SCARBOROUGH—A couple of lessons were handed out Monday evening when rival boys’ lacrosse teams Scarborough and South Portland did battle at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex.

First, the Red Riots are for real.

Second, the three-time defending Class A state champion Red Storm can take a punch and still find a way to prevail.

When Scarborough (which won its first three games by a composite 48-4 margin) raced to a 6-0 lead in the first period, it looked like the Red Storm was not just en route to another easy victory, but had revealed South Portland as a pretender in the process.

Not so fast.

The Red Riots got on the board late in the quarter and pulled within 6-2 a halftime. Then, the visitors scored three goals in just over two minutes to start the third period and suddenly, we had a game. Scarborough ended a nearly 18-minute drought and pushed its lead to 8-5 to seemingly restore order, but South Portland dug deep again and tied the score, 8-8, when junior Joey Babbidge scored with 51.9 seconds to go.

A scintillating comeback win wasn’t to be, however, as the Red Storm got the ball back and with 32.7 seconds showing, out of a timeout, senior standout John Wheeler spotted wide open junior Matt Murphy in front, who scored to finally put his team over the top.

Scarborough went on to the 9-8 win, improved to 4-0 and handed the Red Riots their first loss in four outings.

It was quite a sizzling show on a frigid night.

“We won game four,” said Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep. “We didn’t do anything else. We did a lot of good things, we did a lot of bad things and we need to do what we do and keep doing it better.”

Favored again

Scarborough has won three state titles in a row and five in seven seasons since the sport went to two classes for the 2006 season. Every year, the program is hit hard by graduation, but every spring, the Red Storm reloads and this season, Scarborough is a potential powerhouse again, as its senior class looks to graduate with nothing but championship celebrations.

The Red Storm opened its 2013 campaign with easy home wins over Westbrook (17-3) and Bonny Eagle (16-0), before romping at Biddeford (15-1).

South Portland, 4-9 last year after a 5-3 quarterfinal round loss to Kennebunk, also started 3-0, in far more dramatic fashion.

After scoring late to edge visiting Marshwood (8-7), the Red Riots downed visiting Gorham (12-7). Saturday evening, South Portland rallied from a two-goal deficit to upset host Cheverus, the defending Eastern A champion, 13-10.

Scarborough has dominated the rivalry over the years (please see sidebar), losing just once, 8-7, in overtime, back in 2010. Last year, the Red Storm romped at the Red Riots, 10-1.

Monday, Scarborough appeared en route to another laugher, but the visitors had other ideas and made quite a statement in the process.

Just 1 minute, 9 seconds in, the Red Storm got the jump when junior Chris Cyr scored unassisted, firing a shot past South Portland’s talented sophomore goalie T-Moe Hellier.

Wheeler scored his first goal with 6:39 left in the first period and 32 seconds later, Murphy struck unassisted for a 3-0 advantage.

With 5:54 to go in the stanza, sophomore Nathan Howard scored an unassisted goal. Wheeler and junior Andrew Farrington then tallied unassisted goals in a 27-second span and with just over a minute to play in the first, Scarborough was rolling, 6-0.

With 18.2 seconds left, Babbidge restored a little order and confidence for the Red Riots, when he took a pass from senior Alec Neal and finished to make it 6-1.

In the second period, South Portland put the clamps on the Red Storm’s offense, but the Red Riots managed to score just once, junior Duncan Preston doing the honors unassisted with 3:14 left, making it a 6-2 game at halftime.

Scarborough had a big edge in the faceoff circle and had a 24-13 shots advantage, but hadn’t put the game away.

The visitors made some serious noise to start the third quarter, as Preston scored unassisted (man-up) 34 seconds in, Neal (from sophomore Andrew Whipple) struck at the 10:20 mark and 26 seconds later, Neal set up senior Colton Gervais for a goal which pulled South Portland within a single point, 6-5.

“Outside of the first four goals we scored doing things well, we got two cheap ones to make it 6-0, so it was a little inflated,” Hezlep said. “South Portland was doing some good things, but not finishing their opportunities. I knew a 6-0 lead wasn’t going to turn into an 18-1 finish. They just had to connect on a few and they did.”

With 9:23 remaining in the third, the Red Storm finally ended its slumber, as Wheeler set up senior Jurien Garrison for a goal which brought a 17 minute, 44 second drought to a close.

With 4:47 to play in the quarter, Wheeler scored unassisted, making it 8-5.

“We got really stagnant,” said Wheeler. “That’s happened in our past three games too. We didn’t continue to do what we did to get that 6-0 lead. There was a lot of ball watching, no backdoor cuts. It’s hard to keep it going if you stay stagnant against a good team like So Po. We had to scrap harder and find new ways to score.”

As time wound down in the period, a play that was quickly forgotten in the larger scheme of things proved to be immense in the final result.

The Red Riots raced down the field and Neal managed to get a shot away just before the clock struck zero, but Scarborough junior Jordan Flannery made the save.

One of the reasons the Red Storm was viewed as such a prohibitive favorite this spring was senior goalie David Pearson, but Pearson has been sidelined with a thumb injury and Flannery was making just his second varsity start.

That play to end the third quarter was indicative of his huge effort on this night.

The game remained 8-5 until 6:24 was left on the clock. when Neal scored unassisted, ending South Portland’s 15:30 drought.

With 2:58 to go, Preston scored unassisted and once again, the Red Riots were only down a goal, 8-7.

This time, the visitors would cap the rally, as Whipple set up Babbidge for a goal with 51.9 seconds left.

Suddenly, South Portland was on the brink of one of the biggest wins in program history and it was gut-check time for the defending champs.

Not surprisingly, the Red Storm found an answer.

First, Scarborough won possession on the faceoff and Hezlep called timeout.

Then, his players ad-libbed and capitalized.

Wheeler had the ball on his stick as play resumed, but instead of milking the clock as instructed, he spotted Murphy uncovered, threw him the ball and Murphy, from directly in front, beat a helpless Hellier to give the Red Storm a 9-8 lead.

“We were all spread out,” Murphy said. “I was supposed to be on the crease. I saw no one was on me, so I waited for the whistle to blow and made that cut and Wheeler gave me a good pass. I watched the ball all the way into my stick and I finished.”

“I was scanning the field at the start and as soon as the whistle started, Murphy made a great cut,” Wheeler said. “I kind of went against my coach’s will and passed it and it worked out in the end.”

“The rule was no one touches the ball but John,” Hezlep added. “It’s simple, run the ball to X, hold it until time is running out, then go to the net and try to make something happen. A big part of this year’s team is getting comfortable with the fact that we have different guys who can make plays. T-Moe makes that save nine times out of 10. He played a heck of a game. The only time he misses it is when we got a lucky break and had a kid free in the middle.”

South Portland coach Tom Fiorini felt that the reason Murphy was so wide open was that Scarborough had an unfair advantage.

“(The Red Storm) had seven men on the field,” Fiorini said. “That’s why he was wide open. It’s easy to score when it’s 7-on-6.”

“We may have,” said Hezlep. “We’ve done dumber things.”

The Red Riots still had time to answer, but Scarborough junior Austin Doody won the ensuing faceoff, junior Luke Bernard pounced on a ground ball and the Red Storm (after an amazing basketball-like save from Wheeler, who, while falling out of bounds, threw the ball off a South Portland player to retain possession) managed to run out the clock on a closer-than-expected and more-meaningful-than-anticipated 9-8 triumph.

“It played out the way it should have,” said Hezlep, for whom the win had extra meaning, seeing he’s a former South Portland athletic standout, who serves as an assistant football coach with the Red Riots. “We came in feeling really good and came out and did some good things early. We were moving at a different speed than South Portland’s seen lately, but they’re a very good team. We knew it would be a game coming in.

“If Duncan Preston’s not the most athletic kid in the state, I don’t know who is. I put my biggest guy on him, I put my fastest guy on him, I put my smartest guy on him and we didn’t have an answer. He creates a lot of problems. He and Joe Babbidge work well together. Every game they’ve had different multiple goal scorers. It’s not just (junior) Thomas Leddy scoring four, or Duncan Preston scoring three. They get a lot of guys involved and it’s fun to watch. I do love getting to talk to them afterwards, knowing them on a personal level. It’s tough for them. It was theirs and we squeaked it out.”

Wheeler led the Red Storm offense with three goals and a pair of assists, but he had plenty of help. Murphy scored twice and Cyr, Farrington, Garrison and Howard all tickled the twine once.

Scarborough won 12 of 20 faceoffs and collected 33 ground balls (paced by senior Dalton Finley with six and Bernard with five). The Red Storm had a 45-26 edge in shots (25-18 on cage).

The biggest story for Scarborough, however, was Flannery, who made 10 clutch saves.

“I was seeing the ball better than usual,” said Flannery. “I was feeling it today. Biddeford was my first real actual varsity start and I didn’t see many shots. This was definitely a wakeup call that we won’t run over every team and that there are other kids who can shoot out there. As long as we win in the end, it feels good. Wins always feel better in games like this.”

“Jordan stepped up big,” said Wheeler. “He has some big shoes to fill. He made some big stops in the first quarter that got them down. He stayed strong.”

“I’ve been coaching for quite awhile and I’m not sure I’ve had a kid come from being a backup to stepping up and having that kind of game that early in his career,” added Hezlep. “That game goes South Portland’s way if he doesn’t play as well as he does and it could’ve gone their way by a big number. He’s waited a long time. He’s a top five goalie in this league and no one believes me. It’s a luxury to have him step in. He played a heck of a game and I expected nothing less.”

The Red Riots got three goals from Preston, two apiece from Babbidge and Neal and one from Gervais. Neal and Whipple both had two assists. Hellier kept his team in it with 16 saves. South Portland collected 39 ground balls (Preston had a team-high eight, Babbidge six and Gervais five).

“We got ourselves in a 6-0 hole and that’s a heck of a hole to dig out of,” said Fiorini. “We came out a little flat. We were cold and we’re tired from a heck of a game Saturday night, but these kids are all heart and all work. They chipped away at it and never gave up and always believed in each other and almost pulled it out. It came down to a couple plays at the end of the game. They called timeout and didn’t have possession of the ball and down here, (a player) came out of the box to get the ball with no possession. In my opinion, there were bad calls, but refs don’t win or lose a game. It was a fun game. The two teams played excellent. I would’ve liked it to go the other way, but both teams played with class and sportsmanship. I love when that happens.”

Heavy lifting

South Portland’s road gets no easier, as it hosts perennial powerhouse Yarmouth Saturday, but the Red Riots now know they can beat anybody.

“Our kids showed they could play with (the three-time champs),” said Fiorini. “I hope the Western Maine Final is us and them. I’d love to see that.”

Scarborough (which plays Gould in a non-countable game Thursday) looks to stay unbeaten when it plays host to defending Eastern B champion North Yarmouth Academy Saturday.

The Red Storm has learned it can’t take anyone or anything for granted.

“With the games to come, (tonight’s) definitely a good learning point as we move forward,” Wheeler said.

“It’s a good win, but we have a lot to work on,” Murphy said. “We have some good challenges coming up.”

“We’re scheduling every tough game we can to get our kids to play a faster pace,” Hezlep added. “We don’t want to let our guys slow down. A lot of stuff on the defensive end is communication and where we’re supposed to play. This group is still learning where to be. (Senior) Nik Pelletier is a force. The kids call him ‘Paul Bunyan,’ because he’s the biggest kid on Earth, but he’s still learning how we do things and where to be when. We still have to get better.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

South Portland sophomore goalie T-Moe Hellier makes one of his 16 saves.

Scarborough senior Dalton Finley is defended by South Portland junior Duncan Preston.

South Portland senior Cody Munson defends Scarborough junior Andrew Farrington.

Scarborough junior Chris Cyr unleashes his shot.

South Portland junior Duncan Preston sends a shot on goal.

Scarborough senior standout John Wheeler fires on South Portland sophomore goalie T-Moe Hellier.

Scarborough junior Jordan Flannery, in just his second varsity start, came up huge time and again to lead the Red Storm to the win. Flannery made 10 saves.

Previous Scarborough-SP meetings

Scarborough 10 @ South Portland 1

@ Scarborough 11 South Portland 0

@ South Portland 8 Scarborough 7 (OT)
Western A semifinals
Scarborough 10 @ South Portland 4

@ Scarborough 14 South Portland 5

@ Scarborough 12 South Portland 3
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 17 South Portland 6

Scarborough 13 @ South Portland 9
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 13 South Portland 7

@ Scarborough 10 South Portland 3

Scarborough 9 @ South Portland 4

South Division Second Round
@ Scarborough 5 South Portland 4 (3 OT)

Sidebar Elements

Scarborough junior Matt Murphy (4) is congratulated by his teammates after putting the Red Storm ahead, 3-0, midway through the first period of Monday evening’s contest against South Portland. Scarborough eked out a 9-8 win on Murphy’s goal with 32.7 seconds left in regulation.

More photos below.

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