Girls Soccer: Windham ousts South Portland in prelims

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WINDHAM—Meghan Hoffses posted the lone goal in a 1-0 victory for Windham over visiting South Portland on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 20. Hoffses tipped a Caitlin Drouin shot to notch the point, secure a W and usher the Eagles past the Riots in the first round of the playoffs.
 
“This game we came out right from the start,” Windham head coach Deb Lebel said, asked how Saturday’s matchup differed from the teams’ regular-season bout, which the Eagles won 3-1. “Gung-ho. That one, we sat back; I think we went over there and thought it was going to be an easy game. They showed they could play.”
 
“We just couldn’t finish. Defensively, [South Portland] packed it in on us,” Windham assistant head coach Jimmy Stewart said of Saturday’s rematch. “They put four, five, six, seven people in the box; so even if we’re getting the ball at the top of the box, we’re not getting a chance to put it on net.”
 
“South Portland, I give them a lot of credit,” Stewart said. “They didn’t roll over. They were 12, but they came and played like they wanted to.”
 
“Let’s talk about what Windham did right,” South Portland head coach Jeff Selser said, asked what went wrong for his girls. “Everything. There’s that. Obviously, Windham overpowered us, from the opening whistle to the closing whistle. Credit to them: They clearly came out with more energy, more aggression. They played a great game.”
 
Windham pressured heavily throughout the game, beginning almost from the outset: The Eagles simply charged onto the field with more verve than the Riots, who nevertheless defended admirably for more the huge majority of the game. 
 
Through the entirety of the first half and the first half of the second half, Windham – despite their persistent aggression – couldn’t find the back of the Riots’ goal. The Eagles fired off shots and more shots, but couldn’t always get close enough to make them quality shots and sometimes struggled to put them on-net at all.
 
“When that happens, we’ve got to find a different way to score,” Stewart said of South Portland’s dense defensive posture. “It’s tough. You can shoot 30 times and not go in. It’s frustrating.”
 
In many a game, the Eagles have, in fact, been frustrated. “We haven’t been scoring tons of goals all season,” Lebel said. “They’ve come pretty hard.”
 
For such a lopsided outing to end 1-0 says good things about South Portland’s back line. “Our defense has been great all year,” Selser said. “And they’re young. A freshman and a sophomore and a senior.”
 
South Portland did occasionally break the ball out and manage to push through the midfield – and they didn’t entirely waste their chances, either. When they could make their way into Windham’s end, they mostly sent shots on Eagles keeper Riley Silvia. Those moments, however, came far, far too infrequently. 
 
“It’s playoffs,” Selser said, elaborating on his team’s missteps. “You’re not going to win a playoff game if you’re not winning 50-50 balls. Or the 60-40 balls. [Windham] wanted it; every single ball, they were on it, on it, on it. They didn’t give us any time to think. Any time we got the ball, they were around us. Deb Lebel always has a great team, and this is no different.”
 
Pressure is bound to win out in the end, and that’s exactly what happened. With a mere 19:16 of the latter half left on the clock, Riots keeper Maria Buck settled the ball and unwound into a kick forward; the ball, however, cruised directly to Drouin’s feet. Drouin pulled the trigger on a shot straight back at Buck; Buck made the save, but the rebound pinballed out-right to Hoffses. Hoffses fed back to Drouin, ducking ahead, and Drouin shot again. Hoffses snuck inward at the same time and got her foot on the low bullet, tipping it past Buck for 1-0.
 
From there, the Eagles needed only to continue doing what’d they’d been doing all game. South Portland did surge a bit in the waning minutes, but couldn’t capitalize. The buzzer tolled on a 1-0 final.
 
“As the pressure builds,” Stewart said, “it gets harder and harder to defend. Offensively, you’re up 1-0, and you’re thinking it’s okay, but defensively, you don’t want to give up a goal. At the end, when we sensed a little bit of pressure, we didn’t melt, we stuck together, we covered each other and had some really smart plays. Belle Skvorak saved one that would’ve been a goal.” 
 
Skvorak threw herself in front of a hard shot late in the game, blocking it with her torso and an audible thump.
 
South Portland retires for the year at 4-8-3. The Riots entered the playoffs ranked 12th, having picked up regular-season wins against Massabesic (No. 17, 0-14), Biddeford (No. 15. 2-12), No. 16 Westbrook (1-13) and No. 14 Deering (2-12). The team also earned ties vs. Marshwood (No. 7, 6-5-3), Kennebunk (No. 13, 4-9-1) and Bonny Eagle (No. 4, 9-3-2). That last draw, the one with the Scots, came late in the autumn and no doubt contributed key Heal Points to the Riots’ effort to sneak into the bracketing.
 
SoPo is green this year, with just four seniors – Jena Leckie, Grace Steady, Julia Banks and Bela Cloutier – dotting their roster. So the squad has a lot to look forward to, come 2019.
 
“My team’s really young,” Selser said. “They’re a great group of a girls, and it’s been a long season for us. We’ve lost a lot of games by one point. We played some great soccer this year, the wins and losses just haven’t gone our way. But the majority of our starting lineup is sophomores.”
 
“So it’s focus,” Selser said. “You’ve got to focus for 80 minutes, and a lot our games, we’ve focused for 70 or 60. And we’ve outplayed the other team for those minutes. But you look at the other 20 when we’re not outplaying the other team, and that’s when we’re letting in the goal.”
 
The fifth-ranked Eagles move to 11-3-1. Windham travels to Bonny Eagle for the quarterfinals on Wednesday the 24th. 
 
Additional photos can be found here:
 
https://twitter.com/CurrentSportsME/status/1055140344172630016
 
Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

South Portland’s Koto Yamada and Windham’s Riley Pepin go shoulder-to-shoulder.

Julia McKenna dumps a ball forward and inward for the Eagles.

Eagle Miranda Lewis shovels the ball forward in front of the South Portland net.

Riley Beem heads a ball for Windham.

Meghan Hoffses unwinds into a shot for the Eagles.

Alanna Joyce controls for the Eagles.

Allison Kirby hounds a Riots opponent along the sideline.

Hannah Talon plays a critical role on defense for the Eagles.

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