SOUTH PORTLAND – Like any good youth lacrosse coach, Ted Hellier speaks in simple terms. On Saturday morning, he was discussing how a young South Portland High boys’ lacrosse team found success this season.

“You can’t hit what you can’t catch,” Hellier said at the Wainwright Field Complex. “We can play the hitting game, sure. But you’re not going to hit me that hard, not if you can’t catch me. That’s one thing I tried to teach them.”

As teams head into high school state lacrosse tournaments on Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s clear the young Red Riots (10-2) learned that lesson well. A year ago, they finished 4-9, losing to Kennebunk 5-3 in a Western Class A quarterfinal.

This year, with a roster that includes 18 juniors and sophomores, South Portland is the No. 2 seed in the region. They play host Tuesday night to No. 7 Gorham (5-7) in a quarterfinal at Martin Field.

“They’re young, but they’re fast and skilled and deep,” said Deering Coach Jon Dubois. “Plus they have one of the top goalies in the SMAA (in T-Moe Hellier.)”

Spend even a few minutes with Ted Hellier and you’ll see South Portland’s fortunes are tied much more to him than a lesson in running through a glancing blow.

Hellier’s been hit hard by cancer over the past year. The disease has spread to his lungs, lymph nodes and elsewhere. On Saturday, with his wife, Susan, nearby, he shifted in his wheelchair and took in the activity around him. Nearby, volunteers manned a registration table for the long-running youth lacrosse festival recently renamed in his honor. Seventy junior varsity and middle school teams shuttled in and out over the weekend. Friends stopped by or waved hello as they hurried about. Even if he had the strength to stay just an hour or so, he wasn’t going to miss it.

It wasn’t long ago that nearly all of the 40 boys in South Portland High Coach Tom Fiorini’s program played here for Hellier, including Hellier’s son, Edward Marley “T-Moe,” a sophomore.

“These kids have been phenomenal,” Ted Hellier said about the Riots’ success. “It was time for them to do it, and they’re doing it. It’s been all ball movement and teamwork.”

And Hellier’s presence.

“Coach Ted has been such a big part of all of our lives for such a long time,” said junior midfielder Duncan Preston. “This season is pretty much all for him. We play the way he taught us to play, and (Fiorini) reinforces that. Play smart, fast and hard, play to whistle.”

Players added to that formula with offseason play for travel clubs, and, in season, morning conditioning on top of afternoon practices. It failed to produce just twice. On April 22, Scarborough scored with 23 seconds left for a 9-8 victory. Five days later, Class B Yarmouth was the stronger side, 14-6. After that, the Riots ran off seven straight victories, including a first-ever win over Kennebunk, 8-7 in double overtime on May 8.

“We’ve been winning games for him,” T-Moe Hellier said. “The guys all love him, so it’s been easy to do.”

The South Portland lacrosse community has rallied around the Helliers, whose daughter Eliza played at Cheverus and is now in college. In November, friends held a fundraiser for the family at a packed VFW hall. Duncan said team activities, such as going to the Helliers’ home to stack wood and or help with yard work, have brought the team together.

Fiorini has kept a close eye on his friend’s health, and his team’s reaction to it.

“We don’t have to talk a lot about it,” Fiorini said. “When Ted talks to the team, there are a lot of emotions, there’s no getting around it. We all understand what the driving force is.”

Hellier has attended every game this season. On Saturday, he seemed to grow stronger as he talked about the Riots. He’s looking forward to July, when he’ll travel with them to a club tournament in Massachusetts.

“This team is my pride and joy,” he said. “Since the season started, I have so much more energy. I’m like a rock.”

Now, all eyes are on Gorham. The Riots beat the Rams 12-7 back on April 17. But this is a playoff game. Fiorini is expecting a tough matchup on the field and calm demeanor on the sideline.

“With these kids, this is business,” Fiorini said. “We go out and do our jobs. They learned that from Ted, who is a very calm, even-keel kind of coach. Just do your job, and at the end of the day, the score will take care of itself.”

With Hellier looking on, chances are good that even when the Riots absorb a hard shot, they’ll keep pushing on.