Noble goalkeeper Raegan Kelly falls on the ball in front of the goal as Kendall Sniper and Elizabeth Littell, right, of Portland crash the net during the Knights’ 2-1 victory Tuesday night. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos. More photos below.

PORTLAND—A magical season came to an agonizing end for Portland’s girls’ soccer team in a Class A South quarterfinal round playoff game Tuesday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The second-ranked Bulldogs fell behind just 27 seconds into the game, when No. 7 Noble took a 1-0 lead on a fluky goal from senior Amy Fleming.

Fleming added a second goal with 27:42 to play and that loomed huge when Portland got a goal from senior Isabella More with 11:08 remaining.

The Bulldogs pushed hard for the equalizer which could have extended their season, but couldn’t produce it and lost, 2-1.

The Knights improved to 11-4-1, advanced to take on No. 3 Scarborough (13-2) in the regional semifinals this weekend and in the process, ended Portland’s best season in 16 years at 11-3-1.

“It hurts because I had a team that did everything the coaches asked and put together one of the best seasons in an awful long time,” said Bulldogs’ coach Curtis Chapin. “Credit to Noble. They play us tough every time. Nobody wanted to play them. They’re full of seniors and full of heart. They play very strong and their keeper gives you nothing.”

Quite a ride

The 2019 campaign will go down in program annals as one of Portland’s finest and most memorable.

The tone was set on Opening Day, when the Bulldogs knocked off visiting Gorham, a perennial title threat, by a 3-2 score. Portland then lost at home to Cheverus, but only by a 1-0 margin, then tied host Windham, another longtime power, 2-2. After that 1-1-1 start, the Bulldogs stumbled only once. Shutout wins over visiting Biddeford (5-0), host Thornton Academy (2-0) and visiting Westbrook (6-0) were followed by a 4-1 setback at Scarborough, but Portland responded. A regular season-ending seven game win streak began with a 2-0 home victory over South Portland. After downing host Sanford (6-2) and host Massabesic (3-0), the Bulldogs edged visiting Noble (1-0) and host Kennebunk (1-0), then handled host Marshwood (4-1) before downing visiting Falmouth in the finale, 2-1.

That victory gave Portland its best mark since going 13-1 in 2002 and 12-1-1 in 2003 and left the Bulldogs second in Class A South, their highest seeding since being ranked first back in 2003.

Noble, meanwhile, enjoyed a solid regular season as well, losing only to Bonny Eagle, Scarborough, Portland and Marshwood and tying Gorham. Friday, in the preliminary round, the Knights eliminated No. 10 Marshwood, 3-2, to advance.

In the regular season meeting Oct. 10, senior Annika More had the goal and junior goalkeeper Caroline Lerch made six saves to help the Bulldogs win, 1-0.

The teams’ lone prior playoff meeting came in last fall’s preliminary round, a 4-0 victory for Noble.

Tuesday, on a raw, drizzly, 52-degree evening, in front of a good-sized, vocal crowd, the Knights did it again, but in a much closer result.

The game began in stunning fashion and a bad bounce put Portland in an immediate hole.

Just 27 seconds into the contest, after Lerch got to a through ball from junior Lydia Shettler, her attempted clear ricocheted right off a charging Fleming and improbably sailed right into the goal to put the visitors on top to stay, 1-0.

“I just ran after the ball and tripped, but I got it in,” Fleming said. “I hustled after it. I wasn’t expecting that, but I thought it was going to be our day.”

“It was just one of those things,” Chapin said. “We went down 30 seconds in and we had a long way to go against a team like Noble that’s experienced. You don’t think you’ll be down 30 seconds in, but at the same time, it gives you the whole game to get back in it.”

To the Bulldogs’ credit, while they were shaken, they didn’t allow Noble to extend the lead, despite the Knights earning three corner kicks in less than a minute.

Portland junior Lydia Stein tries to keep the ball away from Noble senior Amy Fleming.

Portland’s first look came in the 19th minute, but a long shot from junior Lydia Stein was just wide.

In the 27th minute, the Bulldogs took their first corner kick and the ball was knocked around before being cleared.

With 6:23 to go before halftime, a feed from Portland senior C.C. Ritter to junior Toni Stevenson looked promising, but Knights’ senior goalkeeper Raegan Kelly got to the ball first, just in the nick of time.

Just before the half, Kelly came out to grab a Bulldogs’ corner kick, then she saved a bid from Stevenson (off a pass from Isabella More) to send the game to halftime with Noble on top, 1-0.

The Knights had a 3-1 edge in shots and a 3-2 advantage in corner kicks in the first 40 minutes.

Portland senior Annika More races past a Noble defender in the first half.

Portland hoped to answer in the second half, but before doing so, it saw the deficit grow.

The second half began much as the first, with Fleming taking a pass from senior Casssie Chabot and getting a look at goal, but this time, Lerch made the save.

With 34:21 to play, Bulldogs’ junior Samira Doiron lofted a promising high shot, but Kelly was able to snare it.

After a Ritter free kick deflected off Annika More right to Kelly, Noble added a second goal.

Again, it would be Fleming scoring, but this time the lion’s share of the credit went to freshman Mackenzie Jordan, who raced down the left side and drew the defense and Lerch before shooting. The ball was going to roll wide of the far post, but Kelly, after a nice run, was there to tap it home and with 27:42 to play, the Knights had a cushion.

“That was a game-changer,” Fleming said. “I counted on my teammate Mac and got it in.”

“It felt like we were starting to take control, then we went down, 2-0,” said Chapin.

Portland wouldn’t go quietly, however, as after freshman Eliza Stein missed just wide and a free kick from freshman Kendall Sniper deflected to Kelly, the hosts earned a corner kick and with 11:08 on the clock, Sniper served the ball in to Annika More, whose header was blocked, but in the ensuing scrum, Isabella More was there to bang it home and the Bulldogs had hope, down just 2-1.

Portland would have its chances to force overtime, but couldn’t convert.

With 5:45 on the clock, Stevenson took a free kick from the top of the box, but it was blocked, setting up a corner kick.

On the ensuing corner kick, Sniper served the ball into the net, but unfortunately for the Bulldogs and to the confusion of much of the crowd, the ball landed atop the net behind the goal, out of play.

Down the stretch, a final Sniper free kick was saved by Kelly (her sixth and final save), Kelly beat Isabella More to a cross from Ritter and in the final minute, a cross from Lydia Stein was cradled by the keeper and the Knights held on for the 2-1 victory.

“It was a lot of hard work and teamwork,” Fleming said. “(Portland’s) a good team, but we did a great job holding them off.”

Noble goalkeeper Raegan Kelly and teammate Molly Mason celebrate the victory.

Looking ahead to the semifinals, which will likely be played Saturday, Noble lost, 3-0, at Scarborough Oct. 4. The Knights lost, 3-1, at Scarborough in last year’s quarterfinals.

“This is a great thing for our team,” Fleming said. “We just have to keep up our hard work.”

The end

Portland finished with a 7-6 edge in shots on frame, got four saves from Lerch and had a 4-3 advantage in corner kicks, but had its season conclude sooner than it would have liked.

“Last year, we went down early in a playoff game to (Noble) and folded,” Chapin said. “This year, we came back and feel unlucky we couldn’t put a second one in with some pretty decent chances at the end.

“I’m proud of the girls. They’ve been a pleasure to have. They’ve earned everything they got. I’d love to say I expected 11 wins, but I had jotted down about nine. Then we beat Gorham, a team we hadn’t touched in a long time to start, and it changed our expectations. We jelled. The younger players stepped up and the older players took care of them. The record speaks for itself.”

The Bulldogs graduate five players and while their absence will be felt, the future appears very bright for the program.

“On a day like this, the only thing I can think about is the quality of players we’re losing,” Chapin said. “From Laini Legere to C.C. Ritter to the twins, Annika and Isabella, to Hazel Praught, they’re all fantastic players and irreplaceable in the fact that they’re amazing human beings who have brought this team up. They’ve laid an amazing foundation for this talented group to keep building off.”

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

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