One win away: Scarborough field hockey to play for Class A championship
SCARBOROUGH—It isn't often the biggest goal of a team's season comes before halftime and only forges a tie, but there's little disputing the importance of what happened late in the first half of Monday evening's Western Class A Final at Scarborough High School.
The upstart second-ranked Cheverus Stags had taken a stunning 2-1 lead behind two penalty corner goals from junior Emily Sawchuck and had the top-ranked, undefeated and defending regional champion Scarborough Red Storm on the ropes, but after Cheverus just missed extending its advantage at one end, the Red Storm got a clutch goal from senior Ashley Anastasoff with just 8.2 seconds left in the half to turn momentum for good. Then, with 18:32 remaining in regulation, sophomore first-time starter Kelsey Howard scored her second goal of the game to give Scarborough a 3-2 victory and a rematch with eight-time defending state champion Skowhegan in the Class A Final Saturday.
"It was definitely tougher than I thought," said Red Storm coach Kerry Mariello. "You have to expect those kinds of games in the Western Maine Final. I was glad we didn't have to go to overtime. (Cheverus) came to play."
Monday night's game was the teams' third meeting since Oct. 8. Scarborough handed the Stags their first loss that day, 3-1 at Cheverus, in a contest that wasn't locked up until the final seconds. Five days later, the Red Storm rolled to a 4-1 victory in the inaugural, non-countable Southern Maine Activities Association championship game.
Scarborough's 14-0 regular season was one of the most dominant in recent memory. The Red Storm outscored the opposition 80-9 and hit double figures on three occasions. Scarborough dispatched No. 8 Thornton Academy 2-0 and No. 4 Bonny Eagle 6-0 to advance.
Cheverus, meanwhile, won its first 13 games this fall, then lost to Scarborough. After ousting No. 7 Sanford 3-0 in the quarterfinals, the Stags held off No. 3 Gorham 1-0 in the semifinals to set up a first-ever postseason meeting with the Red Storm.
After Scarborough took a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute when Howard rebounded senior Heather Carrier's shot past Cheverus senior goalie Audrey Grinnell, Sawchuck tied the score with 16:07 to go in the first half, taking a pass from senior Alyssa Audet and firing a rocket into the cage. Moments after the Red Storm had a goal waved off for a high shot, Audet and Sawchuck hooked up again with 7:22 left in the half on an identical goal to give the Stags a stunning 2-1 lead.
Mariello had to take a timeout, but the Stags kept the pressure on.
Cheverus had an opportunity to seize control of the game with 1:11 left in the first half, but sophomore Sarah LaQuerre's shot in close was deflected over the cage. Then, at the other end, with time winding down, Anastasoff scored on a rebound of senior Brittany Ross' shot to tie the game and give the Red Storm all the momentum.
"(The officials) called a corner, (Cheverus) kind of stopped and there was a wide-open goal," said Anastasoff. "The goalie was at the right side of the post and I just tapped it in."
"That goal before the half was enormous," added Mariello. "I emphasized that it was a 0-0 game and that we had 30 minutes. We're usually a second half team. I made an adjustment at halftime. I put (senior) Ellie Morin on Sawchuck. I feel if she got possession, we'd be in trouble. We played a little more conservatively on defense. We did well. It worked out."
Cheverus wasn't able to muster any offense in the final 30 minutes, managing just one shot and no corners. When Howard tipped home Ross' shot with 18:32 to go, the Red Storm went ahead 3-2.
"Brittany hit it in and I stuck my stick out hoping I could get a piece of it and tip it into the goal and I did," said Howard. "It feels really good. I was nervous going out there, my first time starting. The seniors showed the way. They taught me so much this year. It was nervewracking, but if we kept playing our game, I knew we could do it."
"Kelsey's been there all year long," added Mariello. "She's finally gotten to shine a little bit. She does a great job at executing, hustles and is in the right place at the right time. She helped earn this championship for us."
The Stags couldn't respond. With 5:54 left, a LaQuerre shot was saved and that was as close as Cheverus got as Scarborough went on to the 3-2 victory and its second successive regional title.
"It was definitely closer than we thought," said Anastasoff. "We're definitely a second half team. We were steady. This was the last home game for the seniors. It's a big win for us."
The final step
Since day one of practice back in August (actually since losing 2-1 in double overtime in the state game last Nov. 1), Scarborough has had a single focus, getting back to the state final and winning the program's first-ever championship. Saturday at 4 p.m. at Yarmouth High School, the Red Storm (now 17-0) will get that opportunity when they do battle with a Skowhegan (17-0) team that's won every Class A championship since 2001, including last year's on a day when Scarborough carried play much of the way.
"I think we can do it this year," said Howard. "We're ready. We're an awesome team."
"I'm so excited," Anastasoff said. "Skowhegan's won eight years in a row. We want to be the team to knock them out. We can do it. We're working well together. We've gotten better all year."
"We've fought all odds," added Mariello. "We had a goal at the start of the year and pursued it. This is a great deal for us, defending a regional championship. We're ready for Skowhegan. We want them. We're going to go in with a different mentality, more confidence. It's our year. I strongly feel it."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com