Forward Kyle Patterson attacks the goal during practice on Monday. He says, “This team just has the chemistry.”

SOUTH PORTLAND — During the preseason, South Portland boys’ soccer coach Bryan Hoy worried about his team’s inexperience on defense.

But in the Red Riots’ second game, against Class A runner-up Gorham, Hoy got a glimpse of the potential in the back line when they shut out the perennial powerhouse.

“We knew we were going to be really good up top, we just didn’t know what we’d be able to do defensively,” Hoy said. “Not to take credit away from Gorham, our defense just played so well and they didn’t even really get a good, clean look off of us. That was kind of the trend all season.”

South Portland, which played Gorham to a 0-0 tie, has 11 shutouts in 14 games, allowing just four goals this season.

For the first time in program history, the Red Riots ended their regular season undefeated, taking a 13-0-1 record and Class A South’s top seed into the playoffs.

South Portland is looking to cap its season with a couple of other firsts: a regional and state title.

“We are competing for a state championship. I feel like we’ve been at that point for a couple years,” Hoy said. “Now I think everyone else sees it, too.”

The Red Riots haven’t competed in a regional championship game since 1988 and never have advanced to the state final. They also haven’t earned a bye in the playoffs since 2010, when only the bottom two teams faced each other in the prelims.

Charlie Cronin controls the ball during practice Monday. Cronin moved back into the midfield this season, and he’s got 18 goals.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, South Portland will be home against eighth-seeded Thornton Academy (9-5-1) in the quarterfinals. The Red Riots shut out Thornton 3-0 in their opener.

“They’ve had a great season. They don’t have any weaknesses,” Thornton Coach Andrew Carlson said. “We’ll go up there and challenge them, and maybe if we can get a few breaks, extend the game and do something positive.”

After falling 1-0 to Scarborough in last season’s quarterfinals, the Red Riots returned seven starters, including goalkeeper Riley Hasson, who Hoy initially hoped would ease his team’s defensive weaknesses.

“With Riley back there, we know we’re ready for shots, but it’s almost like he hasn’t even faced many this year,” Hoy said. “Those back four guys work together and cover for each other so well.”

Anchoring the defense are seniors Riley Ellis and Sean Scott. Hoy said Scott is physical and “attacks the ball” while Ellis is fast and “cleans everything up.” On the outside are Dillan Bolduc and Jacob Milton – both of whom have stepped up after not playing many varsity minutes before this year.

Hoy also credits midfielders Aleks Kaurin and Dylan Houle with “stopping the attack before they can really get it started.”

Senior goalie Riley Hasson dives to stop a shot during practice Monday. South Portland recorded 11 shutouts in 14 games this season.

“It helps when our defensive center midfielders get back,” Ellis said. “Communication is big; we’re always talking with each other and letting each other know who has who and where guys are coming from.”

Hasson, a first-team All-SMAA pick, has faced an unexpected challenge this season.

“We’ve had such a strong defense that I’ve had long periods of time where I really haven’t had to do much,” Hasson said. “So staying focused has definitely been important this year.”

South Portland returned its top goal scorer in Charlie Cronin and added Kyle Patterson – a transfer from Gorham who said playing his old team was “super weird.”

“They know all my moves so I had to switch it up,” Patterson said. “This team just has the chemistry. We know each other’s movement on the field.”

Patterson filled the role of striker, allowing Cronin to move back into the midfield, which Hoy said is his “natural position.”

The pair leads the team with 18 goals apiece.

Other key offensive threats include midfielders Anthony Perron and Cooper Mehlhorn.

Head coach Bryan Hoy says he has seen his South Portland team as being good enough to compete for a state championship for the last couple of years. “Now I think everyone else sees it, too.”

“If teams try to key in on (Cronin), that almost helps us because now they’re leaving Cooper (Mehlhorn) or (Anthony) Perron or Kyle (Patterson) open,” Hoy said. “We can score in a number of different ways. If they take one thing away, we just find the next thing.”

Hoy, who began coaching at South Portland in 2007, notched his 100th career victory Oct. 3 when the Red Riots shut out Cheverus, 3-0.

But the Red Riots haven’t let success get to their heads.

“There’s such a small difference in skill between the top teams so every game can go either way,” Cronin said. “There’s really no telling what could happen. We just have to go in and give it our all.”

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or

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