South Portland senior Lydia Grant dribbles past Portland/Deering senior Carly Hagelin during the Red Riots’ 5-1 victory Monday.

SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s field hockey team keeps getting better and now it has its eye on the prize.

A playoff berth.

Monday afternoon at Wainwright Farms, the Red Riots won consecutive games for the first time this autumn when it got the jump on visiting Portland/Deering and broke open a close game with a flurry of goals early in the second half.

Senior standout Lydia Grant opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but the Bulldogs countered when senior Noelle Walker scored on a one-timer.

With 20:38 left in the first half, the Red Riots went on top to stay, as Grant set up senior Sydney Mitschele for a 2-1 lead.

After South Portland held off a Portland/Deering threat just before halftime, the Red Riots ended all doubt early in the second half.

Grant provided a cushion with 27:53 to play and junior Lucie Beaulieu tacked on two more goals in a two-minute span and South Portland went on to a 5-1 victory.

The Red Riots improved to 4-6 on the season and in the process, dropped the Bulldogs to 0-10-1.

“We’re playing our best field hockey now,” Grant said. “I feel like we’re working together and getting the ball down the field. We’ve definitely improved from the beginning. We’re working together and being positive.”

Improving

South Portland welcomed a new coach this fall in Sarah Millington, but it lost its first three games: 3-0 at Windham, 3-1 at home to Kennebunk and 2-1 at home to Thornton Academy. After downing host Noble, 2-0, the Red Riots fell at home to Gorham, 5-1. After a 4-0 win at Westbrook, South Portland lost at Massabesic (6-1) and at home to Falmouth (2-1). Thursday, the Red Riots won at Marshwood (1-0).

Portland, which is a co-op team with former rival Deering for the first time this fall, started with losses to visiting Sanford (4-0), at Scarborough (10-0), at home to Bonny Eagle (6-1), at Kennebunk (3-2), at Cheverus (7-0), at home to Westbrook (5-1), at Windham (3-1) and at home to Thornton Academy (2-0). After playing host Noble to a 2-2 tie, the Bulldogs lost, 7-2, at home to Gorham last Thursday.

In last year’s meeting, South Portland won at home, 5-2.

Monday, on a sunny but chilly (55 degrees) and windy afternoon, Portland/Deering sought its first victory since Sept, 16. 2016 (2-0 over Deering) and hoped to snap a 47-game winless skid, but South Portland beat the Bulldogs for the fifth successive season.

It took just 5 minutes, 22 seconds for the Red Riots to get the jump, as off their first penalty corner, senior Lauren DiBiase sent the ball up top to Grant, whose shot eluded several defenders, as well as Portland/Deering senior goalie Jada McIlwain before rattling the cage.

“A fast start was important,” Grant said. “That goal set the tone for the whole game.”

Back came the Bulldogs with 22:46 to go in the half, as senior Carly Hagelin sent the ball in and Walker redirected it past South Portland senior goalie Bryanna Alley to tie the game, 1-1.

“Noelle has stepped up,” Portland/Deering coach Beth Arsenault said. “She’s our leading scorer. She gets herself in the right position and executes.”

The deadlock lasted all of 4 minutes, 8 seconds, as Grant shot on goal and Mitschele deflected it home to put the Red Riots ahead to stay.

Late in the half, Portland/Deering looked to equalize, but after taking a pass from senior Aleah Murph, junior Emma Harrigan missed just wide and Harrigan had another shot saved which led to a penalty corner, which saw Murph’s shot deflect just wide.

In the first 30 minutes, the Red Riots enjoyed a 7-2 advantage in corners and a 4-2 edge in shots, but the Bulldogs were right there.

That would change in the second half and change quickly.

Just 2:07 into the second half, after a whistle momentarily stopped play, Grant dribbled into the circle and fired past McIlwain for a 3-1 lead.

“Lydia is very important for us,” Millington said. “She goes coast to coast. She feeds the ball up in the circle. She’s a powerhouse.”

Then, with 25:41 on the clock, Beaulieu got in on the fun, finishing a feed from DiBiase.

Arsenault called timeout, but it didn’t help, as with 23:21 remaining, Beaulieu drove down the right side, got past a defender, then beat McIlwain to make it 5-1.

“We knew they could score multiple goals, so we had to push and get more,” Grant said.

The Bulldogs had one final good look, but a rush by Hagelin was broken up at the last moment and the Red Riots closed out their 5-1 victory.

“We’re getting some momentum going,” Millington said. “We’ve focused on offense and hustling and saving balls from the end lines and getting rebounds. It was great to see that today. We needed to bring it in the second half and I told them that at halftime. I told them to bring it in the second half and close it out and we’ll get some momentum going into Friday.”

South Portland out-shot Portland/Deering, 13-2, got one save from Alley and had a 7-5 advantage in corners.

The Bulldogs got eight saves from McIlwain and had looks to make it closer, but couldn’t do so.

“We had our chances in the first half,” Arsenault said. “We’re trying to find our identity and unfortunately, we’re running out of time. The girls keep stepping up and doing the best they can. I can’t complain about the effort. We have lapses in games and it’s almost always when the second half starts.”

Finishing strong

Portland/Deering (16th in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) has three more opportunities to earn an elusive victory. The Bulldogs welcome Massabesic Wednesday, play at Falmouth Monday and close at home versus Marshwood Tuesday of next week.

“I feel badly for the Deering players, because this isn’t what they envisioned, but I’m impressed how they handled it and the Portland players have embraced them and make it like it’s one team,” Arsenault said. “There have been some growing pains, but I’m impressed with the character of the girls. Sometimes we step up against difficult teams and the scoreboard won’t always reflect it. I never have to worry about the girls not trying.”

South Portland, meanwhile, has a legitimate chance to reach the postseason if its finishes strong. The Red Riots (13th in Class A South, where 11 teams qualify) host defending Class A champion Biddeford Friday, go to Sanford and host Cheverus next week, then close at Scarborough Oct. 16.

“(Making playoffs) would be amazing,” Grant said. “We made a prelim game my freshman year, then nothing since, so going as a senior would be awesome.”

“We look stronger every game,” Millington said. “It’s exciting. Playoffs are a realistic goal. We have some huge games and huge opportunities coming up. I absolutely love it. We’re having so much fun.”

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

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