PORTLAND—Cheverus’ top-ranked field hockey team is still alive.
The Stags got everything they could handle and more from eighth-ranked Westbrook in Tuesday evening’s Class A South quarterfinal at Memorial Field, but after a special regular season, Cheverus wasn’t ready to go home.
After an even first half, which saw both teams fail to convert chances, the Stags took a 1-0 lead with 23:10 to play when sophomore Hannah Abbott scored out of a scrum, but before those on hand could collect their breath, the Blue Blazes raced back down the field and senior Abby St. Clair set up junior Danielle Bruenig for the tying goal just 12 seconds later.
From there, it was a story of near misses through regulation and two eight-minute, 7-on-7, “sudden victory” overtimes and the contest had to go to penalty corners to determine a survivor.
After one scoreless round, Cheverus broke through, as sophomore Hannah Abbott set up senior Colleen Slattery, who rattled the cage. Westbrook got one final chance to answer, but couldn’t convert and the Stags were finally able to exhale by virtue of a 2-1 (2 PC) victory.
Cheverus improved to 13-2, advanced to host No. 4 Sanford (12-2-1) in Saturday’s semifinal round at a time and location to be announced and ended the plucky Blue Blazes’ season at 8-8 in the process.
“We’ve got a great group,” said Stags coach Amy Ashley. “I’m very proud of how we finished. The sign of a good team is one that can pull it out. We’re resilient. I’m glad it’s over. Usually the first one’s the toughest one. From here on out, we know there aren’t second chances. If we don’t bring our ‘A’ game, we’ll go home.”
After a frustrating time of it a year ago, Cheverus has ridden a magic carpet most of the 2015 season.
The Stags had to go to overtime in their opener to beat visiting Westbrook, 2-1. After edging host Windham, 1-0, Cheverus dominated visiting South Portland, 7-0, then went overtime again for a 3-2 victory at Thornton Academy. After a 1-0 home win over Sanford, the Stags made a powerful statement with a 2-1 win at Scarborough, ending the Red Storm’s five-year, 66-game league unbeaten streak in the process. Cheverus stayed hot with a 5-0 home victory over Noble and a 3-0 win at Portland, then met its match at home with a 2-0 loss to Marshwood. After falling, 3-2, in a double-overtime heartbreaker at Massabesic, the Stags got back on track with a 2-0 victory at Gorham, then won at Deering, 3-1, and at Bonny Eagle, 3-2, in overtime, and closed with a 3-0 home win over Biddeford before earning the top playoff seed for the first time in program history.
Westbrook went 7-7 in the regular season and edged No. 9 Deering in Saturday’s preliminary round, 1-0.
Entering the game, the Blue Blazes had history on their side, having beaten Cheverus in both the 2008 Western A semifinals (2-1, in overtime) and the 2011 Western A quarterfinals (1-0, in four rounds of penalty corners).
Tuesday, Westbrook almost did it again, but the Stags willed their way to victory and earned the opportunity to fight another day.
The game was moved to Deering High School because Cheverus prefers to play on artificial turf. The start was delayed 10 minute by clock issues, then the teams spent nearly two hours trying to determine a winner.
The Stags earned a corner in the second minute, but a shot from senior Emily Michaud was kicked out by Blue Blazes freshman goalie Kimberly Goddard.
In the third minute, the Blue Blazes earned their first corner, but it was broken up by Cheverus senior Abby Ford.
With 24:45 to go in the first half, Michaud played the ball in for freshman Bella Booth, who had a shot denied by Goddard.
With 21:05 left, the Stags earned another corner and senior Becca Archer sent a shot on goal that got behind Goddard, but Westbrook sophomore Maddie LeBeau swept the ball away at the last possible moment.
With 15:40 to go in the half, Blue Blazes junior Alex Phelps tipped a feed from St. Clair just wide.
At the other end, Michaud sent the ball to Archer, who gave it off to Booth, who gave it back to Archer, who shot just wide on a break.
After Abbott twice shot wide, St. Clair had a good look, but Cheverus sophomore goalie Dierdre Sanborn made the save.
After Stags freshman Sophia Pompeo broke up a Westbrook corner, the Blue Blazes had back-to-back shots on goal, but Sanborn stopped them both and the game went to halftime tied, 0-0.
Both offenses got untracked early in the second half.
After an early bid from Abbott went wide and Cheverus couldn’t convert a corner, the Stags got the jump as a Booth rush was broken up by Goddard, but in the ensuing scrum, the ball came to Abbott and she finished for a 1-0 lead with 23:10 to play.
Just as quickly as Cheverus took the lead, the Stags gave it right back.
On the restart, the ball came to St. Clair, who weaved through the Cheverus defense, then set up Bruenig, whose one-timer rattled the cage to make it 1-1 just 12 seconds after the Stags had taken the lead they fought so hard to attain.
“We just we weren’t thinking,” Slattery said. “We weren’t ready for it, unfortunately.”
“That’s unacceptable,” Ashley said. “We always yell out, ‘One minute.’ The minute after we score or get scored on is the most dangerous minute because you can’t get scored on again. I’m disappointed we couldn’t stop them. (St. Clair) killed us today.”
As the hour grew later and later, pressure ratcheted up on the top-ranked Stags, but they didn’t allow Westbrook to score again.
Not that Cheverus could break through either.
After an Archer shot hit the side of the cage at one end, Bruenig had a shot denied by Sanborn at the other.
After Slattery cleared a Blue Blazes’ corner, Abbott had a rush broken up and the Stags couldn’t generate anything out of a corner and the game went to overtime tied, 1-1.
In high school field hockey in the postseason, teams play up to 16 minutes of “sudden victory” overtime and if no one scores, the game goes to alternating penalty corners, which is how this one would play out.
In the first OT, with Cheverus playing minus Michaud, who was battling leg cramps, Westbrook almost won it in the second minute when Sanborn went down with the ball loose, but Stags senior Elise Bourassa came up with the defensive play of the season, clearing the ball from harm’s way. Sanborn later denied a rush from St. Clair and it was on to a second overtime.
There, Abbott had a rush broken up, Pompeo had a shot saved and when Cheverus earned a corner as time expired and was allowed to play it out, Archer just missed ending the game when her shot trickled just wide of the post.
After a break, the teams gathered at one end of the field for the penalty corners which would decide their fate.
Cheverus went first and when the Blue Blazes broke it up, the visitors had a chance to score and end the game, but Slattery wasn’t about to let that happen and she cleared the ball, ending the first round of corners.
“Every minute on the field, I didn’t want it to end,” Slattery said. “I didn’t want a game like this to be my last game.”
The Stags then attempted their seventh corner of the night and this one was a gem, featuring tremendous teamwork.
Abbott inserted the ball to Ford, who passed to Pompeo, who sent the ball on cage where Abbott tipped it over to Slattery, who buried the shot.
“I knew I needed to get it in and I did,” Slattery said. “I knew we still had to go out and finish.”
“It went through some feet and Kimmy didn’t see it, but that’s how corners work,” said Westbrook coach Beth Murphy. “We work on them every day. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way.”
Indeed, the Blue Blazes had a chance to answer and extend the game, but after Sanborn came out to cut off the angle on a shot, the ball hit the foot of a Westbrook player and the whistle sounded at 7:32 p.m., giving Cheverus the 2-1 win.
“I’m in shock, I can’t even believe it,” Slattery said. “It went as long as it could have. They didn’t let up either. They kept coming at us. It’s hard when you play a team that tough. We did a nice job fighting for it. We knew that Westbrook would be ready. We knew it wouldn’t be handed to us.”
“Coming in, we knew it would be an absolute battle and Westbrook played their hearts out,” Ashley said. “I have to give credit to them because at times, they outplayed us, but we have a strong group. I really believe in these eight seniors and another senior stepped up today. It was challenging for us, but it was a great game. We talked about preparation and that we were prepared for this and we’ve been in these situations before. I think that calmed us going into corners.”
Cheverus got six saves from Sanborn.
Westbrook had a 7-6 edge in shots, had five corners and got four saves from Goddard, but still fell short.
“The girls believed,” Murphy said. “We could have had the game. Give Cheverus kudos, but my kids played hard. That’s what you want in a playoff game. We were in most of our games this year and I knew once we started connecting, we’d battle with the best teams. I knew no one would want to see us. I have a young, feisty bunch.”
Next up is a very dangerous Sanford squad, which edged No. 5 Massabesic, 1-0, in its quarterfinal. Cheverus won at home over the Spartans, 1-0, Sept. 14.
The Stags beat Sanford in both prior playoff meetings, 2-0 in the 2008 quarterfinals and 3-0 in the 2009 quarterfinals.
“We have to keep playing our game and come out and have fun with it,” Slattery said. “I think we lacked that tonight. We’ll hope for the best.”
“Sanford will be another battle,” Ashley said. “It’s going to be tough, but we’ll use today to our advantage on Saturday.”
Cheverus’ field hockey team celebrates a goal during Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Westbrook in the Class A South quarterfinals. The Stags had to go to the second round of penalty corners to advance.
Chris Lambert photos.
Cheverus senior Emily Michaud prepares to launch the ball as Westbrook freshman Avery Tucker defends.
Cheverus freshman Bella Booth races toward the cage as Westbrook sophomore Camryn LaPierre and freshman goalie Kimberly Goddard get in her path.
Cheverus sophomore Hannah Abbott plays a high ball.
Cheverus senior Abby Ford rushes past a defender.
Cheverus senior Becca Archer is stymied by a defender.
Western A quarterfinals
Westbrook 1 @ Cheverus 0 (4 PC)
Western A semifinals
@ Westbrook 2 Cheverus 1 (OT)