PORTLAND—After waiting over 10 months to return to action, Cheverus’ field hockey team didn’t mind playing a little overtime Wednesday afternoon in its regular season opener against Westbrook at Shea Field.
Especially since it ended in celebration.
The Stags, whose last regular season win came nearly a year ago, missed some opportunities in the game’s first 10 minutes and went to halftime deadlocked with the perennially strong Blue Blazes, but seven minutes into the second half, sophomore Hannah Abbott rattled the cage for a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t last, however, as with 12:47 remaining in regulation, Blue Blazes junior Danielle Bruenig scored on a rebound.
Neither team could strike again and the game went to overtime where with time winding down in the first of two possible eight-minute “sudden victory” sessions, senior Becca Archer played the role of hero, finishing a feed from junior Charlotte Noyes to give Cheverus a confidence-building 2-1 victory.
“I was hoping for a better effort,” said Stags coach Amy Ashley. “I think we were lucky to walk away with a win in this one. I think Westbrook outplayed us and you could tell in the second half that they wanted it more. It’s a good lesson.”
Last year, Cheverus won its first five contests, then went 0-7-2 the rest of the way. The Stags got into the playoffs as the No. 10 seed in Western A, then upset Portland and Gorham before finally being ousted by Marshwood in the semifinals. This fall, Cheverus is once again in the hunt.
So is Westbrook.
Entering Wednesday’s contest, the Stags held a 6-5 all-time edge in the series (which includes Blue Blazes’ victories in the 2008 and 2011 playoffs). Last fall, Cheverus eked out a 3-2 win at Westbrook in the season opener, the second straight year the Stags opened by beating the Blue Blazes.
Wednesday, Cheverus made it three straight wins over Westbrook, but it didn’t come easily.
The Stags had some golden chances to strike early, earning four penalty corners in the game’s first seven minutes, but only once did the hosts put a promising shot on goal, when senior captain Abby Ford was denied by Blue Blazes freshman goalie Kimberly Goddard.
The fourth corner saw some nice ball movement, but freshman Isabella Booth’s shot was broken up by a defender.
Midway through the first half, Ashley switched goalies as sophomore Dierdre Sanborn was replaced by classmate Kat Kane.
With 13:05 to go before halftime, Kane faced a shot by freshman Avery Tucker, but stood tall and made the save.
A little over a minute later, Kane was tested again, but junior Delaney Derrig couldn’t solve her.
Late in the half, Cheverus freshman Sophia Pompeo had a couple looks, but the first was denied by Goddard and the second was steered out of harm’s way by a defender.
Goddard made one final save, on an Archer shot, and the game went to the break scoreless.
Cheverus had a 2-1 edge in shots and a 5-1 penalty corners advantage in the first half, but had no lead to show for it.
That changed early in the second half.
After Goddard stopped shots by Abbott and Ford and Ford shot wide of an open cage, the Stags earned their 10th corner of the game and with 23 minutes to play, finally broke through as senior Caroline Baker had a shot saved by Goddard, but Abbott was there to tuck home the rebound for a 1-0 lead.
Cheverus had a couple chances to add to its lead, but couldn’t score on corners.
After Sanborn re-entered the game at the midway point of the second half, Westbrook went back on the attack and with 12:47 left in regulation, drew even, as Sanborn saved a shot by senior Abby St. Clair only to see Bruenig bury the rebound to make it 1-1.
Down the stretch, both teams had their chances to win, but Goddard turned aside a bid from Stags senior captain Colleen Slattery and Sanborn robbed Derrig.
With 43 seconds to go, the visitors appeared to take the lead, but sophomore Maddie LeBeau’s goal was waved off as her shot was ruled to hit Bruenig before it sailed past Sanborn.
The Blue Blazes earned a penalty corner as time expired and had the opportunity to play it out, but couldn’t earn a shot and the game went to overtime.
In the break before OT, Cheverus regrouped.
“I thought we were in better shape than we are,” Ashley said. “The grass is thick which makes it hard. The ball doesn’t go anywhere. We talked about who wanted it more. We were lucky to get into overtime. I asked them to show with actions how badly they wanted it. Not with words.”
With the teams playing 7-on-7, play was wide open.
Just 45 seconds into overtime, Westbrook earned a corner, but couldn’t put a shot on goal.
With 4:43 left in OT, senior Emily Michaud had a golden opportunity to win it, make that four chances, but Goddard made the save, then denied three straight rebound shots to keep the game going.
With 30 seconds left before a second overtime would have been necessary, the hosts earned a corner and brought the curtain down.
Archer inserted the ball, then wound up playing the hero as Ford’s shot was blocked, the ball came to Noyes and Noyes fed Archer all alone in front to bang home the game-winner.
“I’m not an inserter,” Archer said. “When (Coach) told me to insert, that’s when the nerves began. I passed the ball to Abby. It came to Charlotte and she assisted me. I was at the right place and the right time and I finished it. It felt amazing.”
“We had a good corner there at the end,” Ashley said. “That’s something we hadn’t had all game. I was proud of them for that. (Becca) loves to score. That’s her thing. If the ball’s around the goal, Becca will put it in. That’s her strength. I’m very proud of her.”
After nearly 68 game minutes and 92 real time minutes, the Stags had a 2-1 victory.
“It was a big relief to win,” Archer said. “We were prepared for overtime. We knew we’d face a lot of running. Coach told us to go as hard as we could for as long as we could and we’d get a sub.”
“It’s hard in overtime,” Slattery said. “You know you have to give 100 percent. You have to get back and fight every minute out there.”
“It was nice to see us finish the job,” Ashley added. “We’re similar teams. We aren’t always the most skilled teams, but we have kids who are in great shape and are athletic. It’s always fun to play Westbrook. They’re very athletic and they always bring their ‘A’ game.”
Cheverus finished with a 15-10 shots advantage and had 14 penalty corners to six for the Blue Blazes. Goddard made 12 saves, while the Stags’ tandem of Sanborn and Kane stopped five shots.
“They’re very even,” Ashley said, of the goalies. “They’re both new. We’re just trying them out. We’ll continue to that until one steps up. We have confidence in both of them.”
Westbrook won’t have long to lick its wounds as it has its home opener Friday, versus Deering.
Cheverus doesn’t have much time to rest on its laurels. The Stags are back in action with their first road game, Friday at Windham. Next week, Cheverus plays host to South Portland Tuesday and visits highly touted Thornton Academy Thursday.
The Stags learned a year ago that early September wins mean little in the long run and they’ll keep their opener in perspective.
“”We won’t let our wins get the best of us,” Archer said. “We have something to work on no matter what.”
“Coming off of last season, we really want to pose ourselves as a threat to the rest of the league,” Slattery said. “We have a lot of talent and a lot to work on still, but if we come out and play our game, we’ll be tough to beat. We won’t build the whole season off this win. We have to fight for everything. It was good to win today, but it’s just another game.”
“We have to work a lot harder at practice,” Ashley added. “We need to want it more. It won’t come easily for us. We don’t want to have happen what happened last year. I hope from here on out we’ll have more desire and initiative to win every game. This was a good lesson to learn. We’ll have some ups and downs. Today we had a little of both, but we’ll take the win any day.”
Cheverus senior Emily Michaud fires a shot at the goal.
Jim Allen photos.
Cheverus senior captain Abby Ford lofts a free hit down the field.
Cheverus junior Charlotte Noyes sends the ball upfield.
Cheverus sophomore Hannah Abbott fights Westbrook junior Alisha Aube for possession.
Cheverus senior Colleen Slattery plays defense while junior Carrie Hight and sophomore goalie Kat Kane look on.
Cheverus sophomore Hannah Abbott scores the game’s first goal.
Cheverus senior Becca Archer bangs home the winning goal in overtime.
Cheverus celebrates senior Becca Archer’s game winning goal in overtime of Wednesday’s season opener against Westbrook.