PORTLAND—A year after sneaking up on the opposition and making a surprise run to the playoffs, the Deering field hockey team learned Wednesday afternoon that nothing will come easily this fall.

Hosting Thornton Academy in the teams’ mutual regular season opener at Memorial Field, the Rams were on their heels from get-go and trailed by a goal at halftime, but it could have been worse were it not for a pair of spectacular saves from sophomore goalie Sadie Rhinehardt.

The Golden Trojans ended all suspense with two goals in a 10-second span of the second half, then went on to 3-0 victory.

Deering didn’t manage a shot until the 46th minute and got an early indication of what it needs to do to improve.

“I think we can learn a lot from this game,” said second-year Rams coach Liz Koharian. “Clearly, Thornton’s experienced. They’re in great shape. They’re a strong team.”

New beginnings

Deering is coming off an inspirational, bounce-back season, which saw the Rams win six games and make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The year ended with a 3-0 loss to Gorham in the Western A preliminary round, but there was little disappointment to be found.

Thornton Academy went 8-5-1 last year, beat Bonny Eagle in a preliminary round game, then lost to eventual regional champion Scarborough in the quarterfinals, 4-0.

The Rams and Golden Trojans hadn’t played since the 2010 regular season (a 4-0 Thornton Academy win at Deering). The Rams were seeking their first victory over the Golden Trojans since September of 2009 (a 1-0 triumph) and hoped to win their opener for the second straight season (last fall, they edged Windham, 1-0, in overtime).

But Wednesday, on a sun-splashed afternoon, Thornton Academy quickly seized control.

The tone was set when the Golden Trojans took possession and began testing Rhinehardt.

Just 2 minutes, 35 seconds in, off a penalty corner, Thornton Academy senior Katlyn Barden fired a shot that was deflected wide.

With 22:49 left in the first half, Rhinehardt had to make back-to-back saves on another corner opportunity.

Koharian called timeout to try and settle her charges, but it didn’t help as the Golden Trojans fired another shot that Rhinehardt saved and this time, the rebound resulted in a goal as senior Morgan Dube rattled the cage for a 1-0 lead.

“We came out exhausted,” Koharian said. “We were like zombies out there. Maybe it’s because it was the first day of school.”

Twice, the visitors almost doubled their lead, but Rhinehardt didn’t let it happen.

With 14:32 left in the half, the dangerous Dube got free for a breakaway, but Rhinehardt kicked away her shot.

Rhinehardt’s finest save came five minutes later when a gorgeous cross found Dube near the far post, but the goalie was able to get her pad on the shot and kick it away, keeping Deering within hailing distance at the half.

The Rams had been outshot, 5-0, and saw Thornton Academy take three corners to their none, but they were still very much in the game.

Any comeback hopes were dashed early in the second half.

After Rhinehardt made one last save on Dube, the Golden Trojans finally got that elusive second goal as senior Kaitlin Hilton finished off a corner.

Thornton Academy got the ball right back, transitioned into Deering’s zone and senior Lauren Russell crossed to Dube who finished and just like that, the Golden Trojans were up, 3-0.

The Rams could have wilted, but instead finished strong, an encouraging sign going forward.

Finally, with 14:33 to play, Deering sophomore Kristen Francouer managed to put a shot on goal, but Thornton Academy senior Gabrielle Capozzi made the save.

With 14 minutes left, the Rams earned their first penalty corner, but couldn’t get a shot on goal.

The best scoring chance for the hosts came with 6:15 left as senior Kylie Patchell was denied in front and the Golden Trojans clamped down from there and went on to the 3-0 victory.

“We didn’t give up,” Koharian said. “We played better at the end. We got some scoring opportunities.”

Thornton Academy finished with a 9-2 advantage in shots on goal and an 8-2 edge in corners. Rhinehardt made six saves to two for Capozzi.

“I thought Sadie played amazing today,” Koharian said. “I’m really excited for her. Playing varsity for the first time is intimidating. She handled the pressure. I’m so proud of her. The team trusts her, that nothing will get in. She had some amazing saves.”

Long season

Thornton Academy welcomes the home portion of its schedule Friday when it faces Gorham.

Deering is back in action Friday at always strong Westbrook. The Rams return home Monday to face Biddeford.

This team will get better. It’s just a matter of time.

“It’s going to take us awhile to hit our stride,” Koharian said. “I’d rather not peak at the beginning of the season. I feel like we’ll only go up from here.”

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