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Yarmouth, NYA boys' soccer eliminated in regional finals

Sports

Yarmouth, NYA boys' soccer eliminated in regional finals

While the Falmouth boys' soccer team tasted the sweet fruit of another state championship Saturday (please see story), the Yarmouth and North Yarmouth Academy squads fell two wins shy.

The Clippers went toe-to-toe with the Yachtsmen in the Western B Final last Wednesday, but gave up a goal early in the second half, then, after pressing for the equalizer, surrendered two more late to suffer their first loss of the 2009 campaign, 3-0.

The Panthers' stirring run in Western C ended last week at No. 1 St. Dom's in the regional final. NYA, playing shorthanded, lost 2-0 to the eventual state champion Saints and wound up 8-7-1.

Not this time

A year ago, Yarmouth stunned top-ranked Falmouth in the regional final, 2-1, en route to its third Class B championship in five seasons. This fall, there wasn't much separating the Clippers and Yachtsmen as they played to 1-1 ties in both meetings. Falmouth finished 12-0-2 and earned the top seed in the region, while Yarmouth went 11-0-3 (the other tie came at Cape Elizabeth) to go 11-0-3.

The highly anticipated regional final became official when the Yachtsmen eliminated No. 8 Fryeburg (10-0) and No. 5 Lincoln (4-0) and the Clippers beat No. 7 Lisbon (9-0) and No. 3 Maranacook (3-0).

Last year was the first time the longtime rivals played in a regional final. Last week's match marked the eighth all-time (Falmouth held a 5-2 edge coming in) in the playoffs. This time, instead of heightened emotions, palpitating drama and an epic finish, the squads produced a relatively tame and extremely sportsmanlike contest.

After the hosts had a goal waved off in the 30th minute, the contest went to halftime deadlocked at 0-0.

"We had a game plan for the first half and it worked quite well," said Yarmouth coach Mike Hagerty. "We didn't get as many offensive chances as we wanted, but they didn't get many either. It was very even. As well as we know each other, I think both teams were checking out the adjustments each other were making. It was kind of a subtle first half."

The Yachtsmen got the only goal they'd need with 34:40 left in regulation. Senior Dixon Pike played a long ball ahead to junior Michael Bloom, but Oliver came out to play it, while Yarmouth senior defender Colby Shields also closed in. Somehow, Bloom fought his way through the two Clippers and found himself with the ball and daylight. He took a touch, then buried the shot to put Falmouth on top, 1-0.

"The ball was played in and the goalie and the defender had a chance to get it," Bloom said. "I went for the ball and it came out at my feet and I just put it in. They were both on it and I ran right through them and the ball squirted out."

"I couldn't tell what happened from this angle," Hagerty said. "I don't know if they slipped a little bit. Those two have been so outstanding all year. They saved us a number of times. It's a back-breaker, but they outplayed us in the second half."

Instead of sitting on the lead, the Yachtsmen kept the pressure on and made it 2-0 with 9:46 to gowhen senior standout Gabe Hoffman-Johnson (assisted by junior Sam White) was finally able to beat Yarmouth's stellar senior goalkeeper A.J. Oliver.

"Both teams were playing hard," said Hoffman-Johnson, who battled injury most of the 2009 campaign and truly returned to form in the playoffs. "After that first goal, they tried to go forward and that opened up the back. A.J.'s a very aggressive goalie. It's tough to get around him a lot of times. It felt good to get one in after the first few games."

With 6:53 left, Bloom delivered the knockout punch, taking a long pass from Hoffman-Johnson, racing in and shooting on Oliver, then, after the goalie made the save, banging home the rebound to make it 3-0.

"That first goal was huge, but we knew we couldn't rest," Falmouth coach Dave Halligan said. "We finished it off which was nice to see. The kids have been on both sides of it now so they appreciate it more."

"When (Falmouth) got that first goal, we had to send people forward," Hagerty said. "I'd rather lose 3-0 trying to tie it, then settle in and lose 1-0. We knew we were gambling. Our kids want to fight and want to win. We got aggressive. We knew what we're risking."

The curtain soon came down and the Yachtsmen were able to advance.

"It was a great game," said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "Two good teams going at it. This is the way it should be. We were on the other end last year. What makes this so special is that it's a good team that we beat. We have a lot of respect for them and I think they have a lot of respect for us."

Unlike the regular season matchups, Falmouth remained cool under pressure and let its game do the talking. That paid off big-time.

"The regular season games we let the physical part of the game go to our heads which didn't allow us to play our best," Hoffman-Johnson said. "One of our goals this game was to not have a card or talk to the referees. We did and wound up where we wanted."

Sportsmanship went above and beyond after the game. The teams had the traditional postgame handshake, then, after Yarmouth was awarded its medals and runner-up plaque, Hagerty walked the Clippers through the Yachtsmen's line again for a second round of congratulations.

Yarmouth wound up 13-1-3. The Clippers excelled all year, finished the regular season unbeaten for just the third time ever (1971 and 1973 were the others) and simply ran into a better team Wednesday night. Afterwards, Hagerty had plenty of praise for the Yachtsmen.

"They outplayed us tonight," he said. "They were just better than us and they deserved it. Congratulations to them. They're certainly a wonderful team.

"I'm very proud of my kids. We had a terrific year. There's no shame in losing to a terrific team. Any high school team struggles to put two halves together. We played a great first half. In the second half, we got outplayed. That sports."

Yarmouth graduates 15 seniors, but will, as always, be a factor again next season.

"The seniors are a terrific group," Hagerty said. "A lot of multi-sport athletes who got better as the year went along. They all played significant roles. They have a lot to be proud of. We'll miss them.

"We hope to reload. We have 10 or 11 kids coming back who had significant experience this year. I wish we could start next year tomorrow."

End of the line

NYA had an up-and-down campaign, its first under coach Martyn Keen. While the Panthers were able to handle Waynflete its lone regular season loss (1-0 at the Flyers), they also lost to Fryeburg and Sacopee and tied Lake Region. As the No. 7 seed in Western C, NYA advanced by virtue of wins at No. 2 Dirigo (1-0) and No. 6 Georges Valley (3-2, in overtime).

The Panthers then went to top-ranked St. Dom's in the regional final. NYA and the Saints used to do battle twice in the regular season and often in the playoffs (prior to last week, the Panthers had won nine of 12 postseason meetings dating to 1981), but St. Dom's left the Western Maine Conference this season. The teams last met in the semifinals two years ago (the Saints sprung a 2-1 upset in Yarmouth).

This time around, St. Dom's got a goal from Jack Erickson and got another on an own goal. The Saints produced a strong defensive effort and thwarted all threats by the Panthers, who were held to just 10 shots. NYA produced an admirable effort after learning it would be without its starting goalie. He was suspended from the team after breaking team rules and becoming ill after the win over Georges Valley. The Panthers used junior Jordan Haskell in net. He had played goalie in middle school and joined the Panthers midway through this season.

"Going in to the final, we knew we would be facing a very stern test and things
were compounded when we learned we would be without our only real goalkeeper," Keen said. "I did a little work with (Jordan) for two days. He hadn't done it before really, but he
was great. In two days, we turned him from a hockey player to a soccer
goalie.

Haskell made 12 saves and helped keep NYA in the game early. He had
played in goal earlier in the year for one game and one scrimmage but
quickly settled into the game Wednesday after early saves.

"It was nerve-wracking by the time I found out I was playing," said Haskell. "My team performed well in front of me."

In the end, the Panthers couldn't score and went down to the 2-0 defeat.

"Our practices going
into the game were good and I felt surviving the first 10
minutes would be key and if we did that, it was very likely the scorer of the
first goal would be the victors," Keen said. "Not only did we survive, thanks to a great
early save from our keeper, but we very nearly took the lead. The deadlock was broken when there was a terrible
miscommunication. It was a shame, but St Dom's was a very good team and a worthy winner.

"As for the entire season, I
have to say that I was ultimately thrilled. What I found in August was a group of great young
men, with some good senior ladership, but very few soccer players. As preseason
progressed, we developed on the premise of playing our best soccer in
October in November. I expected some inconsistency and that is exactly what we
got. One good result, one poor. Going in to play undefeated Waynflete late in the season was when
I knew we had the chance of doing something special. Though we were hanging on
for our lives in the final minutes of that game, we devised and executed a
perfect game plan."

NYA loses some top players to graduation, but should be primed for another title run next autumn.

"As for next season, we lose all-state player Henry Sterling and fellow
seniors Brandon Barrett, Sam Nye and Jay Garnett, but we have some very promising JV
players and some good players coming into the program," said Keen. "I'm certainly not
making any rash predictions, but we have certainly laid the foundations to build
a solid program."

 Sun Journal staff writer Kevin Mills contributed to this story

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net