CAPE ELIZABETH—After combining for a grand total of one goal in two regular season meetings, there weren’t a lot of offensive fireworks expected when the Cape Elizabeth girls’ soccer team hosted rival Greely in a Western Class A quarterfinal tilt Tuesday evening at Hannaford Field.
While the Rangers’ offense was kept in mothballs by the Capers, the hosts managed to put on a show and as a result, live to play another day.
After 32-plus minutes of almost nothing in the way of good chances, Cape Elizabeth got the only goal it would need, courtesy its emerging star, sophomore Kathryn Clark.
Then, with time winding down in the half another precocious Caper, freshman Katherine Briggs, was in the right place at the right time to bang home a rebound to give Cape Elizabeth a 2-0 halftime lead.
Greely couldn’t respond in the second half and a second Clark goal, this one with 23:14 left on the clock put it away as the Capers went on to a 3-0 victory, improved to 13-1-1, ended the Rangers’ season at 10-4-2 and set up a semifinal round showdown at top-ranked Windham Friday evening.
“We’ve been preparing for a game like this all season,” said Clark. “Greely’s always our biggest rival. We came in confident but not too confident and I think we really played well. Beating Greely 3-0, we never thought we’d beat them by that much.”
Cape Elizabeth was a semifinalist in 2011, but few expected the Capers to make a similar run this fall. After dropping the opener, 2-1, to visiting two-time Class B state champion Falmouth seemed to validate the low expectations, but Cape Elizabeth didn’t lose again and finished with the fourth seed in Western Class A. Friday, against 13th-ranked South Portland in the preliminary round, the Capers struggled in the rain, but managed to survive and advance, 2-1.
Greely started slowly in 2012 and was 3-3 at one point, but went 6-0-2 down the stretch to garner the No. 5 ranking. The Rangers had little trouble with No. 12 Biddeford in a 3-0 preliminary round win Saturday.
In the regular season, the Capers eked out a 1-0 triumph at the Rangers Sept. 21 and the teams settled for a 0-0 draw at Cape Elizabeth 11 days later.
Entering the contest, the longtime rivals had met 15 previous times in the playoffs, dating back to 1985. Greely had won 10 of those encounters, including the most recent, 2-1, in the 2008 quarterfinals.
Tuesday, however, the Capers managed to beat the Rangers in the postseason for the first time since eliminating them four straight years between 1996 and 1999.
The best early chance went to Greely nine minutes in when freshman Izzy Hutnak, who’s produced so many memorable moments this fall, had a shot deflected in close, setting up a corner kick, which junior Allie Morrill headed wide.
Almost nothing happened for most of the rest of the half, but suddenly, with 7:41 to go before halftime, the always dangerous Clark got an opportunity and made the Rangers pay.
Taking a pass from junior Addie Wood, Clark beat a defender and went in one-on-one with Greely senior goalkeeper Caton Beaulieu, who is as aggressive as anyone. Beaulieu had largely stymied the Capers this season, but this time, Clark had the angle and managed to shoot past the keeper into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“At first, we played a 4-4-2 and Addie, the other forward, and I were playing too far apart and didn’t connect well,” said Clark. “We got closer, she tipped a ball and I came in around and I put it in.”
“We started to be clever by trying to hit a forward then get it in behind, instead of going straight in,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Luke Krawczyk. “Having a sweeper keeper has its negatives. We saw them tonight. It works sometimes, but if you get there first, it’s an easy tap-in.”
The game appeared destined for a 1-0 score at halftime, but as time wound down, freshman Kate Breed had a breakaway. This time, Beaulieu managed to deflect the shot, but running in alone for the rebound was Briggs and her shot rolled into the goal with just six seconds remaining for a backbreaking tally.
“All the credit should go to Kate Breed,” Briggs said. “She made an amazing run. I was just there to finish. Usually I don’t think about it in a moment like that, but I thought about it. It was just a simple finish into the goal.”
Greely was in trouble, but despite not having scored on the Capers all season, Rangers coach Michael Kennedy wasn’t overly concerned.
“I didn’t see the second goal as being that big of a problem because if you score right away, it’s 2-1, and they have to play defense the rest of the half and we just have to put one in,” Kennedy said. “We still felt very confident at halftime. I didn’t feel it was over by any stretch of the imagination.”
Cape Elizabeth reined in the exuberance at the break and was level headed beginning the second half.
“We took the excitement from the lead, but we didn’t get overconfident,” Briggs said. “We kept it together and played our game.”
“It’s always good to score just before halftime,” said Krawczyk. “You come in on a high, but you want to come back out strong.”
The Capers did just that, continuing to stifle the Greely attack and with 23:14 remaining, delivered the final blow.
On a long lead pass, Clark found herself hemmed in by two defenders, but when the ball bounced, the defenders hesitated for just the slightest second and Clark pounced, fighting her way between them, then again going one-on-one with Beaulieu and hitting a shot that deflected off the bottom of the crossbar and in for a commanding 3-0 lead.
“I think they were a little confused on who was getting the ball,” Clark said. “That’s my best time to go in and get it. I was just looking anywhere but at the goalkeeper. I just wanted to place it. “
Down the stretch, a Hutnak rush was broken up by Cape Elizabeth junior Phoebe Shields, a left-footed shot from Rangers sophomore Kristina Volta hit the side of the post and a corner kick from junior Leah Young skittered through the box untouched.
The Capers ran out the clock and were able to celebrate their first playoff win over Greely this century.
“Defensively, I was very happy,” said Krawczyk. “We didn’t give them any chances. For the program, it’s a better brand of football we’re playing. Last year, we would have been happy to beat South Portland, but this year we weren’t happy with how we played. We’re happy with how everyone has bought into it. I’m proud as a coach.”
Greely’s season ended in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row, but the Rangers did a lot of things well this fall.
“It’s definitely a shocker,” said Kennedy. “I’m a strong believer that when we lose, it’s my fault and when we win, it’s because of (the girls). I didn’t prepare the girls well enough for the game. You have to give (Cape) credit. They took advantage of the opportunities and put it away. We didn’t generate enough offense. That’s the key for us. They like to play the long ball over the top to Kathryn. That’s what they do and they do it very well, but in the first two games we defended it well and she didn’t score. We knew what they were going to do, we just didn’t play it well. The third goal was the problem. That and us not scoring in the first five minutes of the second half. They did a very good job defensively and we didn’t do a good job offensively.
“It’s a good learning experience. We’re a young team. We made it to the quarters and finished 10-4-2 after losing a lot. I’m proud of the girls for their effort. We had a unique combination of youth and some experienced players. I thought they really improved over the year and learned a lot about themselves. We really came together at the end. We played the right way. We were undefeated in our last nine games and gave up just two goals. It was a good season for us. It’s the best group of girls.”
Greely’s senior class won 45 games, including one in every postseason. Beaulieu, Molly Fitzpatrick, Julia Mitiguy, Gabby Morris and Holly Rand will be missed.
“Gabby was a rock star tonight,” said Kennedy. “She played really well. That’s how you want to go out. Julia has been our rock. She’s our emotional leader. Caton, I feel bad for. She’s been awesome all season. She’s had a great career. She’ll be a D1 goalkeeper at Northeastern. Molly has been a very solid player for us and Holly, it’s a tough way to go out. She’s been a four year starter and has been the rock of our defense. It’s a great class. They’ll be hard to replace, not just for their abilities on the field, but off the field as well. It’s a very special group of girls.”
The cupboard won’t be bare for the Rangers in 2013, however. Several younger players saw key minutes and will carry on the program’s tradition.
“I like to cycle in younger players,” Kennedy said. “Izzy had a great year. She led us in goals with 11 and in assists. (Freshman) Jocelyn Mitiguy got a lot of experience. Our senior class next year will be really good. Mykaela (Twitchell) will be a senior. Allie Morrill will be a senior. Leah will be a senior. We’ll retool and hope to get it done next year.”
Next year is still far in the future for Cape Elizabeth which has a chance Friday to do something no Capers squad has accomplished since 2000, reach a regional final.
Cape Elizabeth doesn’t play Windham (14-0-1 after surviving ninth-ranked Cheverus in PKs in its quarterfinal Tuesday) in the regular season. The teams’ last playoff meeting was a 4-1 Eagles’ triumph in the 2006 preliminary round. The squads also met in the 1984 quarterfinals (a 2-1 Capers’ victory) and the 1995 quarterfinals (a 1-0 win for Windham on PKs).
Cape Elizabeth, a season-long underdog, likes its chances to keep this amazing run going.
“We started off decent and we’ve just been improving over the course of the season,” said Clark. “I think we can take it all the way to states.”
“I think we just have to continue to play as a team, play our game, learn from our mistakes, adapt at halftime and continue to rely on each other, have confidence in each other and have confidence in our coach,” said Briggs.
“We want to go and play the best teams,” Krawczyk added. “That’s the measure of how far we’ve come. How we do against the best teams and the best players.”