PORTLAND—Cheverus senior goalie Katie Haley saved the day and by extension her team’s season Wednesday afternoon.

Haley stopped 18 shots, some in spectacular fashion and all of them crucial, as the Stags held off Portland’s strong effort, 5-3, in the Eastern A quarterfinals at Boulos Stadium.

Haley pitched a shutout in the first half, then made a series of critical saves in the waning moments and third-ranked Cheverus improved to 8-5 (ending the sixth-seeded Bulldogs’ season at 7-6 in the process), advancing to take on No. 2 Mt. Ararat (8-4) in Topsham in the semifinal round Friday at 5 p.m.

“Portland’s one of our biggest rivals,” Haley said. “We knew they had nothing to lose and would come out strong. My confidence kept growing. I saved a lot at the beginning and got really into it.”

City showdown

Wednesday was the first playoff encounter between two programs separated by just a couple miles. Back on May 3, Cheverus raced to an 8-1 halftime lead and held off Portland by a 12-8 margin.

The Bulldogs came out strong, but simply couldn’t solve Haley in the first half. She made four early saves to keep the game scoreless and the Stags broke the ice and took the lead for good eight minutes in when senior Sage Witham (from senior Bri Amato) fired a shot past Portland senior goalie Danielle Holt.

With 12:53 to play in the first half, the Bulldogs finally got a shot past Haley, but instead of tickling the twine, senior standout Nancy McAdam’s bid hit the post.

With 5:54 remaining, Cheverus doubled its lead on an Amato goal (from sophomore Sarah LaQuerre).

The Stags pushed to go up by even more by halftime, but with 2:03 left, senior Grace Fitzpatrick hit the post and 27 seconds later, Witham, on a free position, was denied by Holt.

Portland had an edge in draws, ground balls and shots in the first 25 minutes, but trailed, 2-0.

The Bulldogs finally broke the ice with 19:27 to play in the second half when promising sophomore Catherine Flaherty fired a shot past Haley on a free position.

Cheverus answered with two goals in three minutes to seemingly get some breathing room.

First, with 16:58 to go, Fitzpatrick scored unassisted. Then, with 13:55 remaining, Amato set up LaQuerre to make it 4-1.

“We had to make quick cuts because they play zone and cuts beat zones,” Fitzpatrick said. “When there was an open player, we gave it to them.”

Portland wouldn’t quit, however.

With 12:20 left, junior Melania Jankowski fed sophomore Raechel Allen for a goal and it was 4-2. With 9:12 to play, McAdam finally got on the board, scoring on a free position to make it 4-3.

Then, both goalies took centerstage.

With 8:41 to go, Bulldogs freshman Drew Barry unleashed a shot, but Haley turned it aside. A minute later, at the other end, Fitzpatrick was robbed by Holt.

With 7:15 remaining, Jankowski looked to tie, but her shot hit the post. Barry then got a good look, but shot high. Sophomore Carly McQuinn followed with a bid, but again, Haley made the save, keeping it 4-3.

With 3:18 to go, LaQuerre had a chance to extend the lead and provide some breathing room, but her free position shot was stopped by Holt (eight saves on the day). Portland looked to transition and tie the game, but turned the ball over, leading to the coup de grace.

With 2:27 showing, Cheverus senior Emily Van Duzer eluded a defender, ran around the cage and beat Holt with a shot to make it 5-3.

Still, the Bulldogs didn’t quit.

With 1:50 to play, McAdam got free for a shot that Haley saved. With 1:14 left, Barry was robbed by Haley. With 27.5 seconds remaining, senior Mariah Callender had one last chance, but her free position shot went wide and after a Portland turnover, the Stags ran out the rest of the clock and won, 5-3.

“You need the defense in the playoffs,” said Cheverus coach Jamie Chamberlain. “Our defensive players were sharp. This is the best game Katie’s had in goal. It’s nice to see her come forward and bail us out. Having a layoff and graduation and finals, you could see the effect on the offense. Timing and drops. The kids hung in there and made plays at crunchtime.

“Portland certainly played its best game. They were very active and we had to match that. It’s good to come out on the winning end. It’s a reward for these kids, for what they’ve done since the start of the season, the work they’ve put in. To see the kids grow throughout the season, this is a reward for them.”

There wasn’t a lot of offense. Cheverus got one goal apiece from Amato, Fitzpatrick, LaQuerre, Van Duzer and Witham. Amato finished with two assists and LaQuerre added one. Haley, Van Duzer and Witham all had a team-high six ground balls.

Haley’s efforts stole the show.

“I was in a zone,” Haley said. “It was like the game wasn’t even happening. I just got really excited and pumped up.  There was pressure, but I tried to keep my head up. I’m confident in my teammates. The fifth goal was key. This gives us confidence we can rise higher. We haven’t lost a first round playoff game yet. We carried on that tradition.”

“The goalies were amazing, both of them,” said Fitzpatrick. “Katie stepped up. That’s the best game I’ve ever seen her play. I was excited for her. She kept us in the game.  It was pretty scary at the end. I kept looking up at the scoreboard, counting down the time. This is my senior year. I want to go as far as a I can. I didn’t want to lose my last time on my field. I’m excited about that.”

Portland, which got goals from Allen, Flaherty and McAdam and an assist from Jankowski, dominated the team statistics. The Bulldogs won eight of 10 draws, had a 29-17 advantage in shots (21-13 in shots on frame), forced 29 turnovers (while committing 28) and won 62 ground balls to 49 for the hosts. McAdam had a game-high 11, while Barry grabbed eight.

“We gave them all we had,” said Portland coach Eric Wales. “It was a huge effort. Stat-wise, I’d have to say we control the ball and had a lot more shots. The girls have a lot to be proud of. We would have loved to play Friday, but sometimes you fall a little short even with a big effort. We were there the whole game. A few shots hit the post and their goalie made some big saves.”

The Bulldogs posted a winning record for just the second time in program history (9-5 in 2004) and left the field with their heads held high.

“We came together as a team,” Wales said. “We try to raise the bar each year. We hope to keep moving forward. Our three seniors will be tough to replace. Mariah was spectacular on defense. Nancy had 141 goals in her career. Dani was awesome today. We’ll miss them. It’s tough to lose those three, but we are pretty young. We have a lot of (good, young players).”

Trip to Topsham

Friday, Cheverus takes on a Mt. Ararat squad it didn’t face this year or ever in the postseason. The Stags hope to keep the good times rolling.

“They don’t know anything about us and we don’t know anything about them,” Haley said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

“We just have to bring our best game and play better than we did today,” Fitzpatrick said. “Hopefully Katie keeps us in it.”

“Now, we get to play another game, which is a bonus,” Chamberlain added. “If we can play defense like we did today, it would take a little pressure off. We’ll be rested and hopefully get our timing back on offense. We’ve averaged 12, 13, 14 goals a game. I hope we’re due for some more. I don’t know if there are any zone teams in that conference. Hopefully that’s an advantage for us.”

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