted for the 12-1 final score.

“The scoreboard didn’t show it, but we thought this would be our toughest game,” said Dylan Kenney. “They’re a quality opponent. They were missing a key player. It we see them in the playoffs, we expect a different game.

“Our defense is the best it’s been. Sterling made some big saves to keep them at zero for a long time. (Intimidation’s) what we’ve been trying to instill on the defense. Scare them so they don’t want to come in there.”

Portland won 11 faceoffs to six for Scarborough, grabbed 59 ground balls (Casparius and Kenney had 11 apiece), enjoyed a 33-17 shots advantage and forced 46 turnovers.

“We’re on a mission,” Begonia said. “We’re united. We started the game with a ‘together!’ cheer and ended the game with a ‘together!’ cheer. The chemistry on this team, this senior class, is phenomenal. We’ll take it as far as we can.”

“We’ll enjoy this one for sure. We know this is only game four. It’s a 12-step regular season. As talented as they are, we’re likely to see them again. It’s likely to be a much closer game. As long as I’ve been here, the game between us and them has homefield implications. It’s a big win, but we’ll put it in perspective.”

Jurgelevich led all scorers with four goals and an assist. Both Kenneys had a pair of goals and one assist. Casparius, Guimond, Roberts and Sandler also tickled the twine while Guimond and Nielsen both had two assists. Sterling made eight saves.

The Bulldogs hosted Kennebunk Tuesday (too late for print), then return to the road for a pair of huge tests: at Cape Elizabeth Saturday and Yarmouth Monday.

“We’ll go back on the road and see how we do,” Begonia said.

Whatever happens, don’t expect this year’s team to have a letdown. Portland doesn’t plan on peaking too early in 2009.

“This year, we have our heads screwed on straight,” Kenney said. “We’re in much better shape.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]

P-sportsblax2.JPGPortland junior Kevin Nielsen controlled the ball with Scarborough’s Jimmy Soules looking on. The Bulldogs jumped ahead in the first minute and never trailed in improving to 4-0. (Jason Veilleux photo)

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P-sportsblax1-.JPGPortland senior K.R. Jurgelevich and his teammates set a physical tone early Friday as Jurgelevich laid out Scarborough’s James Wright as the Bulldogs went on to dominate the defending Class A champion Red Storm, 12-1. (Jason Veilleux photo)