Cheverus senior Emma Gallant makes a move on a South Portland defender during the Stags’ 5-1 win Friday afternoon. Gallant led the way with three goals and an assist. Hoffer photo.

PORTLAND—Cheverus’ girls’ soccer team is facing unprecedented expectations this fall, but according to senior captain Emma Gallant, the Stags welcome the challenge.

“There’s pressure this year, but we thrive off of that,” said Gallant.

And Friday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, Gallant and her teammates demonstrated what all the fuss is about.

Hosting South Portland, Cheverus came out strong and less than three minutes in, went on top to stay, as Gallant served a corner kick in front where senior captain Lauren Jordan headed it home to set the tone.

Gallant then took center-stage, doubling the lead and after the Red Riots got on the board, courtesy senior captain Hattie Tetzlaff, Gallant struck again for a 3-1 halftime lead.

Less than a minute into the second half, Gallant completed her hat trick and junior Mia Kratzer added a goal to help the Stags go on to a 5-1 victory.

“We wanted to come out strong,” said Gallant, who is also one of the state’s premier track sprinters. “The whole team wants to play for the seniors this year and the seniors are looking forward to the year. My freshman year, we weren’t considered all that strong, but we’ve moved up the ranks every year. I think this is the year to do it. We’re excited.”

Fast start

Cheverus made it to the Class A South Final a year ago, losing to Scarborough, 3-1, to finish 14-3.

South Portland went 4-8-3, losing, 1-0, to Windham in the Class A South preliminary round. The Red Riots welcomed a new coach this year in Kevin St. Jarre.

In last year’s meeting, the Stags won in South Portland, 3-0.

Friday, on an unseasonably cool (62 degree) afternoon, Cheverus controlled play most of the way.

The Stags’ first good scoring chance resulted in the game’s first goal, as the hosts earned a corner kick and Gallant lofted the ball perfectly to Jordan, who headed it past Red Riots senior goalkeeper Maria Buck for a 1-0 lead with 37:03 to go in the first half.

“I usually just try to land the ball on the 6, but Lauren’s a hunter,” Gallant said. “That gave us momentum. We did exactly what we wanted to do.”

“I was happy to see us score on a set piece,” said Cheverus coach Craig Roberts. “That’s a nice way to set the tone. The girls were nervous. We’re senior-laden, but they’re figuring out the high expectations of being a senior leader. Getting an early goal allowed them to play more loose.”

The Stags then had a series of near-misses, as Buck saved a shot by Gallant, sophomore Riley O’Mara missed wide, Kratzer hit the crossbar, Gallant rang a shot off the far post and junior Lily Paszyc missed just wide.

Then, with 22:11 to go before halftime, Gallant doubled the lead, dribbling through three defenders before firing a shot past Buck for a 2-0 advantage.

To their credit, the Red Riots didn’t hang their heads and bounced right back.

With 19:39 on the clock, senior Mackenzie Farnham sent a long pass ahead to Tetzlaff and after a Cheverus defender failed to play the ball, Tetzlaff was able to go one-on-one against Stags junior goalkeeper Neve Cawley before beating Cawley to cut the deficit in half.

Gallant restored the two-goal lead with 14:21 left in the half, this time getting through the defense before beating Buck with a pretty left-footed shot to make the score 3-1.

Late in the half, Buck dove to deny Paszyc, dove to rob Gallant and twice denied bids from Kratzer before Gallant ripped a shot off the crossbar, keeping the Cheverus lead at two goals heading into the break.

In the first 40 minutes, the Stags enjoyed a whopping 15-2 shots advantage. A dozen saves by Buck kept the score respectable.

Gallant wasted no time getting her hat trick goal when the second half commenced, as with 39:02 to play, she scored unassisted, again finishing with her left foot.

“I was given a lot of space today,” Gallant said. “I played a little midfield, a little wing. Our center-forwards and other midfielders did a good job clearing space and making runs. Attacking space worked for me.”

“Emma was really good today at using the space given to her that was created by others,” Roberts said. “She filled space on the dribble. She’s worked a ton at her strength. It’s helped her get faster at track and out here. That strength gives her confidence and makes her more versatile.”

After Kratzer was denied by a diving Buck and a sure goal by Stags sophomore Julia Kratzer on a corner kick was swept off the line by South Portland junior back Annie VonSeggern, Mia Kratzer scored unassisted with 12:26 to go and Cheverus closed out its 5-1 victory.

“We went in with a game plan and I thought when we were able to implement what we talked about, we found space and opportunities,” Roberts said. “As a coach, you’d like all the opportunities to go in, but that’s not very realistic. We found open players when we needed to.

“There is pressure this year. Since I’ve been here, we’ve always had a strong team culture. We’ve been fortunate the past few years to get a bunch of soccer players in and become a good team. I don’t want to let the girls down and the girls want to make sure they do everything they can do for one another. We’re not a team that has a long history of progressing far into the playoffs.”

The Stags finished with a 22-3 shots advantage and got two saves from Cawley. Cheverus took eight corner kicks and surrendered just two.

South Portland got 17 saves from Buck and played hard for 80 minutes.

“I liked how we played in the first half, then we ran out of gas,” St. Jarre said. “Cheverus has a lot of good players. This was a growth experience and we’ll keep building on it. There’s a lot of heart on this team. There’s leadership I’m proud of.”

The Red Riots are home versus perennial contender Windham Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of positives to build on,” said St. Jarre. “If we get our offense to release, I think we’ll rack up some goals. We have to link up our midfield to our forwards better. All I’m thinking now is Windham.”

Cheverus figures to get a pair of road tests next week, as it plays at rival Portland Monday, then visits Marshwood Friday.

“We’re still figuring it out,” Roberts said. “I do think by the end of the year, we won’t look back with regrets. It’s a deep league. We’ll get tested every time. It won’t get any easier.”

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

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