Portland High School junior Cam DiMauro scored less than a minute into the second half, breaking a scoreless tie as the Highlanders held on for a 1-0 victory in the annual grudge match with the Bellringers at East Hampton High School on Oct. 21.
DiMauro netted the go-ahead goal just 49 seconds into the second half, weaving through a pair of defenders before netting the shot in the left corner of the goal.
“I got that [shot] in the first half, but I missed it. In the second half, I got it right,” said DiMauro.
During the halftime break, Portland first-year head coach Cory Tobler talked to his team about finishing and DiMauro took advantage on the first shot after action resumed.
“We had those same opportunities in the first half; we just didn’t capitalize on them. We had some really good crosses and I just told them to keep shooting,” recalled Tobler. “Cam hit a great shot right to the corner.”
For the first 40 minutes the Shoreline Conference (SLC) rivals played to a draw as the both defenses stiffened on every offensive attack.
DiMauro had three different shots on goal in the first half. The first two were gobbled up by East Hampton’s junior goalie Sonoma Steiner and the third shot in the 34th minute was deflected by Steiner.
East Hampton had trouble creating shots, but Maya Korczak fired one off midway through the first half that was saved by Portland's goalie Lauren Eckert.
Head coach Andrea Giuliano was disappointed that her Bellringers didn’t match the energy from the visiting Highlanders.
“This is probably the first game that we haven’t outworked a team and as a result it shows. We’ve outworked every other team that we’ve played,” said Giuliano, who is in her second year leading the program. “[The players] know they have to play hard the entire game and if they don’t, these are the results.”
Following DiMauro’s goal, Portland’s confidence grew and they possessed the ball for a majority of the second half. The Highlanders fired a handful of shots at Steiner, who thwarted every attempt to keep it a one-goal deficit.
Portland’s defensive captain Mia Quesnel said DiMauro’s score provided the unit in the backend the boost they needed to preserve the shutout.
“We really just had to lock down in the back and make smart decisions,” said Quesnel. “I trust my team and I trust my keeper, and we were able to come out with a win.”
With time winding down, East Hampton had a couple of chances to tally the equalizer as Rachel Boudreau and Andrea Berg had shots on goal. But each was rejected by Eckert.
Tobler, a 2009 graduate of Portland High School who played soccer at the school, knows the significance of the rivalry and enjoyed getting a win in his coaching debut against the Bellringers.
“Every time we play East Hampton there is that extra edge that we want to win. It’s been forever that these towns have had a great rivalry,” said Tobler. “It doesn’t matter if one team is having a down year and one team is having a good year, it’s always a great game and it’s always a fight because each team wants to have that win until next year.”
Giuliano said that she can use the loss as a teaching tool.
“[The players] can see what breakdowns happen in the game and they have to be able to take that and learn from that,” added Giuliano.
East Hampton was able to shake off the loss to Portland and defeat Windsor Locks 3-2 in the regular season finale on Oct. 25. Bri Miller, Abbie Miller, and Marissa Martin netted goals in the win, which was the team’s seventh of the season.
“The best thing is that they have stepped up together. Not everyone has had the best game every single game, but we have covered each other as a team very well,” Giuliano said of her young team, who is now preparing for the postseason tournaments. “We are not a very large team, we have 19 all together, and whoever is out there knows they have to give all that they got.”
Captaining the Bellringers are the team’s only two seniors, Maddie Crumb and Bri Miller, who have logged major minutes this year and have been Giuliano’s “eyes and ears” on the field.
“On the field they work hard for the entire 80 minutes and everyone else follows,” Giuliano said of her captains. “They are out there directing the players when we can necessarily direct them and they are giving them the feedback they need.”
For Portland, the win over East Hampton was big on a couple of different levels. Along with giving the Highlanders bragging rights over a conference foe, it also qualified the team for the state tournament.
After starting the season with one win in the first seven games, Portland has won five of their last seven games.
Tobler said he has seen a tremendous difference from game one until now.
“We have a very young team and the leaders have grown into those roles and really stepped up,” added Tobler.
Offensively the team has found a rhythm, scoring 23 goals over the last seven contests compared to only six in the first seven games this fall.
“We’re playing more connected,” DiMauro said of the difference on offense. “In beginning of the season we didn’t have much time to prepare and it was disconnected, but we’ve learned how to play together.”
Defense has been an area of strength for Portland all season. In 14 regular season games, the Highlanders allowed more than two goals just twice.
Tobler credited Quesnel, who was a returning all-conference player, for leading the change defensively.
“Mia is confident back there and she is confident with who she has,” Tobler said of his defensive captain. “She’s a great leader.”
Quesnel said preaching “positivity” and making less errors has attributed to the success on the backend.
Both DiMauro and Quesnel said that Tobler has given the program a new positive perspective, which is starting to translate to win on the field.
The Highlanders play their regular season finale this Friday, Oct 26 at Suffield, starting at 6:30 p.m.
East Hampton senior captain Maddie Crumb gets ready to clear a ball as Portland's Annabelle Maruschock pursues at East Hampton High School last Friday
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin