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Cheverus field hockey advances to first regional final with 1-0 win over Gorham

Sports

Cheverus field hockey advances to first regional final with 1-0 win over Gorham

PORTLAND—Destiny's Darlings?

The Cheverus field hockey team is certainly starting to get that feel.

Wednesday afternoon, the Stags hosted dangerous Gorham in a Western Class A semifinal and continued their storybook run with a 1-0 victory to set up a first-ever trip to the regional final and a showdown with powerhouse defending regional champion Scarborough Saturday.

The Stags controlled play much of the way before junior Emily Sawchuck registered the game's lone goal early in the second half. Cheverus then had to keep the potent Rams off the board the rest of the way and were able to do so, improving to 15-1 on the year in the process.

"This is amazing," said Stags coach Amy McMullin. "My goal was to get to this game. I thought we could
do it. It was a battle. Gorham's a great team. They always give us
trouble. To beat them twice in one season is a great accomplishment for
the girls."

Raising the bar

Cheverus went from zero wins its first varsity season of 2004 to two in 2005, five (and a playoff berth) in 2006 and 10 (including a first-ever postseason victory in 2007). Last year, McMullin's first, the Stags went 10-5-1 and reached the semifinals before falling in overtime at Westbrook.

In 2009, Cheverus won its first 13 games before losing 3-1 at home to Scarborough Oct. 8. The Stags, ranked second in Western A, took care of business Saturday with a 3-0 home victory over No. 7 Sanford in the quarterfinals, then earned a date with Gorham, a team Cheverus beat 3-2 at home in a double-overtime thriller (on sophomore Sarah LaQuerre's goal) on Sept. 28.

The teams met previously in the 2007 quarterfinals (a 5-0 Gorham win).

In the regular season contest, the Rams dominated huge chunks of time, but Wednesday, the Stags rose to the occasion, earning three penalty corners in the first half and getting two great chances, but Sawhuck's shot in the 13th minute was saved by Gorham senior goalie Emily Southard and a LaQuerre bid four minutes later was also turned aside.

A minute into the second half, Sawchuck twice fired shots in close, but both times, Southard stood tall and made saves. With 23:24 left in regulation, another Sawchuck shot was denied.

Finally, with 22:38 remaining, Sawchuck delivered. On Cheverus' fifth penalty corner, she took a pass from senior Maggie Grindatti and blasted a shot into the cage to make it 1-0.

"I just went for it and gave it everything I had," Sawchuck said. "They didn't see the pass coming. It felt good when the ball finally went in."

"We changed our game plan," McMullin added. "Before, we tried to carry the ball up.
Today, we focused on hitting it past their support line so we could get
some runs and get some offensive support up there. It seemed to work."

Trailing by a goal, Gorham turned up its intensity and looked for the equalizer.

WIth 21:54 left, the Rams earned their first corner of the game. Junior Chelsea Black got a shot off, but Stags senior goalie Audrey Grinnell made the save. McMullin then quickly called timeout.

"Right after a goal is the scariest two minutes," McMullin said. "That's why I took a
timeout. We needed one. It worked, but it wasn't pretty the last 20
minutes after we scored."

With 7 minutes to go, Gorham had its best chance as senior standout Hannah Prince fired a shot on a corner that Grinnell saved. Senior Kathryn Whitehead pounced on the rebound and was denied by Grinnell, then a third shot went wide.

With 5:43 left, Grindatti and Rams senior Kayleigh Ballantyne collided while going for a ball and play was stopped for a half-hour as Ballantyne was attended to and eventually spine-boarded for precautionary reasons.

Then, the teams had to go back out and finish up.

"Keeping a bunch of high school girls focused is difficult," McMullin said. "You can't
keep them focused for a half hour. No way. I let them do their thing
and got them going with five minutes left. It's a long time in this
kind of a game."

The Rams made one final push in the last minute, getting a corner with 30 seconds left. Prince wasn't able to make contact, but the ball stayed in the circle and Gorham earned a last corner as time expired (giving them a chance to play it out). With everyone watching with bated breath, Prince's last-ditch shot went wide and the Stags were able to celebrate their landmark 1-0 victory.

"It was nervewracking, but with the support of the whole team, it was a lot easier," said Cheverus senior defensive standout Alyssa Audet.
"There was a lot more communication today. We worked on a lot of plays and passing in practice and it helped. Having 13 seniors and playing with each other for four years has
helped. We're like a family. We talk a lot on the field, which helps us
connect passes."

The Stags finished with a 6-5 edge in corners and a 7-4 advantage in shots. Southard made seven saves to four for Grinnell.

Saturday showdown

Cheverus is now in uncharted waters as it meets a Scarborough team that demolished No. 4 Bonny Eagle 6-0 in the other semifinal Wednesday night. The Red Storm beat the Stags twice in six days (including a 4-1 victory in the inaugural non-countable SMAA championship game Oct. 13), but Cheverus believes it has the skill and magic to keep the good times rolling.

"It's really exciting," Sawchuck said. "We have the support of everyone around us that we can do it. We have to go into it confident, knowing we can do it."

"Luckily, we got to face (Scarborough) one more time than anyone else," added McMullin. "That helped. It's hard to beat a good team three times. We have to focus on what we did well and play a 60-minute game."

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