(Ed. Note: For the full versions of all three Cheverus regional contest game stories, please visit theforecaster.net)
Entering the playoffs, the Cheverus field hockey team didn’t appear to be championship-caliber.
Tuesday evening, the Stags capped a stirring regional playoff run with a 5-2 victory over Bonny Eagle to earn a spot in the Class A state final for the first time.
Cheverus, the No. 4 seed, held off No. 5 Kennebunk, 3-2, in the quarterfinals, shocked top-ranked, defending champion Scarborough, 2-1, in the semis, then downed the seventh-ranked Scots to punch their ticket and set up a state final showdown with perennial powerhouse Skowhegan in Saturday’s state game.
Heading into the playoffs, the Stags were scuffling, losing two of their final three games, which dropped them to the No. 4 spot.
In the quarterfinals, Cheverus hosted a red-hot Kennebunk squad that it beat, 3-0, at home, way back on Sept. 8. The teams had no prior playoff history. Both squads came out strong and the Stags struck first 11 minutes, 57 seconds into the 30-minute first half when sophomore Gabi Cardona (from junior Sarah LaQuerre) scored off a scramble in front. Kennebunk got the next two goals, but undaunted, Cheverus answered before the half, when sophomore Brooke Flaherty (from LaQuerre, off a penalty corner) rattled the cage, making it a 2-2 contest.
LaQuerre would score the winner with 17:18 to play. After the Rams’ goalie made a great save on a Cardona bid, LaQuerre was there for the rebound and sent it home to make it 3-2 Cheverus.
“It felt so good,” LaQuerre said. “I hadn’t scored in a couple games.”
The Rams were never able to rally and couldn’t even get a solid offensive look the rest of the way as the Stags held on and advanced.
“It’s a new season for us,” LaQuerre said. “We definitely came into this game knowing we needed heart.”
“All week we’ve had nothing to do with field hockey,” said Cheverus coach Amy McMullin. “Everything had to do with passion and coming out for a new season. That’s what the girls showed today. That’s why I was frustrated all season since I knew they do it. They brought it, so I’m happy.”
That sent the Stags to 13-1 Scarborough for Saturday’s semifinal. Fifteen days prior, on the same field, the Red Storm pummeled Cheverus, 6-1. They also beat the Stags in last year’s regional final, 3-2.
This time would be different.
Cheverus was clearly a new team from the get-go and took a 1-0 lead midway through the first half when Cardona set up senior standout Emily Sawchuck, who’s earned a reputation as a Red Storm-killer over the past year, for a goal. Scarborough tied the score four minutes into the second half, but the Stags would have the last laugh.
With 3:33 to play, Flaherty knocked in Cheverus’ biggest goal of the season and possibly the most important in program history. Senior Taylor Witham sent the ball into the circle from the left side, with it eventually bouncing to Flaherty, who was positioned in front of the goalie.
“The ball just bounced over someone’s stick and I just tried to place it where I could and luckily it went in,” Flaherty said. “I was in front of the goalie playing pads — you move in front of the goalie so they can’t see, and when they can’t see the ball it makes the shot a lot more dangerous.”
Flaherty was where she was supposed to be, and didn’t let the opportunity to be the hero pass her by.
“We focused on carrying the ball on the side so much that our forwards were away from the middle and she just stepped up and made her shot,” McMullin said.
Scarborough nearly tied the score again with 1:30 to play, as senior Kristen Felt sent a shot toward the goal following a penalty corner. Sophomore goalie Cindy Clark — who was tested often in the second half — dove to poke a rebound wide just before senior Sarah Bunting was able to get her stick on it with a backhand effort.
The final horn set off a wild Stags celebration.
“Last game we really beat ourselves,” Flaherty said. “We weren’t talking or playing as a team. We knew we had to come out and play with heart and try our hardest, and we did. It’s amazing. This is the first time our team has ever beaten Scarborough.”
Tuesday night, Cheverus wore its home whites as the top seed against a Bonny Eagle squad which had upset No. 2 Westbrook and No. 3 Thornton Academy. The teams didn’t play in the regular season and had no playoff history.
Any fears of a letdown went out the window as the Stags finished the job.
Cheverus fell behind just 4 minutes, 23 seconds in when Bonny Eagle got a goal in transition, but after McMullin called a timeout, the Stags settled down and soon the offense came.
With 7:25 remaining in the half, Sawchuck scored on a penalty corner from senior Anna McDonough. Just over three minutes later, the duo did it again and Cheverus was ahead to stay, 2-1,
The Stags didn’t rest on their laurels in the second half and put it away as Sawchuck scored twice and LaQuerre also rattled the cage in a 7 minute, 28 second span and despite a Scots’ goal in the final minute, went on to the 5-2 victory.
“The kids played their hearts out,” said McMullin. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
“It’s amazing to finally win this game and make it to the championship,” said McDonough, who’s been on the team since her freshman year in 2007. “We brought it one step further each year. We don’t have the skills we had last year, but we definitely have the heart and that’s what’s brought us so far. Once we beat Scarborough, we knew we could go all the way. We just needed that confidence.”
“It feels absolutely great, like no other,” added Sawchuck. “We had the heart and we got it. The difference was we had to realized it could have been our last game and we didn’t want it to be. We wanted it bad enough and we won.”
The Stags finished with an overwhelming 16-2 advantage on corners (Bonny Eagle didn’t earn its first until 2:30 remained) and a 16-5 edge in shots on goal.
Cheverus looks forward to its first championship game against a Skowhegan powerhouse which won every Class A title between 2001 and 2008 before falling in overtime to Scarborough a year ago.
The Stags relish their role and look to cap their fairy tale season with the ultimate victory.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, be confident and have the heart,” McDonough said. “Anything can happen.”
“We do not want to lose our last game,” said Sawchuck. “We’re really close. We’re all friends and we all love field hockey. It’ll be a great time. We’re excited.”
“I hope we come out ready to play,” McMullin added. “We have nothing to lose. We’re the underdogs and Skowhegan’s a great team. They have all the pressure.”
One and done
Waynflete wasn’t as fortunate, as its first Maine Principals’ Association non-open tournament playoff game in over three decades ended with a 10-0 loss at eventual regional champion North Yarmouth Academy last Tuesday in the Western C quarterfinals.
The Flyers posted a winning record for the first time since 1979, finishing 8-5-1 after triumphing in five of their final six contests. That gave them the No. 6 seed, but also a horrible draw against the third-ranked Panthers, who beat them twice in the regular season, 11-0 in Yarmouth Sept. 21 and 5-1 in Portland Oct. 7. The teams’ last playoff meeting came in the 2001 first round (an open tournament year), where NYA rolled, 4-0.
This time around, the Panthers got their first goal 3 minutes, 6 seconds in, added another 10 minutes later and eventually held a 5-0 halftime lead. NYA (which went on to win the regional title) scored five more times in the second half and Waynflete’s season ended at 8-6-1. Sophomore goalie Kalina Mills did make 12 saves.
“This year was a huge stuff for building the Waynflete program,” said Flyers coach Noelle Surette. “It’s a team that has been struggling for quite some time. We had a combination of returning players with strong leadership on and off the field and a group of seven new players who were smart and hardworking. Very willing to work on developing their game. The season started off rather slow because we were such had young group. We really hit our stride midseason with a big overtime win over Freeport that was a huge confidence boost for us. It gave us the confidence to start winning important games to get us to our goal of reaching the playoffs.
“We earned a very tough matchup for the first round of the playoffs on turf. We knew that would be a very difficult transition from playing regularly on grass to competing with a highly skilled team on turf. Unfortunately we got ourselves into an early hole in the first half, but it was a great opportunity for some of the younger girls to get a chance to experience time in a playoff game.”
The Flyers only graduate two players and should build on this experience going forward.
“We lose two strong seniors in Lindsey Sinicki and Annie Vogt, but I’m confident that we will see continued growth from the younger girls,” Surette said.
Deering (0-13-1), McAuley (3-11) and Portland (6-8) didn’t qualify for the postseason this fall.
Freelance writer Tom Minervino contributed to this story
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Cheverus junior Sarah LaQuerre (22) and senior Emily Sawchuk (14) rush over to mob sophomore Brooke Flaherty after she scored the go-ahead goal with 3:33 left in Saturday’s regional semifinal against Scarborogh. Flaherty’s goal held up and the Stags stunned the defending champs, 2-1.
Waynflete sophomore Merilla Michael battles NYA junior Katherine Millett for the ball during the teams’ Western C quarterfinal last week. The Flyers’ first trip to the playoffs this century ended decisively, with a 10-0 loss to the Panthers.