Scarborough’s Marcus McKeough, left, Daniel Travers, Elliot Dumais, Brian Farino and Liam Bridgham celebrate a Bridgham goal during the Red Storm’s 2-0 victory over Thornton Academy in Friday’s Class A South preliminary round playoff game. Scarborough will travel to top-ranked Gorham for the quarterfinals Tuesday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

SCARBOROUGH—Regardless of its late-season struggles, the idea of Scarborough’s perennial powerhouse boys’ soccer team being viewed as an underdog just doesn’t seem proper.

Or realistic.

And you can be assured that the higher seeded teams in the region don’t view the Red Storm that way and that Scarborough will relish in that role it after making a positive statement in its first playoff test Friday afternoon.

The eighth-ranked Red Storm, who won just once in their final five regular season games, hosted No. 9 Thornton Academy, last year’s underdog-who-made-noise, at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex and thanks to a strong 80-minute defensive effort and goals just before and after halftime, extended their season.

After 39 minutes devoid of good chances, Scarborough got the only goal it would need with 51.7 seconds left in the first half, as off a corner kick, senior Liam Bridgham banged home a loose ball.

Bridgham scored again, in much more impressive fashion, 64 seconds into the second half and the Red Storm had some breathing room.

While the Golden Trojans attempted to rally and had some good looks, Scarborough senior goalkeeper Nathan Taggart held them at bay and the Red Storm went on to a 2-0 victory.

Scarborough improved to 10-4-1, ended Thornton Academy’s season at 6-8-1 and advanced to visit top-ranked, undefeated Gorham (13-0-1) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 6 p.m.

“We hadn’t had the results, but we felt good about how we’re playing,” said longtime Red Storm coach Mark Diaz, who earned his 265th win with the program. “We weren’t scoring, but we were playing well as a team. We made the most of our chances today. We could have had a couple more.” 

A first

Scarborough and Thornton Academy had never before met in the playoffs.

The Red Storm won nine games during the regular season, but a 1-3-1 stretch to close the year dropped them to the No. 8 seed, necessitating a preliminary round playoff game for the second year in a row (after not needing one for the previous 14). 

The Golden Trojans, who stunned undefeated South Portland in last year’s quarterfinals before losing to eventual regional champion Portland in the semifinals, dropped their first three contests this fall, but wound up 6-7-1 and ninth in the region. 

On Sept. 6 in Saco, Scarborough prevailed, 2-0, behind goals from seniors Anthony Clavette and Elliot Duamis.

Friday, Thornton Academy hoped to reverse that result, but instead, the Red Storm made it to the quarterfinals for the 16th consecutive year.

The first chance of the game came in the third minute, when senior Matt Ricker attempted to find junior Ben Hatch in the box, but Golden Trojans sophomore goalkeeper Nick Lea broke it up.

After Scarborough senior David Trammell missed just side, Thornton Academy’s first chance resulted in a shot by senior Eric McCallum which Taggart saved.

After Taggart had a shot saved by Lea, junior Daniel Travers missed wide, Hatch had a shot saved, Taggart sent a shot high, Clavette was denied by Lea, Trammell had a shot saved, Trammell missed just wide and a Hatch header off a corner kick was just high.

But just when it appeared the game was going to head to halftime scoreless, the Red Storm struck quickly and got the jump.

On a corner kick, senior Marcus McKeough served the ball into the box, the Golden Trojans weren’t able to clear it and the ball landed at Bridgham’s feet for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead.

“Marcus took the corner, it went back post and deflected right to me,” said Bridgham. “That was a huge lift. We had the wind in the first half and we wanted to get up early. We did that.”

“We always defend well and that (goal) was a huge lift,” Diaz said. “We feel like if we get one early, we’ll defend even better.”

In the first half, Scarborough held a 5-1 edge in shots and had a 4-0 advantage in corner kicks.

During the break, the Red Storm talked about the importance of getting a second goal and it didn’t take long to produce.

After Dumais dribbled through the defense and got a shot off just 14 seconds into the half, only to have Lea make the save, Scarborough kept possession and worked the ball around from Trammell to Ricker and finally to Bridgham, who ripped a left-footed shot from 25-yards out that sailed past the futile dive of Lea and into the net, just inside the far post, for a 2-0 advantage with 38:56 to play.

“It was important to score a second goal, especially with the wind in our face,” Bridgham said. “I put the ball on my left foot. I didn’t want to hit it with my left foot, but I knew I had to. I thought I hit it well. I wasn’t sure it would get in the corner, but I was hoping.”

“That was a beautiful strike,” Diaz said. “We’ve hit some good shots. That one fell for us.”

The second goal awakened the Thornton Academy offense, but despite some good chances, the Golden Trojans couldn’t rally.

With 35:04 to play, off a corner kick, freshman Simon Dimatteo fired a shot which Taggart saved.

Fifty-eight seconds later, a shot from McCallum sailed just high.

With 32:49 remaining, Bridgham made an impact on defense, breaking up the rush of junior Joao Pedro Castron in the box.

Scarborough transitioned to the other end and senior Patrick Clonan set up Hatch for a potential breakaway, but the Thornton Academy defense denied him a shot.

With 30:48 left, junior Sam Edborg appeared primed to cut the deficit in half, as his promising low shot to the far post appeared goal-bound, but Taggart dove at the last second to knock the ball away.

With 27:11 to go, junior Alec McAlary ripped a 30-yard shot with his left foot, which forced Taggart to leap and make a finger-tip stop.

The visitors’ last good chance came with 23:02 remaining, when a long shot by Castron was snared by Taggart. 

The Red Storm nearly got another goal with 16:45 on the clock, but a blast from Clavette hit the crossbar.

Scarborough’s defense sealed it from there, not allowing another shot, and the Red Storm advanced, 2-0.

“It was very tough at the end of the season,” said Bridgham. “We had a hard draw and we had a lot of players who were out. Getting them back today helped us get it together.”

“We got some guys back and other guys have been developing,” said Diaz. “That’s made us deeper. It paid off for us in the second half.”

Scarborough enjoyed a 9-5 advantage in shots on frame and took six corner kicks to the Golden Trojans’ one. Taggart made five saves.

Lea stopped seven shots for Thornton Academy.

Upset special?

Scarborough suffered a 4-0 home loss to Gorham Sept. 11.

“It was 1-0 with 15 minutes to play, then they got a second one and I didn’t like how we responded,” Diaz said. “They had some nice goals.”

The teams have met nine previous times in the playoffs. The Red Storm hold a 7-2 lead, but the Rams took the most recent, 3-1, in the 2016 Class A South semifinals.

“We have nothing to lose,” Bridgham said. “We’re the 8 seed going against the number one, so what can go wrong? We just have to win. We have to move the ball quicker. Their midfield is better than TA’s. This gives us momentum.”

“We have a big challenge Tuesday,” Diaz said. “We’ll go over there and compete. Not having a bye keeps us in rhythm. The team in rhythm in a quarterfinal can have a slight advantage. They’re a very good team. We’ll just have to work hard. We’ll enjoy being the underdog.”

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

Scarborough junior Ben Hatch handles the ball as Thornton Academy junior Alec McAlary defends.

Thornton Academy junior Max Spaulding heads the ball away from Scarborough senior Liam Bridgham.

Thornton Academy freshman Cody Bowker plays the ball as Scarborough junior Daniel Travers gives chase.

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