PORTLAND—A year ago, the Cheverus field hockey team enjoyed a storybook ride to the state final.
This postseason, the magic ran out.
Tuesday afternoon, the third-ranked Stags and No. 6 Westbrook Blue Blazes produced 76 minutes and then some of hard-fought, thrilling and often frustrating field hockey in their Western Class A quarterfinal.
Despite 21 penalty corner opportunities in regulation and overtime and a territorial advantage for most of the afternoon, Cheverus simply couldn’t put the ball in the cage.
The game would be decided by alternating penalty corners and in the fourth round, Westbrook sophomore Katie Berry banged home a cross from senior Courtney Brown and the Blue Blazes moved on with a 1-0 triumph as they improved to 12-4.
The Stags’ season ended in heartbreak at 12-3.
“We have some inexperienced kids and you could tell today,” said Cheverus coach Amy McMullin. “I told them the longer the scored remained tied, the more momentum (Westbrook) would get. It was upsetting we couldn’t go out there and do it. I think some of the girls were overlooking them. We tried not to. I was excited about the matchup since we didn’t play in the regular season.”
Westbrook is a longtime Western Class A contender under coach Beth Murphy. This fall, the Blue Blazes beat every foe except top-ranked Scarborough, No. 2 Sanford, No. 6 Portland and No. 8 Windham. They wound up sixth and held off No. 11 Kennebunk in Saturday’s preliminary round, 1-0, on Berry’s overtime goal.
Cheverus lost to Skowhegan in last year’s state game and was expected to take a step back this fall, but instead, won 12 of 14 games, losing only at Scarborough (2-1) and at home to Sanford in the regular season finale (3-2, in overtime).
The teams had one prior playoff meeting, a 2-1 overtime win for Westbrook in the 2008 semifinals.
This one would be just as close and had a similar ending, even though it took a little longer.
The tone was set a minute in when the Stags earned a penalty corner and senior standout Sarah LaQuerre’s shot was saved, but the rebound came to sophomore Alex Logan right in front. Logan couldn’t get a stick on the ball, however, and the Blue Blazes had dodged a bullet.
In the first 10-plus minutes, Cheverus had four corners and had good looks on all of them. Following the first near miss, LaQuerre shot wide, then passed to junior Emily Rodrigue, whose shot was kicked away by Westbrook senior goalie Maryssa Arsenault. Moments later, Rodrigue’s bid off a corner was saved and LaQuerre’s rebound was blocked.
The Blue Blazes first good chance came with 17:12 to go in the 30-minute first half, but Brown’s shot off a corner was saved by Stags’ sophomore goalie Libby DesRuisseaux. Four minutes later, Westbrook sophomore Micaela LeBeau shot wide on a corner.
Late in the half, Rodrigue’s feed on a corner went just wide and LaQuerre’s shot was saved. As time ran out, the Blue Blazes earned a corner, but Cheverus’ defense cleared it.
The Stags would continue to have corners in the second half, but good scoring chances weren’t as plentiful.
With 28:39 left in regulation, Arsenault saved a shot from LaQuerre. With 14:02 to go, LaQuerre had a good bid on a corner, but her shot hit a defender.
Westbrook then had good looks from junior Sarah Hopkins on a corner (saved by DesRuisseaux) and LeBeau (a shot which went wide).
Regulation ended with shots deadlocked at 6-6 and the game scoreless. Despite 19 penalty corners (to just seven for the Blue Blazes), Cheverus couldn’t capitalize.
It was on to overtime. In the playoffs, teams go 7-on-7 in two eight-minute, “sudden victory” sessions. If no one scores, penalty corners are used to determine the winner.
The game could have ended a minute into the first OT, when, on yet another Cheverus corner, LaQuerre was set up for a great look and fired a blast seemingly ticketed for the cage, but Arsneault somehow made a stellar save and the teams played on. The Stags got one more corner in the first overtime, but nothing came of it.
Less than a minute into the second extra session, Rodrigue’s shot trickled wide, then Arsneault kicked the loose ball away.
Westbrook’s only good chance in overtime came with 5:25 left when Berry’s rush was kicked away by DesRuisseaux.
It would come down to penalty corners as teams alternated three rounds before it became sudden death.
Cheverus went first and turned the ball over. The Blue Blazes’ first turn resulted in two opportunities, but Stags junior Staci Swallow cleared the ball out of harm’s way. The second Cheverus corner resulted in a shot by LaQuerre that a defender blocked before it was cleared. Westbrook then couldn’t get a shot off. Swallow had a shot on the next Stags’ opportunity that was saved by Arsenault. The Blue Blazes then had the ball cleared.
Cheverus had one final chance on its 25th corner of the day, but turned the ball over.
Then, on its 11th corner of the day, Westbrook ended the game.
After more than two hours of grueling, palpitating drama, junior Ally Lemay inserted the ball to Brown, whose pass was deflected, slipped through the defense and rolled across the box to Berry, who calmly tucked a shot between the pads of DesRuisseaux for a 1-0 victory, unleashing exhilaration on the Blue Blazes’ sidelines and tears on the Stags’.
“(The ball) got put in and crossed and went through the defense and the offense and came right to me and I just had to hit it in,” said Berry. “At first, I thought I tipped it a little, but it was far enough to the corner that the goalie couldn’t get it. It felt amazing. It’s the biggest goal I’ve ever scored by far.
“It was really scary. Cheverus is really good. We knew going in that we had some tough competition. Our defense has gotten a lot better. We believe in our defense and our goalie and just had to stay confident.”
“Katie Berry’s been coming through,” Murphy said. “She’s only a sophomore and she was there. It was dynamite. We’ll take it any way we can. One goal wins the game. This is definitely (my top win) because this was my JV group last year. They believe in each other and care for each other. It’s been so much fun. It’s been magical. You have to believe you can win and this group does. My three seniors, Kayla Winton, Courtney Brown, my goalie, Maryssa Arsenault, they’ve been here and know what it’s like. They had it today defensively. They got the kids going. We like being under the radar. This is our destiny.”
Murphy also praised the vanquished Stags.
“Amy does a great job,” Murphy said. “She’s built the program. They’re tough, they’re aggressive. (LaQuerre) is one of the best players in the league. Kudos to them, they played a great game. It was a great playoff game. You can’t ask for a better game.”
Conversely, McMullin lamented the missed opportunities.
“It’s not the corners that killed us,” she said. “We had our opportunities all day. It’s upsetting because we practiced yesterday on corners and we just lost our heads out there. In this game, sometimes you can lose even when you carry the play. We don’t sometimes know how in these situations because we haven’t been there.
“To make it as far as we did, I have to give the girls credit. Traditionally, we’ve been strong in playoffs. I have to figure out what I can do to get us back to where we want to be.”
Cheverus loses six seniors, including captains LaQuerre and Ali Saxton.
“Sarah played her heart out,” McMullin said. “It’s hard to lose her. She’s more than just a player. The majority of our team is juniors. The sophomores that played all these minutes will be a year older, a year more mature and hopefully, we can do some damage next year.”
Westbrook, meanwhile, not only advanced to the semifinals, but learned it would host that round when Portland upset Sanford, 3-1, Tuesday. The Blue Blazes lost at home to the Bulldogs, 2-1, Oct. 6 and will have their hands full with a team that’s on a 10-game unbeaten streak and whose confidence is sky-high.
The last playoff meeting between the teams came in the 2005 preliminary round (a 2-1 win for Westbrook).
Expect this group of Blue Blazes’ Destiny’s Darlings to be up for the challenge.
“I’m really excited,” Berry said. “It’s going to be so fun.”