Yarmouth's late surge beats NYA again, 8-5
YARMOUTH—While it might have been a dress rehearsal for a much bigger showdown that figures to follow in 27 days, Thursday evening's girls' lacrosse showdown between the defending Class B state champion North Yarmouth Academy Panthers and the host Yarmouth Clippers, the team which hopes to leapfrog NYA and ascend to the throne, produced plenty of drama.
Unlike the first meeting, which featured 25 goals, this one was more of a battle of wills, one where neither offense got comfortable for long.
The rivals found themselves deadlocked at 5-5 when Panthers junior Katherine Millett scored with 11 minutes to go, but Yarmouth saved its best for last, snapping a nearly 28-minute scoring drought when senior Devin Simsarian converted a free position with 6:51 remaining and Simsarian and senior Natalie Salmon both scored in the waning moments to help the Clippers earn an 8-5 victory.
Yarmouth got four clutch second half saves from senior goalie Stephanie Moulton, three goals from Simsarian, two each from seniors Lindsey Purpura and Becca Bell (who was her usual dominant self in the draw circle) and strong defensive play throughout as it improved to 8-1 on the season, dropping NYA to 4-5.
"We're evenly matched," said Clippers coach Dorothy Holt. "They have injuries and we have injuries. It was a good game. It could have been anyone's game. Our girls showed composure tonight. We could have fallen apart when they came back, but we didn't. It shows it took our whole team to beat them."
Emotions are always at a high when these two teams get together as the schools, which are separated by less than a mile, if you know the fastest shortcut between their respective fields, always give each other their best.
Prior to Thursday, since 2002, the teams had met 23 times, with Yarmouth clinging to a 12-11 advantage (see sidebar).
Since 2004, the powers have met in the regional final every year, with NYA capturing five of those meetings, and the rivalry got even more intense when Julia Littlefield (now Sterling), the longtime Clippers coach, became the Panthers' coach in 2008.
NYA, which finally got over the hump and beat Waynflete in the state final a year ago, 7-3, has been up and down in 2011.
The Panthers beat visiting Freeport in the opener, 14-4, then lost at home to Yarmouth, 16-9. After winning at Brunswick, 13-6, NYA was upset at Greely (13-12, in overtime), lost for the first time to host Falmouth (13-10), then fell at Waynflete by a 12-10 score in a rematch of the title game. The Panthers responded with home wins over York (17-4) and Messalonskee (11-4).
NYA's inconsistency can be explained in part by injury and the loss of some key players from last year's squad.
Yarmouth excelled to start the 2011 campaign, winning at NYA, defending Class A champion Scarborough (16-11) and Cape Elizabeth (16-6) before falling by a goal at Waynflete, 11-10. Yarmouth bounced back with home wins over York (18-10) and Freeport (17-7), then turned back threats from visiting Marshwood (6-2) and Falmouth (13-12).
There have been obstacles. In the win over the Falcons, the Clippers lost senior defensive leader Kate Dilworth to an arm injury. Against the Hawks, senior Danielle Torres, the state's lone returning All-American, went down with an ankle injury.
After dominating in the first meeting of 2011, Yarmouth knew it would get a much tougher test Thursday and that's exactly how it played out.
The Clippers got on the board first when Purpura scored on a free position with 22:15 to go in the 25-minute first half. Just 50 seconds later, Bell beat Panthers senior goalie Frances Leslie with a free position shot and Yarmouth had a 2-0 edge.
The visitors got on the board with 17:27 to play in the half when junior Megan Fortier beat Moulton with a free position shot, but with 15:41 remaining, Purpura took a long pass from Salmon, raced in and scored to again make it a two-goal game, 3-1, and Sterling called timeout.
NYA responded as sophomore Molly Strabley took a pass from senior Rozi Smith and scored, but Simsarian answered with a free position goal at 11:57 and 2 minutes, 10 seconds later, Bell scored unassisted after collecting a ground ball in traffic and the Clippers had a 5-2 lead.
The Panthers looked to cut into the deficit before halftime, but with 2:31 to go, Strabley's free position shot went high. With 1:25 remaining, Yarmouth junior defender Jeanna Lowery made a timely interception of a pass just outside the goal.
NYA was hindered by 13 first half turnovers and Bell's proficiency in the draw circle. The Panthers were able to stay close, however, thanks to five saves from Leslie.
In the second half, NYA came out hot and managed to rally and draw even.
Just 61 seconds in, Fortier scored unassisted after a nice individual move and it was 5-3.
With 21:18 to play in regulation, senior standout Lilly Wellenbach, who was the focus of Yarmouth's defense all night, managed to get free and scored unassisted to make it 5-4.
"The transition was better," Sterling said. "We got open and controlled the ball and we were really patient with the attack."
With 17 minutes to go, both Millett and freshman Olivia Madore had good looks, but Moulton made saves on each shot. Then, with 14:10 left, Madore again looked to tie the score, but Moulton denied the bid.
"I get really nervous for NYA," said Moulton. "It's such a big battle. I trust my team to do well. I trust that my defense will be there for me and when it comes to me, I try to step up and make the save."
"Steph came out and made some key saves in the second half," Holt added. "She's come up big in the second half all year long."
Finally, with exactly 11 minutes showing, Fortier, behind the goal, fed a cutting Millett, whose shot eluded Moulton and the game was tied, 5-5.
"When we came out for the half, (NYA) really wanted to get back in the game," Simsarian said. "They held it on offense and it caught us off guard and we stopped communicating."
Holt took a timeout and the Clippers managed to regroup.
With 6:51 remaining, Simsarian had a chance to go one-on-one with Leslie and her shot was true, ending a protracted 27 minute, 56 drought to give Yarmouth the lead for good.
"Honestly, I never know what's going to happen, but I tried to aim low and just get it in there before the (defenders) collapse," Simsarian said.
NYA won the ensuing draw, but gave the ball away and with 5:03 to go, the hosts got a little breathing room as senior Mariah Lanfer fed Simsarian for a goal and a 7-5 advantage.
"It was wide open down the middle," Simsarian said. "There was an opportunity to cut in from the top. It's great to have low offense that can feed you."
Sterling called timeout, but this time, the Panthers couldn't respond.
Bell won the draw, the Clippers ran a minute, 45 seconds off the clock, then gave the ball away.
At the other end, Lowery forced a turnover and got the ground ball. Yarmouth transitioned to offense and looked to ice it, but Purpura's shot was saved by Leslie.
At the other end, NYA was stymied again by a nice defensive play, this time by Bell, who collected the ball with 1:25 left. The Clippers ran nearly a minute off the clock before Salmon found a seam. She raced in and beat Leslie with a shot with just 35.3 seconds to play and Yarmouth had an 8-5 lead.
No one was happier to see the hosts stall than their goalie.
"Once we have possession, I can trust they'll stay down there and I can relax a little," Moulton said.
After Bell won the next draw, the Clippers ran out the clock and celebrated a win over the team they enjoy beating the most.
"It was pretty fun," said Simsarian. "I think we all played really well. We were much cleaner tonight. It was a focus. We clicked this game. We've compensated and adjusted. Last game was a little harder because people were playing new positions, but we clicked this game. It's definitely hard (without Danielle and Kate). They're some of our key leaders. They talk a lot on the field. Other girls have been stepping up and it's been great."
"It was a fun NYA-Yarmouth game," Holt said. "Julia's amazing. I hold her in high regard. I learned from her and she's the best. We're showing a lot of heart and they're showing good conditioning and hard work in practice. This group wants to be with each other every day. They worked really hard in practice yesterday. We've switched a lot of things and it's helping. We have girls coming in off the bench. Today's the best I've seen our defense play. We were much cleaner. We have to work on our consistency and our shot selection. It'll come."
Simsarian was the most productive offensive player on the night with her three goals. Bell and Purpura each scored twice. Salmon also had a goal. Lanfer had the team's lone assist. Bell and Salmon had a team-high five ground balls. Simsarian and promising sophomore Olivia Conrad, who's been thrown into the fire with Torres sidelined, both grabbed four. Moulton wound up with six saves.
"Anyone can step up and even if we have a couple of our best players out, we have others who can take their places and be strong," Moulton said.
For NYA, Fortier had two goals, Millett, Smith and Wellenbach one apiece, Fortier and Strabley each had an assist. Strabley had a game-high eight ground balls, while senior captain and defensive leader Caroline Bowne had seven and Fortier five. Leslie made seven saves.
"Frances did a nice job keeping it close," Sterling said. "It was a matter of putting it in net. The girls are trying to keep it together. They've got to feel the flow and they're not. I know our girls can play better. We're not the unit we were last year, but we're still working on it. It takes the whole season to pull it all together."
Bell won 9-of-15 draws. Wellenbach went 4-for-11 against her, while Fortier won 1-of-3 attempts and Bowne was triumphant in her lone draw.
NYA held a slim 31-27 edge in ground balls, but turned the ball over 21 times (compared to a mere 15 for the Clippers, less than half of their total against Falmouth, when they had 36). Yarmouth outshot the Panthers, 18-13 (15-11 on cage).
See you soon
Both teams now look to close the regular season strong.
NYA (seemingly entrenched in second place in the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings) hosts Waynflete Tuesday, goes to Cape Elizabeth May 27 and finishes at home versus Falmouth May 31.
"We still have some good games," Sterling said. "Hopefully we'll get some (Heal Points)."
The Clippers (who appear to have the top seed wrapped up in Eastern B) are back in action Wednesday of next week in Falmouth.
"We're not close to peaking," Holt said. "We have a couple days to rest up for Falmouth. We have a lot to prove. It'll be a good game."
A trip to Greely May 27 and a home showdown with Waynflete (a state final preview perhaps?) is on tap for June 1.
"We try to play each game and take it as it comes," Moulton said. "We still have some big ones to go. It's been a fun season."
It's no secret that the Clippers and Panthers expect to meet again on June 15 with the regional championship on the line.
That's the game that will matter most of all.
"There's one team we'll have to beat," Sterling said. "We have to want it. The next one is the big one. We hope to get better and better by the tournament."
"It helps to have homefield," Simsarian said. "We're so used to turf. Most everyone has turf now, but this turf is special to us. We have to prove ourselves this year."
"We'll be home and I think that's a huge difference," Holt added. "The girls remember how last year felt. It's now or never for these seniors. Hopefully we'll be healthy and back in shape and ready to go by then."