PORTLAND—It takes a lot to faze a senior-laden team which has a state championship in its back pocket and despite digging an early two-goal hole Saturday afternoon, the Cheverus girls’ lacrosse team didn’t panic.
And that sense of composure might just lead the Stags back to the Promised Land.
Hosting a talented Windham squad in an Eastern Class A semifinal, the top-ranked Stags were down 2-0 with the game six minutes old, but after first-year coach Mallory Pelkey called timeout, Cheverus responded.
Senior Meredith Willard scored to break the ice, then senior Alex Logan scored three straight times to put the Stags ahead for good.
While the fourth-seeded Eagles hung around in a first half which ended with Cheverus on top, 9-4, the Stags, behind the pinpoint passing of senior Sadie Lyons and their balanced, prolific attack, gradually pulled away to prevail, 14-8.
Logan finished with four goals, Willard added three and Lyons had four assists as Cheverus improved to 11-3, ended Windham’s season at 9-5 and advanced to the Eastern A Final for the fourth year in a row where it will host No. 2 Messalonskee (11-3) Wednesday at a time to be announced with a trip to the state final at stake.
“It was a little rocky in the beginning and we had some nerves, but we got it together and played our game,” Logan said.
Cheverus lost to Brunswick in the 2011 and 2012 Eastern A Finals, but last year, no team could stop the Stags as they won Class A for the first time, edging Massabesic in an 8-7 thriller in the finale.
With arguably the state’s finest senior class returning, Cheverus was expected to accomplish big things again this spring and despite a coaching change on the eve of the season, the Stags have not disappointed.
Cheverus handled host Deering, 14-3, visiting Bonny Eagle, 19-6, host Windham, 11-7, and visiting Portland, 12-3, to start the year, then lost a state final rematch at Massabesic (12-10). After downing visiting Thornton Academy (9-6), the Stags dropped an 11-10 overtime heartbreaker at Marshwood. After a 17-6 romp at Messalonskee, Cheverus fell again in a close one at Gorham, 9-8, then bounced back by handling visiting McAuley (21-2) and edging visiting Scarborough in an overtime thriller, 14-12, before closing with an even more dramatic triumph, 10-9, over visiting Waynflete on Logan’s goal with 0.6 seconds left.
That win gave the Stags a 9-3 record and locked up the top seed in Eastern A. Wednesday, Cheverus ousted No. 8 Brunswick, 20-5, in the quarterfinals.
Windham, which made the semifinals in 2013, opened with a 20-9 win at Bonny Eagle, then fell at Scarborough (12-4) and at home to Cheverus, 11-7. An 11-4 home loss to Marshwood dropped the Eagles to 1-3, but they turned around and won at Deering (10-5) and Edward Little (24-6) and at home over Portland (16-8). After a 6-5 home loss to Massabesic, Windham held off visiting South Portland (8-6), romped at McAuley (21-6) and at home over Camden Hills (18-2), then eked out a 10-9 home win over Westbrook to wind up 8-4 and fourth in the region.
Wednesday, the Eagles advanced by virtue of a 6-5 home win over No. 5 Lewiston in the quarterfinals.
Last year’s 15-8 Cheverus victory over Windham marked the only prior playoff meeting.
Saturday, the Stags knew a win wouldn’t come easily, but they managed to take care of business.
It took only 50 seconds for the Eagles to strike first, as sophomore Hannah Skvorak set up senior Emily Gilman for a shot Cheverus junior goalie Hope Correia couldn’t stop.
The Stags then had chances to pull even, but senior Elyse Caiazzo and Logan were both denied by Windham junior goalie Erin Malloy.
With 19:01 to go in the first half, freshman Mya Mannette scored unassisted and the Eagles were up, 2-0, compelling Pelkey to have a chat with her charges.
It worked, as Willard broke the ice with an unassisted goal with 18:30 showing. Caiazzo then set up Logan to tie the score with 17:41 left in the half. Logan scored again (this time from Lyons) with 13:50 remaining and Cheverus had the lead for good, 3-2.
Logan scored her third goal in 7 minutes, 22 seconds, when she finished a Lyons feed with 10:19 left in the half, but Gilman set up senior Sam Greenlaw with 9:44 showing, cutting Windham’s deficit to 4-3.
The Stags kept the pressure on and goals from sophomore Anne Veroneau (on a free position), junior MaryKate Walsh (from Willard), Caiazzo (unassisted), Willard (unassisted) and Logan (from Veroneau) in a 4:26 span opened the lead up to 9-3.
“The same thing happened at Windham when we let them get a lead (3-0),” Pelkey said. “I just told (the girls) in the timeout to play their game. They came out and they did it. They responded quickly. We have leadership and an older team that has been there before. The girls are very composed. That means anytime we have a rut, we pull out more quickly.”
With 6.7 seconds remaining, Greenlaw scored unassisted, but Cheverus was comfortably in front at the break.
After eight scoreless minutes to start the second half, the Stags got back-to-back goals to essentially end the competitive phase of the contest.
With 16:54 left, Lyons fed Walsh for a goal and with 15:45 to go, Willard scored unassisted, making it 11-4.
Freshman Eliza Palow (from senior Emily Gorrivan) got a goal back for the visitors with 14:29 to play, but 51 seconds later, Lyons set up junior Abby Biegel for a goal. Biegel scored again on a free position with 12:50 remaining, making it 13-5.
Greenlaw scored unassisted with 11:54 to go, but Lyons, after assisting on so many goals, got to finish one (courtesy Caiazzo) with 10:20 remaining for Cheverus’ final tally.
Late in the game, Greenlaw scored unassisted and Gilman converted a free position to bring the curtain down on the Stags’ 14-8 win.
“Windham is very good,” Logan said. “We had to go into it not taking anything for granted. They always seem to give us a run for our money.”
“Windham is a tough team,” Pelkey said. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy. We got good looks and moved the ball well. Our ride was good and Hope made some saves.”
Seven different players scored for Cheverus.
Logan led the way with four goals, Willard had three, Biegel and Walsh two apiece and Caiazzo, Lyons and Veroneau one each. Lyons had four assists, Caiazzo two and Veroneau and Willard one apiece.
“A bunch of people scored,” said Logan, who also led the Stags with five ground balls and won 18 of 24 draws. “Everyone on attack scored. It’s great to have so many weapons.”
For Windham, Greenlaw scored four times, Gilman had two goals and Mannette and Palow each tickled the twine once. Gilman, Gorrivan and Skvorak all assisted on goals.
Cheverus beat Messalonskee, 10-8, in the 2011 quarterfinals and 10-9 in the 2012 semifinals.
While Cheverus beat Messalonskee by 11 goals back in May, the Stags know downing the Eagles again will not come easily.
However, they’re quite confident they can keep this run going.
“It’s good we’re playing a team that we’ve seen,” Logan said. “We have a level of confidence playing at home. It would be great to go to the championship game again, but we won’t take it lightly. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
“Messalonskee has strong girls on defense,” said Pelkey. “They’ll be more prepared for us this time. We beat them by quite a lot, but they’ll come out strong. As long as we come out and play our game, we should be good.”
W- 4 4- 8
C- 9 5- 14
24:10 W Gilman (Skvorak)
19:01 W Mannette (unassisted)
18:30 C Willard (unassisted)
17:41 C Logan (Caiazzo)
13:50 C Logan (Lyons)
10:19 C Logan (Lyons)
9:42 W Greenlaw (Gilman)
9:06 C Veroneau (free position)
8:46 C Walsh (Willard)
6:19 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
5:53 C Willard (unassisted)
5:13 C Logan (Lyons)
6.7 W Greenlaw (unassisted)
16:54 C Walsh (Lyons)
15:45 C Willard (unassisted)
14:29 W Palow (Gorrivan)
13:38 C Biegel (Lyons)
12:50 C Biegel (free position)
11:54 W Greenlaw (unassisted)
10:20 C Lyons (Caiazzo)
3:09 W Greenlaw (unassisted)
30.7 W Gilman (free position)
W- Greenlaw 4, Gilman 2, Mannette, Palow 1
C- Logan 4, Willard 3, Biegel, Walsh 2, Caiazzo, Lyons, Veroneau 1
W- Gilman, Gorrivan, Skvorak 1
C- Lyons 4, Caiazzo 2, Veroneau, Willard 1