(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 23, 2005)
PORTLAND—In the end, pride, strong defense and timely scoring was the recipe for success for the Cape Elizabeth Capers boys’ lacrosse team.
The Capers, who lost to Yarmouth in the 2004 state championship game, turned the tables on the Clippers Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium by virtue of a stirring 7-6 victory, which propelled Cape Elizabeth back to its long accustomed seat at the head of the table.
The Capers came right out and established their physical brand of play, scored five goals in the second quarter, survived a Yarmouth flurry in the third, then got the decisive goal when senior Mark Russell scored early in the fourth period, and went on to shut out the mighty Clippers the rest of the way en route to their 14th state championship in 16 seasons.
“We believed all season,” Capers senior goalie Brett Brown said. “We knew we had the heart to do it and we showed that today.”
“It feels amazing,” said Cape Elizabeth senior Ben McKinney, who scored twice and added an assist. “It’s what we’ve been working for the whole year.”
“Tradition in Cape Elizabeth lacrosse is everything,” added junior defensive stalwart Matt Allen. “We really just wanted to come out and play hard today.”
For the first time in memory, the Capers entered a season as a veritable second fiddle, being viewed as inferior to Yarmouth, the team which beat Cape Elizabeth three times last spring, including the finale. Cape Elizabeth would make the most of its “underdog” role, however.
The Capers won their first three games by a composite score of 53-5, then, on May 4, upset Yarmouth at home 8-6. Cape Elizabeth managed to frustrate the Clippers offense, while taking advantage of their few opportunities, a game plan which was filed away for future use.
Five days later, the Capers were stunned 7-6 at home by NYA, but finished the season on a 6-1 tear, with the lone blemish coming at Yarmouth (15-8 on May 23). Cape Elizabeth closed the regular season by avenging their loss to NYA, beating the Panthers, 11-5, at Bowdoin College.
The Capers’ 10-2 record was “only” good for the No. 2 seed in the West Region, but the perennial champions soon showed that they were still the region’s best by rolling over No. 7 Scarborough (13-1), No. 3 Kennebunk (11-3) and finally No. 1 Portland (12-4). The regional final was played at Portland, the first time the Capers had to play a playoff game on the road under the current configuration.
That set up a rematch with Yarmouth, something that Cape Elizabeth had been craving for a year.
“I remember exactly what it felt like last year and that’s exactly what I didn’t want this year,” Allen said.
“We knew we could beat them,” McKinney said. “We had confidence. Lacrosse is all about confidence.”
“We told the guys earlier that it’s a lot easier to win than it is to repeat,” Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond added. “All the pressure was on Yarmouth.”
The Clippers appeared primed to handle that pressure, going 11-1 in the regular season before downing No. 8 Oxford Hills (15-0), No. 4 Brunswick (17-3) and No. 2 NYA (10-0) to capture the East Region title.
With all of the offensive weapons on the field Saturday, no one on hand could have expected a scoreless first period. Although both teams had good scoring chances, surprisingly, that’s what ensued.
Just a minute-and-a-half into the contest, Yarmouth senior scoring machine Chris Hichborn was robbed by Brown.
“Hichborn’s an unbelievable player,” said Allen, who smothered the University of Delaware-bound star all day. “It was an honor to try and shut him down.”
Sixteen seconds later, at the other end of the field, McKinney had a great scoring bid, but Clippers’ senior goalie Alex Bubier stood tall.
Yarmouth senior Andrew Decker would have a couple of great chances later in the period, as did McKinney, but none found the twine.
Russell opened the second quarter with a point blank scoring opportunity, but again, Bubier slammed the door.
The Capers finally did break into the scoring column with 10:23 left in the half. McKinney beat Bubier on a bounce shot and it was 1-0.
Yarmouth got its first goal with 8:13 to go in the second period. Junior Zach Caldwell scored an unassisted goal, firing to the high side to beat Brown to forge a tie.
Cape Elizabeth would then rip off three straight goals.
Nineteen seconds after Caldwell tied it, Russell took a pass from McKinney, charged in and scored. At the 5:45 mark, it was McKinney again, firing a high shot past Bubier. Then, with 4:50 to play in the half, Cape Elizabeth junior Evan Bagley bounced a long shot into the net for a 4-1 lead.
Yarmouth junior Shane Minte momentarily stemmed the tide when he collected a loose ball in front of the cage and shot past Brown at 3:35, but Cape Elizabeth junior David Gardiner made it a 5-2 game at 2:21.
The Clippers showed some signs of life in the final minute and set the stage for their third quarter revival. With 54.1 seconds left in the half, Hichborn finally scored, firing through a screen and getting a fortuitous deflection past Brown. Seventeen seconds later, Decker had a chance as well, but Brown stopped his shot and Yarmouth trailed 5-3 at halftime.
The Clippers then came out and dominated most of the third quarter, but couldn?t quite put the pesky Capers away.
With 8:45 to play in the third, Yarmouth junior Nick Sampson scored unassisted. One minute, five seconds later, he scored a transition goal from Hichborn to tie the game at 5-5.
When Clippers’ junior Luke Stevens scored unassisted 27 seconds later for Yarmouth’s first lead of the game, 6-5, it looked as if the oft-unstoppable Clippers’ offense was primed to bury their foe.
Instead, Yarmouth never scored again (being frustrated for the final 19 minutes, 13 seconds).
Late in the period, Cape Elizabeth pressed for the equalizer.
First, McKinney’s long shot was saved by Bubier. Then, seconds later, Capers senior Ron Kelton hit the post on a shot. With 2:40 left in the period, Kelton was denied, but with 1:58 left, and Cape Elizabeth playing a man-up, the Capers tied the score as Gardiner fed standout senior Dan Rautenberg, who propelled a low shot past Bubier to tie the game at 6-6.
That goal ended a 12 minute, 23 second scoring drought for the Capers.
Caldwell, Gardiner and Rautenberg would all have scoring chances before the third quarter was out, but each bid was saved and the teams entered the final period of the contest dead-even.
Early in the fourth, Kelton and McKinney got good looks, but were denied.
With 10:17 left, however, Russell took a pass from Kelton and scored for a 7-6 lead.
Yarmouth then set about drawing even. The Clippers certainly had their chances.
With 8:28 to play, Caldwell was stopped. With 1:50 to play, Hichborn shot wide. Thirteen seconds later, it was Caldwell’s turn, but Brown made the save. Yarmouth appeared doomed with just 29.6 seconds to play when it turned the ball over, but McKinney stepped in and out of the box at the other end to give the Clippers one last chance.
With 6.9 seconds showing, Yarmouth sophomore Francis Ellis fired high and out of bounds. The Clippers had time for one last shot, but Decker’s bid didn’t have much on it and Brown calmly made the save and flung the ball skyward as the horn sounded, bringing down the curtain on a mighty upset.
“This is the best feeling ever,” Allen said. “It’s amazing. The title’s back exactly where it belongs.”
“They had some chances, but our defense kept it up like they did the whole game and we pulled it out,” Brown said. “A lot of talk and a lot of possession helped. If they didn’t have possession, they weren’t going to score. Our defense had some lapses in the third, but we pulled it out in the end. It was great.”
“We just fought back,” McKinney added. “We had to dig deep. We did it all year. It was meant to be. We’re bringing the tradition back.”
Even after winning several state titles, Raymond couldn’t help but beam.
“It’s a great win,” Raymond said. “It’s a very good feeling. The difference today is that we didn’t take big chunks of quarters off. We did a good job staying composed and patient on offense. Our defense was outstanding. Brett Brown was exceptional today. We have a lot of experience, 13 seniors. That definitely helped keep everybody composed.
“We possessed more. We played more team defense. We didn’t get carried away with taking the ball away. We were more concerned with not giving up a lot of shots.”
Yarmouth coach Craig Curry could only tip his cap.
“It was a great game,” Curry said. “Both teams played well. They just got one more than we did. I wish we went out on top, but I’m awful proud. We played a lot of man-down in the second half. They took advantage of their opportunities. It’s tough to play man-down even though we’ve done well all season.”
The championship now resides in a familiar home.
“Pride and tradition are nice,” said Raymond. “Our kids talk about playing for the people who came before them. There’s a lot of pride here. They felt a lot of responsibility to last year’s seniors especially. It means a lot to them to win this one.”
Next year’s Cape Elizabeth team will be vastly different, but the Capers will remain the team to beat. Don’t forget–They always are.
“We’re losing some very good players,” Raymond said. “The coaches have already talked about what we need to do next year. We?ll take a day or two off, then we?ll start talking about it.”