NYA wins the one that counts most; Panthers beat Yarmouth in regional final again, 9-5
YARMOUTH — The third time was indeed the charm for the North Yarmouth Academy girls' lacrosse team.
After dropping both regular season meetings with rival Yarmouth, the host Panthers saved their best showing for last Wednesday afternoon, blanking the potent Clippers in the second half of a 9-5 triumph in the Eastern A Final.
NYA raced to an early lead, saw Yarmouth go ahead by virtue of a 4-0 run, then, the Panthers completed dominated the second half, took the lead for good with 18:40 to play on sophomore Katherine Millett's goal, then pulled away behind a superb defensive effort and a balanced offense to improve to 11-3, end the Clippers season at 10-4 and set up a third straight Class B Final showdown with two-time defending champion Waynflete Saturday at 10 a.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Senior standout Courtney Dumont, who was held in check in the regular season meetings, scored four times, sophomore Katie Cawley came up huge with two goals and NYA got to celebrate a win over its biggest rival.
"Yarmouth's a good team," said Panthers coach Julia Sterling. "They could have been the better team today. They're just as good as we are, but we wanted it more. We're a second half team. We picked it up."
Rite of spring
This rivalry has been vibrant for years. The first playoff meeting came way back in 2000 (won the by Clippers, 10-6, in the quarterfinal round), but every season since 2004, NYA and Yarmouth have played in the regional final.
When lacrosse split into two classes in 2006, the rivals began meeting in the Eastern B Final. The Clippers enjoyed victories en route to state championships in 2006 (10-6) and 2007 (10-7). The drama was ratcheted up even further in 2008 when Sterling, then known as Julia Littlefield, left the Yarmouth program she built into a powerhouse and took over the Panthers. NYA then won the regional title that year (10-9) and again last spring (10-7), marking the first time the road team has won a playoff game in this series.
Both regular season meetings were memorable, especially from a Clippers perspective. On April 28, Yarmouth beat the visiting Panthers, 12-8, behind four goals each from juniors Devin Simsarian and Danielle Torres. In that one, Dumont and junior Lily Wellenbach both missed big chunks of the second half after receiving second yellow cards. On May 19, Yarmouth got the job done on the road, 11-6, thanks to four goals from senior Molly Curry and three from Torres. That contest was marked by the absence of Sterling, who would miss the rest of the regular season with illness before returning for the playoffs.
Despite their two losses to the Clippers, the Panthers still wound up 9-3 and earned the top seed in Eastern B, thanks in large part to two victories over Waynflete. NYA had no trouble with No. 4 Morse in the semifinals Saturday, racing to a 10-0 lead en route to a 17-2 victory, behind four goals each from Dumont and freshman Molly Strabley.
Yarmouth was also 9-3 during the regular season, entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed and dominated No. 3 Gardiner from start to finish in a 22-4 semifinal round win Saturday. Underrated senior Nalini Robbins had five goals, senior Brenna Bialek and junior Becca Bell had four each and Torres added three.
Wednesday's game lived up to the hype.
The Clippers were frustrated early as they looked to take the lead.
One minute, 25 seconds in, Torres earned a free position, but NYA senior goalie Ashley Salerno made the save. Nine seconds later, Curry's shot hit the post and with 23 minutes to go in the 25-minute first half, another Torres free position shot went wide.
Fifteen seconds later, even more frustration ensued when Robbins appeared to set up Torres for a goal, but it was waved off due to a crease violation.
At the other end, the Panthers set up their attack and broke the ice with 20:40 left when Strabley's free position shot went past Yarmouth junior goalie Carlie Woodson and snuck under the crossbar.
Just 25 seconds later, Cawley set up sophomore Kylie Dalbec for a goal and a 2-0 lead. With Dumont took a pass from Wellenbach and raced in on a fastbreak to score with 18:50 to go to make it 3-0, Clippers coach Dorothy Holt called timeout.
Yarmouth appeared on the verge of digging an even deeper hole when Curry got a yellow card 22 seconds later, but the Clippers didn't allow a shot down a player for three minutes and finally got on the board with 13:32 to go when Bell, who was strong throughout, picked up a ground ball and tickled the twine.
Off the ensuing draw, Dumont set up Cawley to make it 4-1, but Yarmouth would close the half in dominant fashion.
With 12:40 to go, Bell scored on a free position to once again make it a two-goal game. With 5:49 remaining, Torres made a nice catch of a high pass from Curry and beat Salerno to make it 4-3.
With 4:51 left, Curry set up Robbins for a goal, but again, it was waved off for a crease violation.
Finally, with 2:42 to go in the half, Bell (from junior Natalie Salmon) scored, tying the game. With 1:56 remaining, Salmon scored on a free position to give the Clippers the lead, but unbeknownst to everyone on hand, Yarmouth wouldn't strike again, going the final 26:56 scoreless.
NYA looked to tie the game before the break, but a Dumont rush was broken up by a check from sophomore Caitlin Crawford and the Panthers were down a goal, 5-4, at halftime.
The Clippers won seven of the 10 first half draws, had a 30-19 advantage in ground balls, a 12-6 edge in shots and forced 12 turnovers, but everything would change in the final 25 minutes.
In the first minute of the new half, Dumont looked to tie the score, but her bid was saved by Woodson. At the other end, Torres was denied by Salerno in what would be Yarmouth's last good chance for many minutes.
With 22:19 to play, Dumont set up Cawley for a goal to tie the score at 5-5, ending a 4-0 Clippers run and a 15 minute, 58 second drought, a dry spell that would pale in comparison to the visitors'.
Yarmouth then got three yellow cards over the next seven minutes for hard checks or dangerous shots, reversing the trend of the first regular season contest. Senior Lizzie Fischman went off with 22:08 to play, but the Clippers had a chance to go ahead only to see Bell's shot saved by Salerno.
Seconds after Cawley shot high on an open net, NYA went ahead for good with 18:40 to play when Millett spun through a pair of defenders and sent a blast past Woodson, into the net for a 6-5 advantage.
Dumont quickly made it 7-5 with a free position goal at the 17:09 mark and after a turnover, Dumont scored again with 16:12 to play, making it 8-5. On the play, Fischman received a second yellow card and had to spend the rest of the game on the sidelines.
"We were down at halftime, but a couple girls rallied us," Sterling said. "The attack controlled the ball so well. We knew we had to have possession. Ground balls win the game."
Seconds later, Dumont got a yellow and Torres was given one for a dangerous shot (Yarmouth wound up with five yellow cards for the game, NYA two).
The Clippers continued to play hard and looked to rally, but with 10:25 remaining, Robbins hit the post and Torres followed with back-to-back shots that Salerno turned aside.
"Ashley was just incredible," Sterling said. "She had some huge saves."
With 7:52 to play, Dumont (from senior defensive standout Hayley Bright) made a leaping catch and shot and scored to push the lead to four.
Holt took timeout, but Yarmouth couldn't respond.
With 6 minutes left, the Panthers got possession and ran over three minutes off the clock. After an exchange of turnovers, NYA milked another minute. With less than a minute to go, Salmon and Curry desperately tried to cut into the deficit, but both missed. The hosts then got the ball and ran out the clock, winning their third straight Eastern B crown and their sixth regional title overall.
"We got together as a team and changed a lot of things," Cawley said. "We knew we needed more communication. Today, we went out there and played our best and last time we didn't have our coach. She's back and I think we're a lot stronger now."
"When we played them earlier, it didn't really feel like us," Dumont said. "It was important for us to come and think of it as another game and not psych ourselves out that it was Yarmouth. Our ball movement was different. That helped us get open and we were making smart passes. That showed us we can beat them. It gave us confidence."
Dumont, to the surprise of no one, led the way on offense with four goals and an assist. Cawley (two goals, one assist), Dalbec, Millett and Strabley (one goal each) also scored. Bright and Wellenbach added assists.
"Courtney led the attack beautifully," Sterling said. "I spoke to Katie a few days ago and told her it was time for her to step up to the next level and she did. I'm really, really proud of them.
"It's hard to beat a team three times and that's a very tough team. It should have been the finals. They pass the ball so well. We knew we had to get under their skin. We had to stay settled on defense and avoid yellow cards and play smart. Hayley Bright pulled the defense together. They had a lot of patience. I think what's happened is a maturation showed up when I came back. The captains stepped up more. They had to. We pulled a '360' when I was away."
Salerno made nine clutch saves. Junior Caroline Bowne led the Panthers with seven ground balls.
NYA won four of the six second half draws, turned the tables and grabbed 24 ground balls to just 10 for Yarmouth in the second stanza (giving the Panthers a 43-40 edge for the game) and forced 22 total turnovers.
The Clippers got three goals from Bell, one from Torres and a goal and an assist from Salmon. Woodson stopped three shots. Bell had eight ground balls, Curry finished with seven. Yarmouth had a 23-14 edge in shots (14-12 in shots on goal).
"I'm bummed for these guys," Holt said. "You can't win a playoff game without scoring. We won draws, but lost the ball in the circle. It came down to 50-50 balls. They were just a better team today. We're evenly matched, but they pulled it out. They're good. We had crease violations, hit the post. Our shooting was just off today. We rushed it. It's so tough to beat a team three times."
The Clippers will try again in 2011 and return many top players.
"We did a lot of good things this year," Holt said. "Next year, we'll see. NYA will still be strong."
Team of destiny?
NYA has overcome on- and off-field challenges in 2010 and appears as if it might be destined to finally win a state title.
If the Panthers do it, they'll have to beat the state's flagship program, Waynflete, which is a daunting task.
Waynflete and NYA have plenty of state final history.
The Flyers have beaten the Panthers in all five previous meetings, dating back to 2001. That year, Waynflete won, 9-5. The Flyers also won in 2004 (9-6), 2005 (5-4, in overtime), 2008 (12-8) and last year (9-5).
NYA feels its primed to take that final step.
"I think we're ready," Cawley said. "We beat Waynflete twice. We'll go out there and try our hardest."
"We want Waynflete again," said Dumont. "They're a great team, we have a lot of respect for them. We have to play like we did today and play tough lacrosse. The key to winning that game will be not worrying about who it is, but worrying about our team and what we do on the field. It's hard to beat a team three times. We're not overconfident. We'll work hard in practice and be intense."
"We've lost to them the last two years," Sterling added. "They're not doing much different than before. We are. The girls know what Waynflete's about. Win or lose, we deserve to be there."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com