South Portland celebrates an early goal in Friday’s 13-12 home win over Yarmouth.

SOUTH PORTLAND—It’s time to stop sleeping on South Portland.

The Red Riots’ boys’ lacrosse team came into the 2019 season believing it could be something special, but the pundits thought otherwise.

If a pair of 16-goal victories to open the year weren’t impressive enough, South Portland’s statement victory against one of the state’s traditional powers Friday afternoon at Martin Memorial Field should do the trick.

Hosting Yarmouth in a game that had a little of everything, the Red Riots shot to a 7-2 lead, then saw the Clippers come back to tie it before South Portland grabbed a 9-7 halftime lead. 

Again, Yarmouth answered in the second half, but the Red Riots laughed last and held on for a pivotal 13-12 victory.

South Portland got four goals from senior Cooper Mehlhorn and three from junior Alex Stevens as it improved to 3- 0 and dropped the Clippers to 3-2 in the process.

“It’s a big win,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “We never relinquished the lead.”

Top teams

South Portland started with a 17-1 win at Deering, then handled visiting Cheverus by the same score.

Yarmouth, meanwhile, stifled visiting Greely in the rain in its first game, 13-4, then dropped a heartbreaker at Cape Elizabeth, 8-7, before handling visiting Kennebunk (13-5) and winning at North Yarmouth Academy (16-2).

The teams squared off for the sixth time in eight seasons. Last year, the host Clippers eked out a one-goal win, 8-7, to go up, 4-1 in the series.

Friday, on a rainy afternoon, it was the Red Riots’ turn to prevail by a goal.

Yarmouth struck first just 28 seconds in, as junior Anders Corey set up senior Connor Senger for a shot South Portland senior goalie Quinn Watson couldn’t stop, but the Red Riots’ offense would awaken.

With 9:37 left in the first period, senior David Fiorini scored unassisted to tie it.

A mere 39 seconds later, Stevens scored an unassisted goal for the lead.

With 8:21 remaining in the frame, Fiorini set up senior Logan Doucette for another goal, forcing Clippers assistant coach Jon Miller (who was filling in for David Pearl, who missed the game with illness) to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as with 7:04 to go, Doucette scored on a rebound for a 4-1 advantage.

With 4:05 remaining, in transition, senior Michael Guertler set up Corey to end the run, but 19 seconds later, junior Isaac Sobey answered.

With 3:31 on the clock, sophomore Nick Tolan fed Stevens for a goal and with 2:26 remaining, Fiorini’s unassisted goal stretched the lead to 7-2.

Yarmouth began to creep back with a man-up goal with 30.8 seconds left, as junior Preston Jancovic set up senior Andrew Garrett.

A full-on melee then ensued at the first quarter horn and multiple penalties followed.

That seemed to galvanize the Clippers, who scored four straight goals to tie it.

Playing man-up, Yarmouth pulled within 7-4 just seven seconds into the frame, when junior Gavin Hamm set up Corey.

With 8:01 left in the half, in transition, Guertler passed to senior Kurt Heywood for a goal to cut the deficit to two.

A minute later, Guertler assisted on a Jancovic goal to make it a one-goal contest.

The Clippers completed their comeback when Hamm scored unassisted with 5:14 remaining before halftime, but 18 seconds later, the Red Riots answered and retook the lead, 8-7, on an unassisted tally from Sobey, who beat Yarmouth junior goalie Spencer King.

With 2 minutes on the clock, South Portland scored man-up, as Stevens set up Mehlhorn for his first goal, and the Red Riots took a 9-7 advantage to the break.

There would be little separation in the second half as well.

With 10:55 to play in the third quarter, Hamm scored to cut the deficit to one.

Stevens (from Mehlhorn) answered two minutes later, but Guertler assisted on junior Ben Hamilton’s goal with 7:18 on the clock to again pull Yarmouth within one, 10-9.

With 5:39 to play in the quarter, Stevens set up Mehlhorn for a goal, but with 3:07 showing, Garrett scored to make it a one-goal contest, 11-10, heading for the final period.

There, just 36 seconds in, the Clippers tied it again, as Hamm scored, but Yarmouth never could go on top, as 30 seconds later, Mehlhorn scored unassisted to put South Portland ahead to stay.

Mehlhorn scored his team’s final goal with 9:46 remaining and from there, the Red Riots had to hold on for dear life.

With 6:56 to play, Guertler, the assist man, scored a goal of his own to pull Yarmouth within 13-12, but despite some good chances down the stretch, including a shot just before the horn which Watson saved, it wasn’t quite enough and South Portland celebrated its scintillating victory.

“We played so well to start, then we let that melee bring us down and that was my fault,” Tom Fiorini said. “A great team can play horrible at times and still find a way to win. We did that. We got the stops when we needed to and made some nice offensive plays. 

“David ran our offense in the first half and (Yarmouth) focused on him in the second half, so Cooper took over. You can stop one of them, but not both.”

Mehlhorn had four goals, while Stevens added three and Doucette, David Fiorini and Sobey all finished with two. Watson made 10 saves.

South Portland had a 27-22 edge in shots on cage.

The Clippers were paced by three goals from Hamm, two apiece from Corey and Garrett and one each from Guertler (who had four assists) Hamilton, Heywood, Jancovic and Senger. King made 14 saves.

Excitement to come

Yarmouth looks to bounce back Tuesday when York pays a visit. The Clippers have another big test next Friday at defending Class A North champion Falmouth.

South Portland, meanwhile, hosts Falmouth Wednesday (the Yachtsmen are coming off a loss Friday at Cape Elizabeth). Home games versus Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough and visits to defending Class B champion Brunswick and reigning Class A champion Thornton Academy also remain.

“We were where we wanted to be, on the quiet side of things, but not anymore,” Tom Fiorini said. “We weren’t ranked in any polls and the guys used that as fuel.

“Falmouth will be fired up for us. The kids will be ready.”

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

Previous Yarmouth-South Portland results

@ Yarmouth 8 South Portland 7

Yarmouth 7 @ South Portland 6 (OT)

South Portland 10 @ Yarmouth 7 

Yarmouth 15 @ South Portland 4

@ Yarmouth 12 South Portland 2

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