LEWISTON — Down 1-0 through two periods, the underdogs from Portland/Deering figured they were just getting started against top-seeded Thornton Academy.

“We got more and more chances. We realized we could play with them,” sophomore forward Dante Tocci said.

Tocci scored the tying goal and Whitfield Steel wristed in the winner as the fifth-seeded Bulldogs upset the Trojans 2-1 in a Class A South boys’ hockey semifinal Saturday at the Colisee.

Portland (10-10) advanced to the South title game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Colisee against No. 2 Biddeford (14-6). In their only meeting this year, Biddeford beat the Bulldogs, 4-1.

Portland also lost to Thornton 6-1 just two weeks ago.

But in this parity-driven Class A South, it didn’t matter.

“We knew coming in that any team could win it,” Trojans Coach Michael Roux said. “We had plenty of opportunities to score and we didn’t. They played very well defensively.”

Thornton (11-8) outshot the Bulldogs 31-25 but freshman goalie Ryan Becker (30 saves) looked mature beyond his years, especially when the crashing Trojans caused several scrums in front of the net.

“He’s a good one,” Portland Coach Jeff Beaney said.

Portland also has a great one in senior Donato (Don) Tocci, a defenseman noted for his offensive skills. But Tocci rarely left the ice Saturday, locking down the Bulldogs’ defense.

“There’s a reason he’s up for the Travis Roy (Award),” Beaney said. “He’s been a dominant player for four years.”

Don Tocci missed three games with injury, including the Thornton game.

His return – along with the defensive play of Mikias Silva, Max Cheever and Bay Smalley – made it tough on the Trojans.

“(Tocci) has all the tools to play at a higher level,” Roux said. “We have the talent in our locker room, too. Just couldn’t bury the puck.”

The Trojans took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal 12:22 into the first period. From close range, Alex St. John passed over to Thomas Levasseur. He shot and kept at it, jabbing in a rebound.

It stayed 1-0 for a long time as Decker and Thornton’s Seth Dube (23 saves) were solid in net.

Portland got the tying goal at 3:15 of the third period. Dante Tocci chased the puck and set himself up.

“It went off the glass. I went around (Dube). Over the shoulder was open,” said Tocci, who roofed for a 1-1 score.

Beaney sensed good things. “We had a lot of gas left and we were turning the tide,” he said.

Steele’s winner came at 10:39. Teammate Walter Lewandowski was tripped skating through the slot. The referee signaled penalty but no one had touched the puck. Whitfield skated in.

“I was wide open. I just had to shoot it high,” Whitfield said. He tucked it under the crossbar for a 2-1 lead. Jacob Luce has an assist.

Thornton got a power play at 11:17. Don Tocci was everywhere on the penalty skill, shutting out the Trojans. Thornton pulled its goalie with 53 seconds left but didn’t get a shot on net.

Don Tocci looked exhausted afterward, but with a smile.

“We just battled,” he said. “It’s all about the battle. I didn’t want it to be my last hockey game.”

Beaney, the former University of Southern Maine coach, is in his fourth year directing the Bulldogs. He said this is the farthest a Portland team has gone since the Bulldogs reached the 2001 state title game, losing to Waterville.

Portland and Deering merged programs in 2012-13.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

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