Falmouth dominates NYA, wins first Class B boys' lax crown
PORTLAND—Saturday afternoon, Falmouth's boys' lacrosse unequivocally became the finest squad in the state of Maine.
Three days after holding off defending champion Cape Elizabeth in a "Game of the Year' regional final, the Yachtsmen completed their mission with an (as expected) decisive 15-4 win over the North Yarmouth Academy Panthers at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Falmouth was in control from the get-go, got four goals and four assists from junior Mitch Tapley and three goals apiece from senior Nick Bachman, junior Jack Cooleen and sophomore Willy Sipperly and finished 14-1, ending NYA's season at 8-8.
"It feels amazing," said Bachman. "Four years went into this. All of us put everything into this season. To end it like this is amazing. Maybe on paper, the Cape game was the bigger game, but in a state championship game, you always show up to play. We were just fired up."
In the regular season, the Yachtsmen had no peer.
After beating up on visiting Cape Elizabeth in the opener, Falmouth enjoyed decisive victories over visiting Waynflete (17-5), host defending Class A champion Scarborough (13-3), visiting NYA (14-2) and host York (15-5). Falmouth then ended Yarmouth's mindboggling nine-year, 73-game home win streak, 14-5, and less than 24 hours later, easily handled visiting Brunswick, 13-1.
An 8-7 overtime loss at Cape Elizabeth followed, but the Yachtsmen closed strong, dominating visiting Yarmouth (17-0) and Greely (14-2) and host NYA (15-2) and Freeport (19-3) to go 11-1, good for the No. 1 spot in Western B.
In the semifinal round, Falmouth dominated No. 4 Waynflete, 17-1. Then, in the regional final, the Yachtsmen led virtually the whole way before fending off a late Cape Elizabeth rally in an 11-9 triumph.
NYA came into the 2011 campaign believing this would be the year it would finally dethrone Yarmouth and get back to the state game for the first time since 2007. That came to fruition, but in different fashion than expected.
The Panthers opened with a 6-2 home loss to nemesis Clippers, but bounced back with a thrilling 10-9 home win over Greely (in triple overtime) and a 14-4 triumph at Oak Hill. After falling at Falmouth (14-2) and Cape Elizabeth (17-2), NYA held on to beat host Freeport (11-8). After eventual Class A champion Scarborough pulled away for a 12-5 win at the Panthers, NYA beat Yarmouth as the road team for the first time in a decade, 9-2, suggesting that special things lie ahead. The Panthers couldn't build on that momentum, however, losing at home to Cape Elizabeth (15-2), at Waynflete (11-7) and at home to Falmouth. A 17-2 home victory over York gave NYA a 5-7 record and the No. 4 seed in the Eastern B field.
After the Panthers dominated No. 5 Morse, 15-1, in the quarterfinals, they went to undefeated No. 1 St. Dom's for the semifinals and sprung the upset, 10-7. That same day, No. 2 Yarmouth was stunned at home in overtime by No. 3 Gardiner, sending NYA to the Tigers for Wednesday's regional championship game, which the Panthers took, 15-4.
While Falmouth was making its first state game appearance, NYA has a rich history of being one of the last two teams standing.
The Panthers first state appearance resulted in a 9-8 victory in Cape Elizabeth to win the old MAISAD crown in 1988. NYA returned three years later and fell to the Capers, 11-9, in the last MAISAD title game. In 1992, the Panthers lost Cape Elizabeth, 8-6, in the Division I state final. The Capers got NYA again in 1993 (13-7), 1998, the first year the sport was sanctioned by the Maine Principals' Association (16-9) and 2000 (10-8). Then, in 2001, the Panthers upset Cape Elizabeth, 13-10, ending the Capers' 11-year run as champion. NYA got back to the state game, by then, the Class B Final, in 2007, and had its way with Kennebunk, 10-3.
Saturday would be Falmouth's time, however, and the Yachtsmen made quick work of the Panthers.
It took all of 1 minute, 49 seconds for Falmouth to take the lead for good. Tapley did the honors, scoring unassisted. Just 31 seconds later, junior Andrew Murry got in the scoring column, taking a pass from Tapley and beating impressive NYA freshman goalie Weston Nolan. Cooleen scored unassisted on a delayed penalty with 5:41 left in the 12-minute opening quarter. Then, 41 seconds later, playing man-up, the Yachtsmen grabbed a 4-0 lead on a rebound goal by Sipperly. The Panthers got on the board with 33 seconds left in the first when junior Forrest Milburn scored unassisted.
"I wanted to make sure we came out strong and aggressive on ground balls and do the little things," Falmouth coach Mike LeBel said. "Not necessarily focusing on scoring, but the little things that lead to scoring. Getting the ground balls, passing the ball, moving feet. I didn't want to give them an opportunity to get a few goals and put us in a hole and have us alter the way we play."
Falmouth extended its lead in the second period.
Forty-eight seconds in, Sipperly took a pass from sophomore Charlie Fay and scored. After Tapley hit the post, Bachman made it 6-1 when he scored from Tapley, man-up.
"Once we come out strong, we like to keep going," said Bachman. "Keep the pedal down."
NYA made it 6-2 when senior Matt Kibler beat Yachtsmen junior goalie Cam Bell at the 2:18 mark. With just 15.8 seconds showing, playing two-men-up, Falmouth went on top, 7-2, when Sipperly took a pass from Tapley and beat Nolan.
In the first 24 minutes, the Yachtsmen (behind the brilliance of junior Abyn Reabe-Gerwig) won nine of 11 faceoffs. They also had a commanding 26-14 lead in ground balls and 21-8 bulge in shots on goal. Nine Nolan saves kept the Panthers within hailing distance.
In the third quarter, Tapley (unassisted, at 9:53), Cooleen (from Tapley, man-up, at 6:28) and Bachman (unassisted, man-up, at 5:48) scored to stretch the advantage to 10-2.
A mere 20 seconds into the fourth period, senior Brendan McDonnell's pretty pass set up Tapley for a goal. NYA answered as sophomore Oliver Silverson scored from Kibler at 10:47, but Cooleen (from Bachman, man-up, at 7:42), Tapley (unassisted, at 7:26), McDonnell (from Fay, at 4:19) and Bachman (unassisted, man-up, at 3:04) made the score 15-3 and induced a running clock before senior Finn Hadlock scored unassisted for the Panthers with 26.3 seconds remaining.
By then, it was just a formality and when the clock hit zero at 4:38 p.m., the Falmouth Yachtsmen were state champions for the first time.
“We came a very long way," said Bachman, an All-American, who will play lacrosse at Middlebury College next year. "Our freshman year, we had nine freshman on varsity, five starters. We knew we had it, but not all the pieces were there. Senior year, having the experience, brought us here. I couldn't ask for a better end to my sports career.”
"During practice all week, we practiced slow, but we turned it on," said Sipperly, a likely future All-American. "This whole year has been awesome. Picture-perfect. We were just finding the open guy. They were slouching on defense, so we found the open guy and connected the shots. We didn't think we were playing that well in the beginning. We had to turn it on. We weren't looking at the right people. Once we were able to find them, we were clicking. The year is indescribable. It's been almost perfect. The one loss to Cape woke us up and showed we could be beat. We had to turn it on after that and keep the pedal to the medal."
"The big one was the other night, but we did what we had to and executed," said Tapley, another All-American. "The first half, we got a little antsy. Then we calmed down. We didn't finish every opportunity, but we capitalized and we won. You can't stop us. At all times, there's someone who can initiate the offense. We're the best team in the state. We proved that. We didn't play that great in the one Cape game, but after that we did. (That loss) was a good thing. We were a little cocky, thought we were better than we were, but that was a slap in the face."
As has been the case all spring, Falmouth's offensive balance and depth dwarfed that of its opponent. Tapley not only scored four times, but showed what makes him so talented by assisting on four others. Then there was the senior (Bachman), junior (Cooleen) and sophomore (Sipperly) each tallying three goals, suggesting that not only the present, but that the future is very bright. McDonnell and Murry also had goals. Fay assisted on two, while Bachman and McDonnell each had one helper. The Yachtsmen had seven man-up goals.
"That's what I'm going to miss most playing on this team, how many threats we have," Bachman said. "It's such a fun team to play on. Guys make great plays."
"We had seven guys with more than 20 points this year," LeBel said. "I never worry about a team shutting off Mitch or Willy or Nick, because then we have Jack or Brendan or (senior) Zach (Alexander). I never worry about a team having two or three good scorers, because we have three of the best defensemen on our team. We just had to work on what needed to do to be successful and not worry about other teams."
Bachman and Cooleen led the team with eight ground balls apiece. Tapley and junior defensive standout Mike Ryan (another All-American) both grabbed seven. Bell only had to make five saves.
For NYA, Hadlock, Kibler, Milburn and Silverson scored goals. Kibler also had an assist.
“(Falmouth's) good," said Panthers coach Chris Carpentier. "We knew that. They moved the ball quickly. That's why they're state champions. We had 21 penalties up in Gardiner. We gave up seven man-up goals today. We needed to stay out of the box and play 6-on-6. We needed to slow it down and find matchups on defense. I think it was just nerves. We're young. We needed to win faceoffs and to slow their offense down."
Nolan made 16 saves (and led the team in ground balls with eight).
"Weston is amazing," said Carpentier. "He got switched in four or five days into the season. He didn't know how to clear, the slide packages. He got it nicely at the end. He's got potential. I'm excited for him. He was the diamond in the rough.”
Falmouth's dominance in the faceoff circle was a key component to its win as Reabe-Gerwig won 17 of 21 opportunities.
"Abyn's a stud," said LeBel. "He deserves it because he works at it. He goes down south to camps. It's not like it just comes to him. He's not just a big kid who wins because of his strength. He works at it. I'm glad he was successful."
Freshman Tyler Jordan won his only chance. Freshman Austin Kidder and junior Parker Howard both went 1 of 9 for the Panthers. Hadlock and senior Tim Millett both split their two attempts.
The Yachtsmen more than doubled the Panthers in ground balls, 57-28. They forced 21 NYA turnovers and gave the ball away 16 times. Falmouth outshot the Panthers, 40-18 (31-9 in shots on cage).
In spite of the loss, NYA managed to enjoy a strong season and finished strong.
"(The guys) deserve it," said Carpentier. "We fought everything. Injuries, sickness. We never had the same lineup twice. We jelled at the end nicely. We had a scare against St. Dom's, and had a great game up at Gardiner. We hope to build on this."
The Panthers will be an Eastern B favorite again in 2012.
"I'm only losing four," Carpentier said. "It's exciting. We hope to do better next year."
Falmouth didn't just show up and win a championship this spring. In truth, the Yachtsmen's ascension was many years in coming and scores of people deserve credit.
"A lot of people had a ton to do with this," LeBel said. "Beppie Cerf, John Fay, (current assistant coach) Chris Richards and (former coach and athletic director) Jason Hurley for starters. If those people didn't care enough to put in the time it takes to start a program, we wouldn't be here today. I took over a position that had a lot of great kids coming up because Chris worked with them at the seventh and eighth grade level. They were coached correctly and had the fundamentals. When I took over five years ago, we maybe had one or two kids going to camp and playing out of season. I thought I could improve the program. Initially, I never imagined we'd be here knowing how good Yarmouth is and their tradition, Cape and NYA. I thought we could get to a level close to them, but I never thought with their talent and tradition, we'd be able to eclipse them."
Falmouth will part with nine seniors, several of whom played critical roles on this team.
"The seniors were awesome," said LeBel. "I never had to worry about them on or off the field. They're great kids. They're all going off to great schools. They're wonderful kids in the community. They were never troublemakers. They really helped us stay focused and focused the younger, little more immature kids."
While the departures will hurt, the likes of Bell, Cooleen, Fay, Reabe-Gerwig, Ryan, Sipperly and Tapley all return, meaning the Yachtsmen could very well find themselves back in this position next spring.
“Our defense is fine, the attack will be really good, our backup middies are great and Cam is great," said Sipperly.
“We'll go for it next year too," said Tapley. "We're losing some great players, but still have a bunch of others.”
"We definitely have a strong core coming back," LeBel added. "Having two All-Americans (Ryan and Tapley) returning is nice and we probably should have had three with Cam Bell (who wasn't chosen). The fact that we're solid in different areas is great. We don't just have great attackmen or midfielders, we have defensemen, a phenomenal goalie. It gives us something to grow off."