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Cheverus wins Western A title!

Sports

Cheverus wins Western A title!

SCARBOROUGH—A year after falling one goal shy, the Cheverus field hockey team is heading for the Class A state final.

The Stags, who entered the 2010 campaign with virtually no expectations, even among themselves, completed a stunning regional tournament run with a decisive 5-2 victory over Bonny Eagle Tuesday evening on Scarborough's turf field.

Fourth-ranked Cheverus, just three days removed from an upset win over defending Class A champion Scarborough, started slowly, but got two penalty corner goals off the howitzer-like stick of senior Emily Sawchuck in a 3 minute, 4 second span to a 2-1 halftime lead. The Stags then put it away in the second half, scoring three times in just over seven minutes, as Sawchuck scored twice more and junior Sarah LaQuerre also got in on the fun, en route to the win which sets up a date with perennial powerhouse Skowhegan in Saturday's state final.

"The kids played their hearts out," said Cheverus' third-year coach, Amy McMullin. "I couldn't be more proud of them."

Steady rise

The Cheverus field hockey program is only in its seventh varsity season, but it's shown steady growth. After an 0-14 mark in 2004, the Stags were 2-11-1 in 2005, then made the playoffs for the first time in 2006, finishing 5-9-1 after a preliminary round loss to Deering. Three years ago, Cheverus posted a winning mark for the first time, winding up 10-5-1 after a quarterfinal round loss to Gorham. McMullin replaced Patsy Fowler for the 2008 campaign and led the Stags to a 10-7 mark and the semis before bowing out against Westbrook. Last season, Cheverus won 15 games and dropped a 3-2 decision to Scarborough in the regional final.

After losing 13 players, the Stags' hopes were tempered entering 2010, but Cheverus won its first five games and seven of its first eight before struggling down the stretch with three losses in six contests, including a 6-1 pounding at Scarborough on Oct. 8.

Once the posteason began, however, this was a vastly different team. The Stags earned the No. 4 seed and held off No. 5 Kennebunk in the quarterfinals, 3-2, then shocked the world with a 2-1 victory at No. 1 Scarborough on sophomore Brooke Flaherty's late goal.

Tuesday evening, in the fog, Cheverus met a Bonny Eagle squad that was seeded seventh, but had upset No. 2 Westbrook and No. 3 Thornton Academy and was seeking to make it to states for the first time since 2005.

The Stags and Scots didn't play this year.

It took Cheverus a little while to get going Tuesday, but once the Stags hit their stride, they were dazzling.

Bonny Eagle struck first, taking a 1-0 lead just 4 minutes, 23 seconds in when senior Chelsea Yates scored in transition off a shot from senior Peyton Dostie.

Two minutes later, after the Scots narrowly missed a second goal, McMullin called timeout.

"I think we were just a little overexcited, so I didn't hesitate to call a quick timeout," McMullin said. "We've been down before and it's a long game. We had plenty of time to come back and this team has shown it can come back. I told them to focus and make passes. We regrouped and from then on, I thought we did a great job."

With 13 minutes to go in the 30-minute first half, the Stags earned their first penalty corner and Sawchuck had a shot blocked by a defender.

With 7:25 left, Sawchuck wouldn't be denied, taking senior Anna McDonough's pass off a corner and firing the ball into the cage as only she can to make it a brand new game.

"We needed that first goal to get us motivated," McDonough said. "It's something we work on all the time in practice. 'Chuck has an amazing drive. If I can get a good hit off to her it works every time."

A minute later, Scots' senior goalie Rebecca Coney denied Sawchuck on a corner, but with 4:21 remaining, Sawchuck put Cheverus ahead to stay as on a near carbon copy of the first goal, she took McDonough's insertion pass, moved to her right, then blasted a tough angle shot into the cage.

"We caught them off guard on corners," said Sawchuck, who also had two penalty corner goals in last year's regional final. "They didn't know how fast it was going to go or where it was going to go. It was always on the ground."

"('Chuck) loves this field," added McMullin. "I was all over her at the beginning. She was just too overexcited. She loves turf and I told her it was her time to shine and she did that. I have a lot of natural athletes. If we can (convert corners) on grass, doing it on turf is easy."

Late in the half, the Scots threatened to pull even, but Dostie's rush was broken up by Cheverus senior Lexi Hilton.

Despite owning a 9-0 advantage in corners and a 7-2 edge in shots through 30 minutes, the Stags knew the game was far from over.

"We knew we needed intensity to the max in the second half," said Sawchuck.

"The message was the game's not ending 2-1 and we needed the next goal," added McMullin.

Cheverus came right out and added to its lead.

With just 3 minutes, 21 seconds gone in the second half, junior Sarah LaQuerre dribbled through the defense and scored for a 3-1 lead.

Three minutes later, Sawchuck completed her hat trick with an unassisted goal. With the referee about to blow her whistle to signify a penalty corner, the Bonny Eagle defense momentarily hesitated and that lapse was all it took for Sawchuck to get enough room to fire home another shot.

If that wasn't enough, the Stags made it 5-1 with 19:11 to go when Sawchuck's shot appeared to be heading wide, but serendipitously deflected off a defender's stick into the cage.

The Scots got one last goal off a penalty corner (senior Nicole DeMidio) with 46.3 seconds to play, but Cheverus was able to run out the clock and at 9:07 p.m., celebrated its first regional crown.

"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. It was definitely the chemistry and heart. 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," said 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. Sophomore Cindy Clark stopped a shot and senior Katie Semo (who entered the game late) made two saves. Coney had 11 saves for Bonny Eagle.

A team that many didn't even think would make the playoffs had completed an amazing journey.

"They've believed in me," said McMullin. "That's the biggest thing and I believed in them. We grew together. We had a lot of ups and downs, but that's the story of high school athletics. We didn't want an undefeated season. We needed the ups and downs and the feeling of having a loss. We completely regrouped coming into playoffs. It shows it's really a team game."

State championship Saturday

Cheverus (13-4) will be a decided underdog when they take the field at the University of Maine-Orono Saturday (game time hadn't been determined at press time) against 17-0 Skowhegan. The Indians won every Class A title between 2001 and 2008 before falling in overtime to Scarborough a year ago. They edged Messalonskee, McMullin's alma mater, 1-0, in the Eastern A Final Tuesday.

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."

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