PORTLAND—It was equal parts poignant and palpitating.

A night that began with a tribute to a woman who fought and beat cancer ended with a non-stop series of thrills between ancient rivals, both eager for a victory.

Deering hosted Portland in a field hockey showdown Monday at Memorial Field and those on hand won’t soon forget what transpired.

The programs agreed to promote their annual contest as “Shelly’s Game,” a Play4TheCure cancer fundraiser to benefit Shelly DiBiase, mother of Rams senior Kaytlin DiBiase.

While nearly $2,000 was raised for the cause, the best news came when it was learned that DiBiase, who was diagnosed with breast cancer three months ago, is cancer free.

Then came a game that wasn’t decided until after the final horn, when a potential game-tying shot just missed the cage.

Fittingly, Kaytlin DiBiase scored the game’s first goal, but despite controlling play, Deering couldn’t strike again and took a 1-0 lead to halftime, thanks in part to eight saves from Bulldogs senior goalie Gianna Gaudet.

Then, both offenses went wild in the second half.

Portland senior standout Lauren McIntyre tied the score just over four minutes in, then set up senior Kaylyn Madore with 15:50 to go for a 2-1 lead.

DiBiase produced the equalizer three minutes later, but with 10:56 remaining, McIntyre struck again for a 3-2 Bulldogs’ advantage.

When Portland senior sweeper Alysha Alling produced a highlight reel defensive save with 4:55 left, it looked like Portland would hold on, but with 1:34 to play, Rams senior Kerry Wells found a way to finish out of a scrum to make it 3-3.

But just when overtime appeared imminent, McIntyre got possession on the ensuing faceoff, raced in and completed her hat trick, putting the Bulldogs ahead with 1:23 showing.

On this night, that was plenty of time and sure enough, Deering had a final chance when it earned a penalty corner as time expired, but Gaudet got a piece of her shoulder in front of the final shot to deflect it over the cage and Portland held on for dear life, 4-3.

“We survived,” said Bulldogs coach Beth Arsenault. “I’d rather not win like that. I’m glad we won, don’t get me wrong, but that was scary. It was an exciting game. We knew it would be an extremely tough game because Deering’s good, talented and fast and we knew they’d have extra adrenaline tonight.”

Real life

There’s no denying that Deering and Portland are fierce rivals in all sports, but Monday, winning became a secondary proposition to the battle being fought by DiBiase and her family.

DiBiase was diagnosed with breast cancer in June. She had a bilateral mastectomy in August and another procedure two weeks ago and while she’s lived a nightmare for three months, she considers herself very fortunate.

“It’s amazing, I’m really lucky,” DiBiase said. “I know some of the of the girls on Portland and obviously I know the girls on Deering. They’ve been great support. Right before the game, I got the call with a clean bill of health. Everyone, defenitely make sure you get a mammogram.”

Arsenault and Deering coach Liz Koharian decided to turn their annual contest into a fundraiser.

“I used to coach Liz, then she was my assistant for awhile and we talk frequently,” said Arsenault. “She asked for my thoughts and I suggested we make this game the fundraiser since Gianna is close to Kaytlin and the family. It worked out the way it should.”

Prior to the game, Shelly DiBiase was honored and came on to the field, where Kaytlin DiBiase presented her with flowers. Former Ram Kiana DiBiase, the older of the two girls, was also on hand.

“It means a lot,” Kaytlin DiBiase said. “When we were setting up, I thought I was going to cry.”

“It was great having everybody come support this cause,” said Koharian. “It was really emotional having Shelly come out, especially after finding out she was cancer-free. That was the best part of the day. The cause is the most important thing.”

On the field, both teams are contenders this fall after reaching the preliminary round of the Western A playoffs in 2014.

Portland, behind the prolific scoring of McIntyre, opened with 3-0 victories at Noble and at home over Biddeford. After falling, 1-0, at Marshwood, the Bulldogs were outscored by visiting Massabesic, 5-3.

Deering alternated losses and wins in its first four outings. After opening with a 4-0 home loss to Thornton Academy, the Rams eked out a 1-0 overtime victory at Westbrook. A 4-0 home setback to defending Class A champion Scarborough was followed by a 5-1 triumph at South Portland.

Deering dominated this rivalry for years, winning every 21st Century meeting until Portland finally broke through Sept. 16, 2010 (5-2). Since then, the Rams have won three of four, including a 1-0 victory at the Bulldogs last fall.

Monday, Portland finally solved Deering, but it couldn’t exhale until after the final horn.

In the fourth minute, the Rams set the tone as they had a couple great looks at the cage, only to see Gaudet deny both DiBiase and Wells. A follow-up shot from senior Pisey Chhorn was blocked and the Bulldogs finally swept the ball away.

Deering kept the pressure on and forced Gaudet to deny Chhorn in close and Wells on a rebound.

If that wasn’t enough, Gaudet twice had to face down DiBiase and twice more, she stood tall.

Finally, with 17:21 to go in the half, the hosts broke through as senior Lili Kien passed across to DiBiase, who one-timed a blast that Gaudet couldn’t stop for a 1-0 lead.

That score didn’t change before halftime, but the Rams had their chances to earn some breathing room.

After Portland’s first chance saw a McIntyre rush broken up by Deering junior goalie Lillian Frager, DiBiase was robbed at the other end.

After Arsenault took a timeout, Portland had a good look, but sophomore Sidney Gilbert shot just wide.

With 2:31 left, on the game’s first penalty corner, Wells shot on target, but Gaudet made the save.

At the other end, Portland earned a corner, but McIntyre’s blast was just wide.

In the final minute, DiBiase rushed in, but her bid was broken up.

The Rams enjoyed an 8-2 shots advantage in the first 30 minutes, but Gaudet’s seven saves kept the Bulldogs very much alive.

Deering started fast in the second half as well before Portland’s offense finally came to life.

Just 46 seconds into the half, Wells had a point blank look, but Gaudet made the save. Chhorn then had a bid, but her shot deflected just wide.

After consecutive Bulldogs corners didn’t produce a goal (Frager turned aside a McIntyre blast on the first), Portland got the equalizer on a third opportunity with 25:54 remaining. Senior Maggie Denekas set up McIntyre and her rocket rattled the cage to make it 1-1.

After Krabbe had a shot saved by Gaudet, Portland went back on the attack, but Deering senior back Kayla Thoits broke up a 2-on-1 opportunity and Gilbert took a pass from McIntyre and had a shot saved by Frager.

With 15:50 left in regulation, the Bulldogs took the lead, as McIntyre set up Madore for a 2-1 lead.

Three minutes later, the Rams pulled even.

After Kien had a long shot saved, Krabbe appeared to have an open cage on the rebound, but Alling got in front of the shot. The ball then came to DiBiase and she finished to make it 2-2.

Portland refused to hang its head and with 10:56 to go, in transition, McIntyre finished and the visitors were on top again, 3-2.

Deering tried to answer, but Gaudet made a save on a shot from the side by Chhorn, DiBiase was robbed in close and with 4:55 to play, DiBiase’s backhanded blast appeared goal-bound only to be swept away by Alling.

“Alysha gives me confidence,” Gaudet said.

“Alysha does that a lot,” Arsenault. said. “(Sweeper is) kind of a forgotten position. She does that extremely well. It’s a gift to have someone with that kind of hand-eye coordination.”

The Rams kept coming, however, and were finally rewarded with 1:34 left, when out of a scrum, Wells steered the ball home to make it 3-3.

“Kerry has determination to go in and score,” Koharian said.

Just when Deering appeared to have extended the game, however, McIntyre took matters into her skilled hands.

The faceoff found her stick and she weaved her way through the Rams’ defense before getting a good look and beating Frager.

Just 11 seconds after Wells had tied the score, McIntyre’s goal put the Bulldogs ahead for good, 4-3.

“I wanted to win for me and my goalie,” McIntyre said. “(Gianna) made amazing saves. I went out and thought, ‘I’m going to score, they’re not going to take the ball from me and I’m going to put it in the net.’ I looked at my teammates and saw them get a little discouraged, but I wanted to do it for the team.”

“I wished I had a timeout, but I saw Lauren and I knew she’d figure it out,” Arsenault said.

With 1:23 still showing, the game was far from over, however.

With 30 seconds to go, Deering earned a corner, but Gaudet cleared the ball. The Rams then earned another chance and after time expired, the hosts were able to play out the corner.

Portland wasn’t able to clear, the ball found a Deering stick and suddenly the ball appeared goal-bound. Gaudet managed to get her shoulder in the way, the ball deflected off her and sailed just over the crossbar and after 60-plus game minutes and 80-real time minutes, the Bulldogs could finally breathe and celebrate their 4-3 triumph.

“It was really stressful, but I have a good defense behind me,” Gaudet said. “It was a really nice shot, but it hit my shoulder and went over. Deering’s not a team to take lightly.

“It was really special to participate in this. Shelly’s like my Mom. It’s really nice to have this game in her honor. I’m glad Kaytlin got to score, but I’m happy things turned out like they did.”

“We went into the game knowing we wouldn’t lose,” McIntyre said. “We’ve had some rough years against Deering, they’re our rivals, but we didn’t let it get to our heads. We started strong and ended strong. We kept up the intensity. We had to stay together as a team and make it work.”

“We beat Deering in scrimmages, but not in real games,” added Arsenault, who defeated the Rams for just the third time in her 16 seasons. “This once counted. Finally. We had a mess of a game Saturday we needed to recover from because we’re better than that. It took us the first half to figure it out. We have the ability to score like that.

“This gets us back on track. We were starting to have a little crisis of confidence. When you can come back on a team like Deering at their place, without an integral player like (injured senior) Kate Brewer, it means even more. A lot of kids contributed a lot today. It’s a reminder that if we go down, we don’t have to stay down and we have the ability to come back.”

Portland got 14 saves from Gaudet and a couple more from Alling.

“When a goal goes by, someone tells me, ‘We’ve got you, we’ll score for you,'” Gaudet said. “It’s nice to have them behind me.”

“Gianna can stop anything,” said McIntyre. “She’s unstoppable. She’s like a brick wall.”

“It was very fitting that a goalie’s save ended the game since she kept us in it the whole time,” Arsenault added.

The Bulldogs had a 5-3 edge in corners.

Deering had a 19-10 shots advantage and got six saves from Frager, but it wasn’t enough.

“It was really intense,” Kaytlin DiBiase said. “I tried really hard. I gave it my all.”

“I would have liked the outcome to be different, but it was a great game,” Koharian said. “I wish we’d won. It was a hard-fought. It could have gone either way. We dominated the first half, but we didn’t score more, then in the second half, we came back. We can score when we want to. In the past, we might have folded, so that’s a bright spot.”

Midway point nears

It seems like the season just started, but the halfway pole arrives at the end of the week, so victories will be critical going forward.

Deering is back in action Wednesday at Sanford. Saturday brings a visit from Massabesic. The Rams are at Noble Monday.

“We’re playing really well as a team,” said Kaytlin DiBiase. “We have potential. We have to work on talking more and spreading out and working on our passing.” 

“I think the SMAA is anybody’s game at any time in the season,” said Koharian. “Every game will be a battle. We’ll keep fighting.”

Portland hosts Gorham Wednesday and goes to Bonny Eagle Friday. A key home showdown versus nemesis Cheverus, which eliminated the Bulldogs from last year’s playoffs, looms Tuesday of next week.

“This brings up our intensity as a team,” said McIntyre. “We’ll work on our passing. This shows we can beat anybody if we’re more consistent.”

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

Shelly DiBiase is given flowers by her daughter, Deering senior Kaytlin DiBiase, prior to Monday’s Deering-Portland field hockey contest. The game doubled as “Shelly’s Game,” a fundraiser for Shelly DiBiase, who has been battling cancer. It was learned prior to game-time that DiBiase is now cancer-free. Kaytlin DiBiase had two goals, but the Bulldogs won, 4-3.

Portland sophomore Charlie Green propels the ball forward.

Deering senior Lili Kien and Portland senior Holly Hinchliffe fight for possession.

Deering senior Kaytlin DiBiase (right) is congratulated by seniors Lili Kien (13), Pisey Chhorn (14) and Kristin Francoeur after a first half goal. 

Deering senior Katy Cyr shields Portland senior Lauren McIntyre from the ball. McIntrye had three goals, including the winner with 1:23 to play.

Deering senior Pisey Chhorn and Portland sophomore Clay Bessire watch as the ball pops up between them.

Deering junior Cote McKenzie plays the ball as Portland sophomore Emma Scholz defends.

Deering senior Kerry Wells and Portland senior Holly Hinchliffe battle for the ball.

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