SOUTH PORTLAND—Gorham’s quarterfinals bout vs. South Portland came down to the waning moments on Tuesday night, June 4. Down by one, the Rams assembled a picture-perfect, last-ditch attempt to tie things up, handing the ball off to two of their nastiest weapons, Jake Dupuis and Connor Dougherty.
But fate got the better of the pair: Dougherty’s shot missed its mark by a hair’s breadth – no, less than that – and the Riots took the victory 11-10.
South Portland standouts David Fiorini and Cooper Melhorn led their side’s offense.
“We tried to plan for Fiorini and Melhorn when we met them a couple weeks ago,” Gorham head coach Clayton Jones said. “They’re both really good individual players; they’re really tough to match up against. But we felt like, as a team, we could beat them. So that’s what we did. We played some zone defense.”
Dupuis struck first, needing less than two minutes to do so; Melhorn responded in short order, though, tying things up 1-1 just 13 seconds later. The Riots built a small lead after that, going up 3-1 on Melhorn and Fiorini notches.
But a two-goal advantage in lacrosse is practically no advantage at all, and Gorham tallied the next three – Dougherty added one, Jared Fontaine and Dupuis the others – to dash out front 4-3.
“We didn’t really feel like we were down 3-1,” Jones said. “We were right in the game. And in any tight game, there’re going to be some bounces that go this way, and that way. So one team gets up by a goal or two, it’s not a big deal.”
SoPo then settled into a long attacking stretch, and while Rams netminder Giuseppe Brown is among the best in the business, so are Melhorn and Fiorini: The dynamic Riots duo combined – the latter assisted the former – to sniper the 4-4 point past Brown with 2:52 to play before the break.
“I feel like Guiseppe’s not being recognized,” Jones said of his netminder. “This is the end of his senior season; he should be recognized. He’s an unbelievable player, an unbelievable teammate. He does everything – which is hard to do when you’re a goalie. But he plays offense, clears the ball all the way up the field; he keeps the defense organized; he’s chasing shots. He’s all over the place. And then when he’s in the cage, he makes unbelievable saves – he’s kept us in games over and over again this year.”
Gorham won the ensuing faceoff, but SoPo quickly forced a turnover with a sharp slap on a Ram stick – so sharp, said stick broke. Fiorini wasted little time scoring after that, and the Riots carried a 5-4 upper-hand into halftime
South Portland, it’s worth noting, generated quite a few possessions off of faceoffs.
“Our main faceoff guys, both of them were hurt,” Jones said, “and both of them came back in and tried to do some facing-off, but weren’t in their top form. So that was difficult for us. You hope you have a backup guy, but when he gets hurt too, that’s rough. We tried some different things, and I thought we did a pretty good job. We made it into a ground ball, and we contested a lot of ground balls.”
South Portland charged onto the field in the third and layered on a weighty attack. Gorham’s defense held up, though, and Brown – unsurprisingly – proved a wall. Still, a even a wall can only take so much beating, and at 10:11, Riot Sam Wyman assisted fellow Riot Isaac Sobey on the 6-4 goal.
Four and a half minutes later, Dupuis again lit the proverbial lamp. Gorham continued to badger for a stretch, but failed to convert, and the next three goals all went SoPo’s way – they were all, in fact, Fiorini’s handiwork. Fiorini scored with roughly 50 seconds remaining in the third, then with just about 10; 32 seconds into the fourth, he piled on his fifth of the day. 9-5. Melhorn assisted on two of the points, Bryan Backman on the other.
Not long after – at 10:21 – a beautiful, rapid-fire series of Rams passes covering practically the entire Riots zone culminated in a Cooper Lyons-to-Dom Lorello hook-up; Lorello capped the display with a goal, the 9-6 goal, scoring from just off the right side of the SoPo cage.
The Rams had life in them yet. Logan Doucette, though, soon cranked the Riots’ lead back to four, 10-6. Less than 10 minutes remained; Gorham needed to ratchet up their play across the field if they meant to live on – to reach the next round.
At 9:01, following further fantastic pass work, the Rams struck again: Lyons and Ben Tukey assisted Ben Nault on 10-7. Two minutes later, Dougherty sliced through the SoPo’s defense and delivered 10-8. Gorham had seized the momentum. No doubt they could taste the W, or at least a little OT.
The Riots deflated them a bit with 11-8, a Shippen Savidge assist on a Backman goal. Just two minutes remained. But the determined Rams answered with two of their own: Lorello-to-Nault made it 11-9, and Dougherty-to-Dupuis made it 11-10. That second notch – man, what a feed by Dougherty. A laser-guided relay from the outside in. Through traffic. Man.
Still, the clock read :10 to go. A measly 10 seconds isn’t much, even in lacrosse, where goals are notoriously scoreable in 10 seconds. Gorham had the ball; Jones called timeout to retain possession with :06 left.
In the huddle, the Rams dialed up a play: A simple play, but their best option, and not a bad one at all: The instant the clock kicked back in, Dupuis fired up the middle of the field for Dougherty, well-positioned to pull the trigger on a last-ditch shot.
Dougherty, yeah, he reeled in the ball, exactly as planned. He turned and fired – fired low, go for the bounce shot, one of the trickiest for goalies. And bounce the ball did – but, but, but…just an inch or two high of the SoPo crossbar.
Dupuis and Dougherty could not have executed better. But there’s no controlling physics: Dougherty could only line up the shot and take it; once it hit the turf, the laws of nature took over.
“Bounced up and just barely went over,” Jones said of the nailbiter last shot. “That was the play we wanted to run. We did what we wanted to do, it’s just, sometimes the ball doesn’t quite bounce the way you want it to. That’s sports, really.”
Jones applauded Dupuis, asked about his four-goal night. He also went out of his way to highlight Nault, since the two form the heart of Gorham’s leadership.
“Jake’s an unbelievable player,” Jones said. “He works on his game. Talk about another guy flying under the radar. He deserves a lot of recognition. His stats at the end of the regular season were 35 goals, 35 assists and 35 ground balls. I couldn’t have planned it. That shows you what kind of player he is: He can score, he can assist and he can get the ground balls. He works really hard. He’s been a two-year Captain for us, and he leads by example, as well as vocally.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of Jake – and Ben. Both of them are two-year Captains; they’ve just done a tremendous job.”
Gorham entered the postseason ranked fifth in A South, at 8-4. That’s a slot back from SoPo, the 9-3 four-seed.
“We lost to these guys 21-8 two weeks ago…But our motto this season was ‘[never surrender],’” Jones said, though he used the Latin, because apparently Nault insisted on Latin, perhaps to work some book-learning into the game. “And we lived it.”
Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Jake Dupuis logged four goals vs. South Portland.
Ben Tukey circles, on the attack for Gorham.
Josh Labrie guards a SoPo opponent.
Beck Carrier throws a pass forward.
Dom Lorello carries for the Rams at South Portland last Tuesday.
Connor Dougherty unwinds into a shot for the Rams.
Ram Josh Hayward defends.
Mike Darasz fires forward for the Rams.
Ben Nault celebrates a Gorham goal.
Rams keeper Giuseppe Brown jets out of net, looking to generate a little offense.