Cheverus junior Madisyn Durgin defends Thornton Academy freshman Adriana Marianacci during the Stags 2-1 victory Wednesday.

PORTLAND—Cheverus’ field hockey team has struggled this fall protecting leads and while the Stags gave one up Wednesday afternoon, they weren’t about to do so twice.

Hosting Thornton Academy in a battle of Class A South contenders at Shea Field, Cheverus struck first midway through the first half, when freshman Isabella Cloutier set up classmate Taylor Tory to break the ice.

The Golden Trojans then came back strong in the second half, pulling even with 16:17 to go, when freshman Faith Tillotson finished.

Thornton Academy bid for the lead, but Stags senior goalie Hannah Woodford and her defense stood tall and with 2:39 left, junior Lucia Pompeo set up sophomore Sammi Snow for her first career goal to give Cheverus the lead back.

Again, the Golden Trojans looked to rally, but despite earning a pair of penalty corners in the game’s final 30 seconds, including one that played out after time expired, they couldn’t equalize and the Stags held on for a 2-1 victory.

Cheverus improved to 5-2-3 on the season and in the process, dropped Thornton Academy to 5-5.

“None of the games this year have been easy,” said Stags’ first-year coach Theresa Hendrix. “We knew coming into the season that every team and every game would be tough. Our goal is to be consistent and the girls did that today.”

Every game an adventure

Other than defending state champion Biddeford and Massabesic, who were undefeated going into play Wednesday, everyone else in Class A South has had its ups and downs this fall.

Cheverus and Thornton Academy have been right in the middle of some memorable games.

The Golden Trojans opened with a 2-1 home loss to Gorham, then edged host South Portland (2-1). After a 2-0 home loss to Massabesic, Thornton Academy blanked host Falmouth, 1-0, and beat visiting Marshwood by the same score, then downed visiting Portland/Deering (2-0) and visiting Noble (2-1). After a 4-2 loss at Biddeford, the Golden Trojans fell at home to Sanford, 1-0.

The Stags, meanwhile, settled for a 2-2 tie at Marshwood in the opener, then let a two-goal lead slip away and lost on a penalty corner after the final horn at Biddeford, 3-2. Cheverus handled visiting Sanford (5-2), then blanked visiting Portland/Deering (7-0) and edged host Scarborough in double-overtime (2-1). After a 1-1 home tie against Bonny Eagle, the Stags lost at Kennebunk (2-1), let a three-goal lead slip away in a 3-3 home tie against Westbrook, then Monday, outlasted host Windham, 2-1, on Pompeo’s goal in the second overtime.

Last year, host Cheverus blanked Thornton Academy, 2-0, behind a pair of Pompeo goals.

Wednesday, on an overcast, 55-degree afternoon, the Golden Trojans hoped to beat the Stags for the first time since Sept. 9, 2016 (2-1 in Portland), but instead, Cheverus managed its third straight win in the series.

Tory got the game’s first good look, in the 10th minute, but missed just wide on a penalty corner shot.

At the other end, Thornton Academy freshman Zoey Pennell raced in but was denied by Woodford.

The Stags broke the ice with 18:14 left before halftime, as Cloutier got the ball to Tory, who sent it past Golden Trojans junior goalie Madison Vachon and into the cage for a 1-0 advantage.

Late in the half, Vachon kept it a one goal game when she denied a Pompeo shot after Pompeo weaved through three defenders.

Cheverus had a 5-1 edge in shots on cage and a 4-1 advantage in penalty corners in the first half, but that would change when the second half began.

After Vachon saved a Cloutier shot in the first minute of the second half, senior Lily Stark tried to pull Thornton Academy even, only to be denied by Woodford.

After Pompeo had two bids on the doorstep turned aside, junior Madisyn Durgin tried to extend the lead, but had a shot saved by Vachon and with 18:32 left, Durgin set up Tory for a sure goal, but Vachon came up huge again.

Then, with 16:17 to play, the visitors tied it up, as Tillotson sent a shot on goal and it tipped off a Cheverus defender’s stick and past Woodford and into the cage to make the score 1-1.

“Sometimes we struggle with momentum and it took that goal to light a fire,” said Golden Trojans coach Lori Smith. “We’ve tried different formations and we started to get used to it today.”

After evening the score, Thornton Academy looked to go ahead, but Woodford didn’t let it happen.

First, she made a save on a shot by Stark, then turned aside a rebound from junior Aliyah Bureau.

Woodford then saved another Bureau bid.

“I wanted to do whatever I could to stop the ball, throw my body in front of it or whatever, to make the save,” Woodford said. “The defense really stepped up this game. We’ve focused primarily on defense in practice and to see it come out in a game was great. They did a great job. I knew I could count on the defense. If I didn’t make the first save, I knew I could count on them to make the second.”

“Hannah’s come a long way this year with her focus and confidence,” Hendrix said. “We’re confident in her when the ball gets in the circle. Our defense as a whole was on point today.”

With 14:20 to play in regulation, Hendrix called timeout and right out of the break, Tory rushed in on Vachon, but the ball was knocked away at the last second.

The Golden Trojans went back on the attack and got a great look from Stark, who was stonewalled by Woodford, who then saved a rebound shot from Marianacci before senior Madison Skillins steered another rebound bid wide.

With just over nine minutes left, controversy ensued, as Woodford had to dive to rob Bureau and Smith felt that on the rebound, that the ball hit a defender in the goal, which would have resulted in a penalty stroke, but no call was made.

Thornton Academy did get a penalty corner out of it, but a shot from Pennell was kicked aside by Woodford.

With 6 minutes to go, a high shot from Stark nearly put the visitors on top, but it rang off the post.

Then, Cheverus rediscovered its offense.

After a Hendrix timeout with 3:29 to play, Pompeo got possession and raced in up the right side. She got a step on a defender, then crossed in front, where Snow was waiting and Snow sent the ball past Vachon and into the cage with 2:39 remaining for a 2-1 Stags’ advantage.

“We switched up our positioning and put it all in for the last few minutes,” Snow said. “We had a lot of trust in each other. Lucia got me the ball and I just swept it in. I was just trying to hit it. The whole adrenaline rush went to my head. I was so excited. I’m playing a more offensive role this year. It’s challenging, but it’s exciting to be in the middle of the action.”

“Sammi works hard and gets touches on the ball,” Hendrix said. “She fights until it pays off. That was her first varsity goal. She’s a new position this year and we’re super-excited for her.”

Thornton Academy wasn’t finished, however, as with 1:24 remaining, Stark had a good bid which Woodford saved.

After failing to convert on a penalty corner with 27 seconds to go, the Golden Trojans earned another with just seconds left and after the final horn sounded, by rule, they were allowed to play it out.

Thornton Academy would even put the ball in the cage, as a shot by senior Jaigan Boudreau found the mark, but it was ruled too high (Smith felt it deflected in off a defender’s stick and should have counted) and the game ended with Cheverus prevailing, 2-1.

“This means a lot,” Snow said. “It shows we can finish.”

“It was a relief to know we won and we weren’t going into overtime again,” Woodford said.

“The girls are starting to learn that when we get down, we can still be in control and we’re good enough to fight back,” Hendrix added. “Everyone worked together today. We’ve been in that position before this year and we’ve lost games, but every girl came back to fight. We have a lot of talent and we’re piecing it all together as one.”

Thornton Academy had a 13-11 advantage in shots and got nine saves from Vachon.

“This game is a heartbreaker because it’s all about judgments,” Smith said. “We’ve lost three in a row, but we can’t get down because we’ve been in every game. We knew if we won today, it would be insurance (to get in the playoffs). That was motivating the girls in the second half.”

Closing push

Thornton Academy (now 11th in the Class A South Heal Points standings) has a home test versus Scarborough Friday. The Golden Trojans then play at Bonny Eagle, host Kennebunk and finish the regular season at Westbrook.

“We have four more games and if we win those, we’ll be OK,” said Smith. “It’ll be tough.”

Cheverus (third in Class A South) travels to Noble Friday, then has a home game versus Gorham Tuesday before closing at South Portland and at home against Massabesic.

“We have to keep bringing the mental game,” Woodford said. “We’re always here physically. If we can pick up the mental part, it will look good for us.”

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

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