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Scarborough holds off Gorham in scintillating semifinal

Scarborough players celebrate after beating Gorham in a Class A volleyball semifinal at Scarborough on Thursday, October 28, 2021. (Staff photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer) Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

SCARBOROUGH—Scarborough’s volleyball team has a single purpose and now, the Red Storm are on the brink of realizing their goal.

Of winning an elusive state title.

After falling in the state match two years ago, then missing out on a competitive season altogether in 2020, this senior-heavy Scarborough edition is thinking state-title-or-bust and that mentality helped the Red Storm survive valiant Gorham in a memorable Class A state semifinal Thursday evening at Alumni Gymnasium.

Scarborough, led by freshman sensation Natalie Moynihan, made it look easy in a dominant first set, which ended, 25-10, in its favor, but to no one’s surprise, the Rams awakened in the second game and nearly erased a late eight-point deficit before the Red Storm prevailed, 25-22, to take a seemingly commanding 2-0 lead.

But Gorham wasn’t about to be swept out of the playoffs and rallied from down 19-13 to come back and win the third set, 26-24, to stay alive.

The Rams had all the momentum, but Scarborough made the key plays when it mattered most, came back from a 21-20 deficit and when senior setter Mya Jones set up classmate Maddie Strouse for a final, resounding kill, it had a 25-23 fourth game victory and took the match, 3-1.

The Red Storm improved to 15-2, ended Gorham’s season at 13-4 and advanced to the final day of the season to play top-ranked Biddeford (17-0) for the Gold Ball, Saturday at 2 p.m., at Biddeford High School.

“We absolutely have unfinished business,” said Scarborough coach Kim Stoddard.

Fight to the finish

Scarborough needed five sets to get past Gorham in a classic semifinal two years ago before losing to Falmouth in the state match.

The teams have been on a collision course all season.

The Red Storm started the year with straight set victories over visiting Windham, host Bonny Eagle and visiting Cheverus. Scarborough then out-lasted host Cape Elizabeth and Gorham in five-game thrillers before suffering its two losses, at two-time reigning Class B champion Yarmouth (3-1) and at Biddeford (3-1). The Red Storm then hit their stride and swept visiting Marshwood, Kennebunk, Massabesic and Falmouth, host South Portland, visiting Deering and host Falmouth to finish the regular season.

In the state preliminary round, Scarborough eliminated No. 15 Massabesic by a 3-0 score, then Tuesday, in the quarterfinals, the Red Storm held off No. 10 Thornton Academy, 3-1, to advance.

Gorham was a solid 11-3 in the regular season, losing only to undefeated Biddeford, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth, the latter by 3-2 margins. The Rams then eliminated No. 14 Kennebunk (3-0) in the preliminary round and blanked No. 6 Sanford/Noble (3-0) in the quarterfinals.

Thursday, both teams demonstrated what makes them special, but the Red Storm had just a little too much for the Rams to overcome.

A kill from senior Elisabeth LeFebvre got Scarborough off to a good start and the hosts went ahead to stay on a kill from Strouse, set up by Jones. A couple aces from Moynihan and kills from Strouse, senior Gwen Dorsey and sophomore Alana Sawyer helped open up an 8-2 advantage, forcing Gorham coach Emma Tirrell to call timeout.

The Rams got back to 8-4, then were only down four at 12-8, after an ace from senior Ainsley Christianson, but a kill from Dorsey, a kill from Moynihan, a block by LeFebvre, an ace from Dorsey and a block from Moynihan made it 17-8 and Tirrell called timeout again.

It didn’t help, as Moynihan continued to sparkle with four consecutive kills for a 22-9 advantage.

“I wasn’t expecting to get a ton of playing time as a freshman, but I’ve worked hard and it’s worked out,” said Moynihan. “I was a little nervous on the inside tonight, but I play better when I’m nervous.”

It’s fair to say the freshman has been welcomed with open arms.

“Natalie is amazing,” Strouse said. “She just doesn’t get flustered. I just know every ball she hits will hit the floor. She’s such a good hitter, blocker, server, everything. I’m so happy to have her on the team.”

“Natalie’s one of a kind,” Stoddard said. “She’s played volleyball for awhile and has been in pressure situations with her club team. She just has confidence and her teammates have confidence in her. The big thing is her older teammates trust her to go out there and do her job.”

After Gorham got a point back, Strouse had a kill, Sawyer a block, then a Moynihan kill fittingly brought the curtain down on an emphatic 25-10 first set victory.

In that set, Moynihan had six service points, six kills and two blocks, while Jones had six assists and Strouse five kills.

The Red Storm needed just 17 minutes to win the first game.

“We know what it feels like to get down and have to fight back, so our focus was to win the first point and build from there,” Stoddard said. “We kept our confidence up and when we start swinging like that, the momentum builds.”

The Rams then hit their stride in a 23-minute second set, but Scarborough did just enough to go up, 2-0.

Jones served up four straight aces to get things started, then a kill from Dorsey made it 6-1, but after a Red Storm service fault, back came Gorham, as senior Ellie Perry rattled off six straight points at the line, including three aces, for an 8-6 lead. The score was then tied at 8-8, 9-9 and 12-12, after a Perry kill, but a Moynihan kill put Scarborough ahead for good. Moynihan then had two kills and an ace and kills from Strouse and sophomore Olivia Smith helped stretch the lead to 21-14. Tirrell called timeout, but Dorsey added a kill.

The Rams didn’t buckle, as two aces from Perry and a pair of kills from Christianson helped cut the deficit to just one, 22-21. Strouse countered with a soft kill, touching the ball lightly to fool the defense instead of pounding it like usual, and after Christianson answered with a kill to make it a one-point game again, LeFebvre had a kill, then Gorham hit the ball into the net and the Red Storm had the set, 25-22.

In the second game, Perry had a dozen service points for the Rams, but five assists and four service points from Jones, four kills from Dorsey and five service points and three kills from Moynihan were enough for Scarborough to take a step closer to triumph.

The Red Storm then had chances to close it out in set three, but in 31 exhausting minutes, Gorham fought back.

After the teams traded points early, Scarborough opened up a 10-6 advantage on a LeFebvre kill. The Rams drew within three at 13-10, but Dorsey had a kill, Moynihan made a breathtaking play, saving the ball at her end line and sending it over the Gorham team with the ball landing just inside the stripe for a point, then Sawyer followed with a kill for a 16-10 lead, forcing Tirrell to call timeout.

The Rams were on the ropes and moments later, with the score reading 18-13, a point was taken away from the visitors after a consultation with the official scorer, but Gorham used that as motivation and roared back.

A pair of aces from senior Megan Young sparked a 5-0 run and just like that, the deficit was 19-18. Moynihan got a point back for the Red Storm with a kill, but the next two points went to the Rams to tie it. After a Gorham service fault, the Rams tied it again, then Perry served an ace which hit the net and dropped safely and Stoddard had to call timeout. Strouse tied it with a kill but after winning the next point, Gorham set up set point thanks to a kill from sophomore Amber Bretton.

But Scarborough wouldn’t go quietly, as it saved one set point, then Dorsey had a kill to make it 24-24.

At that juncture, a team had to win by two which the Rams would do, as after a Red Storm service fault, Scarborough couldn’t return the next point and Gorham extended the match with a 26-24 victory.

In game three, Bretton had six kills, while Young had five assists and four service points, which overshadowed seven assists from Jones and four kills from Dorsey.

Suddenly, the Rams had all the momentum and had they pushed the match to a decisive fifth game, they might just have proved too much to stop, but with the match and the season on the line, the Red Storm, in a grueling, back-and-forth, 27-minute fourth set, responded like the champions they hope to become.

Scarborough quickly shook off the disappointment of losing the previous set by taking an 8-4 lead behind kills from Strouse, Dorsey and LeFebvre, but the next seven points went to Gorham, as senior Drew Baber went on a service run. The Red Storm came back to tie it at 12-12 (on a Strouse kill) and 13-13 (on another Strouse kill) before a kill rom Dorsey and a Moynihan ace made it 15-13.

The Rams battled back to draw even at 17-17, 18-18 and 19-19, then went up by two when Scarborough twice hit the ball out.

But after a Stoddard timeout, the Red Storm finished strong.

A Moynihan kill got the rally started and after Gorham couldn’t return a shot, a Moynihan kill gave Scarborough the lead for good and Tirrell called timeout. After the teams traded points, the hosts clung to a 23-22 lead, but on the next point, a Moynihan kill hung on the top of the net before falling over, setting up match point.

The Rams kept hope alive on a kill from Perry, but at 7:49 p.m., Jones set the ball just above the net for Strouse, who soared and struck and wouldn’t be denied and the kill gave the Red Storm a 25-23 set victory and the match, 3-1.

“Every set from Mya is just perfect,” said Strouse. “I can’t say enough good things about her. I was just excited to end it. When you’re excited and know you’ll hit a great ball, everyone is excited for you.”

“That final shot was awesome,” said Moynihan. “Everyone wanted that exact play to happen.”

“Maddie and Mya have played together a long time,” Stoddard added. “It was fitting how they ended the game.”

The celebration was immediate and immense.

“We came in and knew it would be a tough match,” Strouse said. “We knew we had to work hard. They’re tough servers, good hitters. Everything had to be perfect and it worked out for us. We knew we had to get our sets a little higher and clean stuff up a little bit, but we knew we could do it.”

“This means a lot,” said Moynihan. “We’ve worked so hard as a team. It’s paid off and it feels really good. We knew Gorham’s a really good team and that could fight back and they did. We got in our heads a little bit, but we pushed through it. They were ‘out-energying’ us, so we needed more energy and we definitely did that.”

“I told the girls before game three that the third game is always the hardest game to win, especially in the semifinals,” Stoddard added. “We fought back and it didn’t go our way. We knew the fourth set would be a battle, but I told them to just be fearless.”

There were no shortage of key contributors for Scarborough.

Moynihan dazzled with 13 service points, including five aces, as well as 16 kills and three blocks.

Strouse finished with 15 kills and eight service points.

Jones had 28 assists and 10 service points, including four aces.

Dorsey contributed 13 kills and eight service points, LeFebvre five service points, five kills and two blocks, Sawyer four service points and two kills and sophomore Julia Strouse 14 assists.

Ram Pride

Gorham was led by Perry, who had 15 service points, including six aces, as well as a half dozen kills.

Young added 17 assists and five service points, Baber had eight service points, Bretton seven kills and Christianson four kills.

“I’m so proud of my girls’ effort,” said Tirrell. “We have so much heart. We have nine seniors that wanted this season so badly. It’s been wonderful watching them through the ups and downs. We worked hard every single day. The girls banded together to be a strong team. They had such heart and they’re great kids. I love that we always had a positive attitude above everything else.

“I think the girls realized if they wanted to come back, they’d have to change the energy and they did that. Serving is usually one of our strong skills. Tonight, in the first couple sets, we didn’t bring it all. Then we started changing that and served better and got back to playing our game. I think the difference was that we didn’t pass as well as we could have and we didn’t have as many offensive attempts and we got less aggressive putting the ball over the net.

“We always lose talent and we’re always still great, so I think in the future, we’ll be ready.”

Beating unbeatable Biddeford

Scarborough lost in four sets to Biddeford in the regular season. The Red Storm are 3-1 all-time versus the Tigers in the tournament, with a 3-0 victory in the 2019 Class A state quarterfinals the most recent.

Scarborough not only has to get past an undefeated team Saturday, it has to do so on Biddeford’s home court, but the Red Storm welcome the challenge and at this point, it wouldn’t be wise to pick against them.

“We’re excited for states,” Moynihan said. “I want to win it so badly for the seniors. I’m returning next year and they’re not and I know they want it really bad. We can’t let the ball hit the floor. If we bring energy, I think we’ll be all set.”

“We wanted to go to states and we’re so excited,” said Maddie Strouse. “It’s going to be tough. We have to hit as hard as we did tonight. Our passing needs to be great. Our defense has to work hard. We just need to have play as a team and I think we can do that.”

“We’re a stronger team than we were two years ago and we want it,” Stoddard added. “We have absolutely nothing to lose and we’re going to be ready to go Saturday. They’ll score their points and that’s OK, but we’ll be ready. I think it’s more inspiring than nervewracking to play Biddeford there. It would be even more special to beat them on their home court. We just have to go in and play our game.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.