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Scarborough holds off Windham in early-season thriller

Scarborough's Bridget Davis beats Windham's Emily Talbot to the ball. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer
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WINDHAM—Four years is much too long to wait for a Scarborough-Windham girls’ soccer showdown.

Thursday evening, for the first time since 2018, the teams renewed acquaintances and reminded everyone why they’re on the short list of favorites this fall.

And after 80 thrilling minutes, the overwhelming takeaway is that it’s highly likely they’ll be seeing each other again down the road.

With much more at stake.

After a scoreless first half, the reigning Class A champion Eagles, playing in front of their home crowd, had some golden opportunities in the second half, but Red Storm sophomore goalkeeper Sophia Rinaldi came up huge, making multiple highlight-reel saves.

Then, moments after failing to convert a great chance, Scarborough’s senior goal-scoring machine Ali Mokriski decided matters, with a gorgeous free kick from the top of the box with just under 11 minutes to go.

The Red Storm slammed the door from there and held on for a pivotal 1-0 victory.

Scarborough improved to 3-0, dropped a Windham squad which didn’t lose a game a year ago to 1-1 and in the process, earned inside track on possible homefield advantage for the playoffs.

“These are the games that the kids live for and makes them better players,” said longtime Red Storm coach Mike Farley. “Those core games against Windham and Gorham should always be there. This is the biggest Heal-Points game we’re going to have.”

September showdown

Traditionally, when Scarborough and Windham meet, it’s late in the regular season and often serves as an appetizer to a more important battle in the playoffs.

The teams, who unfortunately (for local fans) hadn’t met at all in the past three seasons, entered 2022 as the favorites in Class A South.

Windham, which went undefeated en route to a 3-1 state title game win over Brunswick a year ago, opened with a decisive 10-0 home win over Westbrook, which gave longtime coach Deb LeBel her 200th career victory.

The Red Storm, who were upset in last year’s playoffs by Thornton Academy in the quarterfinals, rolled in their first two outings, 8-1 at Portland and 10-0 at home over Westbrook.

Starting in 2010, Scarborough and Windham have represented the region in the state final every season but two, with the Red Storm taking home Gold Balls that first season and 2012 and the Eagles celebrating a championship in 2013, 2014 and last fall.

In that span, the teams have met five times in the playoffs, with Scarborough holding a 3-2 edge. The most recent was a 1-0 overtime victory for the Red Storm in the 2018 Class A South semifinals, which was also the last countable meeting in the series.

Thursday, on a comfortable early-September evening (68 degrees and dropping at kickoff), after LeBel was honored for her landmark victory prior to the start, Scarborough and Windham demonstrated why they’re so highly acclaimed.

The Eagles came out strong and had a couple good opportunities, but in the second minute, after taking a cross from senior Ashley Clark, sophomore Jaelyn Poitras’ shot was saved by Rinaldi and a minute later, Rinaldi got to a deflected ball in the box just in time.

The Red Storm’s first look came in the 10th minute, when junior standout Lana Djuranovic took a free kick from 25 yards out, but Windham senior goalkeeper Reilly Russell made the save.

After Djuranovic headed a Mokriski corner kick just wide, Mokriski had a shot blocked in close.

Late in the half, Rinaldi saved a long bid from sophomore Emily Talbot and Rinaldi beat senior Elizabeth Levesque to a Talbot cross to send the game to the break scoreless.

Scarborough had a 3-2 edge in both shots and corner kicks in the first 40 minutes.

There would be little separation in the second half as well, but eventually, the Red Storm struck.

The Eagles came out strong after intermission, but Clark missed wide and senior Elizabeth Talbot and Levesque both had shots blocked.

With 36 minutes left, Scarborough had a look to go ahead, but Russell sprawled to deny junior Natalie Ryan and Djuarnovic couldn’t convert the rebound.

Rinaldi then took center stage, leaping to deny Emily Talbot, saving a one-timer from Thornton, diving to rob Elizabeth Talbot, then sprawling to save a header off a corner from sophomore Stella Jarvais.

“Those saves are an adrenaline rush,” said Rinaldi, who played at the junior varsity level last season. “Diving is my favorite thing to do.”

With 18:15 left, Rinaldi got some help from the goal frame, as Abbey Thornton had a great look, but rang it off the crossbar.

“We dodged a bullet, because Abbey usually buries those from that distance,” Farley said. “It’s a game of inches sometimes.”

With 12:19 to go, Mokriski got to a deflected ball and with a lot of net to shoot at, sent the ball wide.

But instead of putting her head down, Mokriski kept working and was rewarded.

She tried to dribble the ball into the box, but was tripped up and earned a free kick.

And this time, Mokriski wouldn’t miss.

With 10:55 left in regulation, Mokriski fired with her left foot and sent the ball over the Windham defensive wall and inside the near post where a diving Russell could do nothing about it.

“Knowing that I only get two or three chances a game, I know I have to finish one,” said Mokriski. “Over the years, I’ve worked on my mentality and when I miss a shot I have to let it go and capitalize on the next one. I had to take a break and re-set my mind.

“I know I can curve the ball with my left foot. I saw the wall on the right side and I saw the goalie on the left side, so I hoped to take a low shot and curve it into the lower right corner. It felt good.”

“Ali’s left-footed, so it was set up just right for her,” said Farley. “The wall was there, but she wrapped it around the side of the wall. It was a really good shot. When I saw where it was set up, I knew it was one she could hit. She buries the ball for us most of the time. She showed leadership stepping up and taking it and the shot was huge.”

Down the stretch, the Eagles looked to equalize, but Emily Talbot’s rush was broken up by Scarborough sophomore Emma Blanchette, Rinaldi saved Clark’s shot from the side, sophomore Caitlyn Marsh’s rush was denied by junior back Avery Pettingill and after Djuarnovic hit the crossbar and an apparent Red Storm goal was waved off by an offsides call, Levesque tried one final time to pull her team even with 41 seconds left, but Rinaldi went to the ground to collect the ball.

That clinched it and Scarborough was able to celebrate its 1-0 victory.

“All of us really wanted to win,” said Mokriski. “Every single player did their part. We couldn’t have done it without everyone working together.”

“A lot of our kids haven’t played against a team with (Windham’s) pedigree,” Farley said. “I told them at halftime that they had to be better and they’d have to take it from them. In the second half, we played a lot better. We got after balls in the box and blocked shots and when we didn’t block it, Sophia had the game of her life and made a ton of good saves.”

Rinaldi stole the show with 10 saves.

“It was pretty stressful, but I just focused on the game,” Rinaldi said. “Our back line is really strong, so I was focusing on them and making sure they were in the right position.”

“Sophia’s young and I’ve asked her to make the one or two saves in a game we need to keep us in it,” Farley said. “She probably made three or four tonight and made them look easy. She came up big-time.”

Windham had a 10-7 edge in shots, got six saves from Russell and had a 7-5 advantage in corner kicks, but suffered a rare defeat.

“We had some good shots, but their goalie had an amazing game,” LeBel said. “I give her all the credit. That’s the kind of game we need and the kind of game we expected and I’d rather lose now than to lose to them in late-October.”

Long season ahead

Windham looks to bounce back Saturday morning when it hosts Deering. The Eagles have another key test looming Tuesday of next week when Gorham pays a visit.

Looking far ahead, Windham would love another shot at Scarborough in the playoffs.

“These matchups are great,” said LeBel. “It’s a great rivalry. There’s a good chance we’ll see them again. We know we can play with them.”

Scarborough looks to stay perfect Saturday at home versus Sanford.

“It feels so good to beat a good team and it shows our team, if we all work together, can accomplish big things,” Mokriski said. “This is a good win for us and it gives us something to work for later in the season.”

“It’s a good win, but we still need to focus on the rest of the season,” Rinaldi said. “This puts us in a good place.”

“I told the girls to enjoy this one, but we have to get right back at it,” Farley added. “We won a really hard game and now we have to take care of the rest.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.