Yarmouth finally vanquishes NYA in regional final
YARMOUTH—As surely as the month of June brings us Father's Day and the Summer Solstice, it also year after year after year treats girls' lacrosse fans in the state of Maine to a regional final showdown between the two talented rivals that inhabit the town of Yarmouth.
Wednesday afternoon, for the eighth year in a row, the Yarmouth Clippers and North Yarmouth Academy Panthers squared off with a berth in the state championship game on the line.
This time, for the first time in four years, Yarmouth was the last team standing.
But it sure wasn't easy.
The Clippers were almost shut out in the first half, but senior standout Danielle Torres took advantage of an NYA turnover in the waning seconds and scored to turn momentum and pull Yarmouth within 3-1.
The hosts then scored off the second half draw and had new life. They went up, 4-3 and 5-4, but both times, the Panthers drew even.
Finally, with just 1:43 remaining, underappreciated senior Lindsey Purpura put her team on top to stay with an unassisted goal and Yarmouth's defense and its offense's ability to milk the clock slammed the door and the hosts held on for an exhilarating 6-5 triumph.
The Clippers improved to 13-1, ended NYA's tumultuous year at 5-9 and advanced to meet perennial powerhouse Waynflete (12-2) in Saturday's Class B state final at 5:30 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
"We feel like this is our redemption for the past three years," Torres said. "It feels amazing to finally be on top."
All eyes on Yarmouth
No other town in the state of Maine features a public and private school lacrosse powerhouse a mere mile apart. Mix in the teams' longtime dominance, a coach who started one program, then led the other to the promised land for the first time and a shared history that's as compelling as you'll find and there's a reason so many people flocked to Yarmouth High Wednesday night.
Over the past decade, the Clippers held an 11-6 advantage over the Panthers in the regular season, but in the playoffs, NYA held sway, winning five of the prior seven meetings dating to 2004.
The Panthers beat Yarmouth in the East Region Final in 2004 (13-7), the final game as Clippers' coach for the then-Julia Littlefield. The next spring, in what remains the most compelling postseason contest yet, Yarmouth, under Dorothy Holt, then in her first year as coach, rallied from a 5-0 halftime deficit to pull even and the game would go into a third overtime before Caty von Brecht scored to send NYA to the championship game.
In 2006, girls' lacrosse went to two classes and the Clippers and Panthers took their act to Eastern B.
Ever since, the regional title was contested either at NYA or Yarmouth.
That year, Yarmouth, en route to its first state title since 2002, beat the Panthers, 10-6. The next year, the Clippers did it again, winning, 10-7, on their way to a repeat championship.
Littlefield took over at NYA the next season and the Panthers eked out a 10-9 home win over Yarmouth in the regional final. In 2009, NYA went on the road for the Eastern B Final and upset the Clippers, 10-7. Last spring, the Clippers won the two regular season meetings, but in the regional final, the Panthers shut Yarmouth out in the second half and advanced, 9-5. NYA then upset Waynflete, 7-3, to win its first championship under the same coach, but with a new name, Julia Sterling.
This season, the Clippers have been the clear favorite and have arguably been the best team in the state in the regular season.
Yarmouth opened with an emphatic victory at NYA 16-9, behind seven goals from senior Becca Bell. The Clippers then cruised past defending Class A champion Scarborough (16-11) and Cape Elizabeth (16-6). After being bested by a goal at Waynflete, 11-10, Yarmouth bounced back with home wins over York (18-10), Freeport (17-7), Marshwood (6-2), Falmouth (13-12) and NYA (8-5), before rolling at Falmouth (13-8) and Greely (17-8). In the regular season finale, at home, on Senior Night, the Clippers left no doubt that they were title-worthy with a 13-8 win over Waynflete, giving them an 11-1 record and the top seed in Eastern B.
Along the way, the team overcame injuries, most notably to senior defensive leader Kate Dilworth, who missed most of the regular season, and Torres, who was out for the better part of three games.
Yarmouth toyed with No. 4 Morse in the semifinals Saturday, romping, 21-3, behind six goals from Bell and four from senior Devin Simsarian.
NYA, meanwhile, despite being defending champs, knew a repeat would be difficult after some key graduation losses. The Panthers, who had beaten visiting Freeport, 14-4, before the loss at Yarmouth, bounced back with a 13-6 win at Brunswick, then were shocked at Greely (13-12, in overtime), lost for the first time in program history to host Falmouth (13-10) and narrowly lost at Waynflete in a state final rematch, 12-10. NYA beat visiting York (17-4) and Messalonskee (14-4) before falling at Yarmouth, Then, the Panthers lost seven key players for the remainder of the regular season after they were suspended for being at a post-Prom party. Predictably, NYA struggled, falling at home to Waynflete (17-4), at Cape Elizabeth (10-6) and at home to Falmouth (15-5) to wind up 4-8 and second in the region.
The Panthers got their players back for the semifinals Saturday and quickly dismantled No.3 Gardiner, 16-4. Sophomore Molly Strabley had six goals. Junior Megan Fortier four.
In the two regular season meetings, Yarmouth took control and pulled away in the second half.
Wednesday, the Clippers would have to come from behind and barely did so.
Yarmouth had no trouble possessing in the early going, but despite ample opportunities, couldn't get on the board.
NYA went up just 1 minute, 51 seconds into the 25-minute first half when Strabley scored unassisted.
Then, the Clippers had chance after chance after chance to draw even.
With 20:35 left in the half, Bell broke free, but senior goalie Frances Leslie made the save. With 14:53 showing, Torres' shot was saved. A mere 44 seconds later, senior Natalie Salmon was denied by Leslie. With 13:33 on the clock, it was Bell's turn again, this time on a free position, but the shot was saved as Leslie, who never played a second in goal prior to this spring, sparkled on the big stage.
Yarmouth had unleashed 11 successive shots, but couldn't score and the Panthers remained on top, 1-0.
Finally, with 7:56 left in the half, NYA senior standout Lilly Wellenbach scored for a 2-0 lead. With 2:05 to go, junior Katie Cawley beat Clippers senior goalie Stephanie Moulton (on a pass from Wellenbach) for a 3-0 advantage.
The Clippers were on the ropes and when Simsarian was denied by Leslie on a free position with 27.5 seconds to go, it appeared as if Yarmouth would be shut out for the second straight regional final half.
Then, the Clippers pounced on a mistake and turned the tide.
Leslie's ensuing clear went awry and Torres was in the right place at the right time to pick up the loose ball. She raced in on goal and beat the helpless Leslie to score and give Yarmouth life with just 15.9 seconds left on the first half clock.
After scoring its first regional final goal in 51 minutes, 41 seconds, the sleeping giant had been awakened.
"I was really confident Devin would make that shot, but the goalie made great saves.," Torres said. "A lot of balls bounced right back and I was ready for that. I saw the ball right in front of the goal and I really, really wanted that goal and it's the best feeling. I didn't have that many shots."
"Danielle's goal was really a breather and got us to settle down," Dilworth said. "To end the half like that boosted our spirits up and we were really excited about starting the second half strong."
"That was huge for momentum," Holt added. "Leave it up to one of my middies to come through."
Yarmouth had a 16-10 shots advantage in the first 25 minutes, forced 11 turnovers and split the 30 ground balls, but trailed.
"We were definitely nervous at the start," said Holt. "We had 13 shots on goal and missed the cage 13 times. We're resilient. At halftime we talked about working hard. It took heart and skill. The message at halftime was that we're getting the shots. Get them in the net."
The Clippers would be a much different team in the second half.
Bell won the opening draw, fed Torres and Torres found Salmon, who beat Leslie just 13 seconds into the new half to make it a 3-2 game.
"We had a slow start," said Torres. "I think we had a lot of nerves going into it. We definitely settled in toward the end of the first half and the start of the second half, we came right out. We felt more comfortable on this half of the field. Dorothy got us in the right mindset of what we needed to do. Each of us knew this game was definitely winnable for us. We weren't playing our game at the beginning. We knew we had to come out with a fire and we did."
With 20:46 to go in regulation, Salmon's shot was saved by Leslie, but 36 seconds later, after the officials got confused and had to throw the ball up for grabs, Simsarian gained possession, broke free on Leslie and scored to deadlock the game, 3-3.
Yarmouth kept the pressure on and went ahead for the first time when sophomore Olivia Conrad, who's emerged as a key contributor in recent weeks, scored on a rebound with 16:48 left to make it 4-3 Clippers.
"I remember my captain, Danielle, telling me the other day, that it's not necessarily the biggest goal scorer or the best players of the season, it's the people you really don't expect to make the big difference in games like these," Conrad said. "When she said that, I wasn't thinking it would be me, but I'm excited to have contributed to such a good win. The shot hit the goalie, it was a rebound off her foot, and it was a ground ball literally to my feet and I just picked it up and went for it."
The Clippers weren't able to keep the momentum as NYA tied the score at 4-4 with 14;51 to play as Wellenbach cut through several defenders and beat a helpless Moulton.
Torres had a pair of chances to put Yarmouth back on top, but shot wide and Simsarian had a shot that Leslie saved.
Finally, with 7:26 left, Purpura scored on a free position and the Clippers had a 5-4 advantage.
It didn't last.
Yarmouth won the ensuing draw and Simsarian got a pass from Salmon right in front, but Leslie made a dazzling save and the Panthers transitioned. The ball came to Wellenbach, who was fouled. She then beat Moulton on a free position shot with 5:57 remaining and NYA had pulled even, 5-5.
At that point, it was anyone's game, but the senior-laden Clippers weren't about to fall to the Panthers again.
With 3:45 left, Salmon had a great bid in front, but Leslie made the save. After an NYA turnover, Yarmouth set up and Purpura was in the right place at the right time, corralling a rebound of a missed shot before finishing to put the Clippers up, 6-5, with just 1:43 to go.
"Honestly, I had no idea there was that little time left," Purpura said. "I just had the ball, saw the opportunity and took it. Any other girl on the team would have done the same exact thing. Anyone could have had that goal. I was at the right place at the right time."
There was plenty of time left for the Panthers to rally, but Bell won the draw. Yarmouth was able to run the clock down to 35.8 seconds before turning the ball over.
On the dead ball situation, Wellenbach took possession and all on hand knew she was primed to race down the field and tie the score.
She never got there.
The Clippers forced a turnover and Purpura was there to grab the loose ball.
"We knew Lilly would take it straight to goal," Torres said. "We doubled the ball and got it back."
"We played our hearts out on defense," Dilworth said. "We definitely were working hard. (Sophomore) Claire (King), me, (junior) Jeanna (Lowery) and (junior) Caitlin (Crawford). We all were busting it in practice, working to make ourselves better. Today, we huddled together and weren't going to let them take advantage of us. We were really happy with how we were working. We were really nervous about Lilly. Our goal in transition is pressure the ball. We realized Lilly's the most influential player on the team. We stopped them in the midfield and that was really helpful for us."
Yarmouth then ran out the remaining seconds and as the clock showed 6:01 p.m., the hosts had finally vanquished their rival and advanced, 6-5.
"I was on the sidelines, literally grabbing my teammates' shoulders, freaking out." said Conrad. "(Beating NYA is) really important. For the seniors, it meant the world to them. We all want it really bad for each other."
"It was a stressful game," said Purpura. "We were definitely getting a little scared. If we lost, it was over. With 12 seniors, we didn't want to lose now. We wanted to go to states. At halftime, we realized it was all or nothing. None of us had experienced it before and we wanted it more than anything in our high school careers. It seemed like there was so much time left for them to get it back and beat us. It was not over at all. In the last minute, we had to hold it and play with all the strength we had in us."
"I've been sitting out for four weeks, so to come back and be with the team feels good," said Dilworth. "Every year we stand on that line and everyone's sobbing and we always watch (NYA) happy and getting that trophy. We wanted to be in that position. We talked about how we had to have zero percent energy left after the game and give it our all. We know every year NYA is a different team in playoffs. We wanted to give it our all and play as a team and win and we did."
"It was nervewracking until the bitter end," Holt added. "It takes a village. It took everyone to win this game today. Olivia came in off that bench and scored that goal. The defense and the middies worked their butts off making interceptions and drawing turnovers. These kids played their hearts out. Give it to Frances Leslie. She was phenomenal in goal. We made it a little difficult on ourselves, but we did it. The defense stood up and caused turnovers. Caitlin and Jeanna and Kate and Claire, they were knocking balls out of the air. Give them credit. It took fight to win this game. They've been working so hard. I'm just so happy to get this win for them. We were getting ground balls. These guys wanted it. It's hard to beat a team three times. We did it."
Five different Clippers scored.
Purpura had two goals, Conrad, Salmon, Simsarian and Torres one. Torres had Yarmouth's lone assist on the day. Bell had a team-high six ground balls. Purpura and Salmon five each. Moulton made five saves.
"(Former boys' coach Craig Curry) told me in these games, it's not the typical top goal scorers who make the difference," Torres said. "Lindsey and Olivia and every person on this team was a huge component. The defense was outstanding today. I just have this image today of Kate and Claire crashing in and their sticks crossed. I personally think the defense made the difference in this game. Caitlin took control as usual. Stephanie made crucial saves. We forced turnovers and got interceptions."
For NYA, Wellenbach closed her standout career with three goals and an assist. Cawley and Strabley also tickled the twine. Fortier, who was all over the field from the get-go, had a game-high nine ground balls. Leslie sparkled with 14 saves.
"We were really impressed by NYA's goalie," said Torres. "She made a ton of great saves."
"Frances was the best player on the field," Sterling said. "She really wanted it. We shot tennis balls at her for a half-hour before we came to the field here. It's all eye-hand. If you can stop the ball and you can keep the ball, then you can win the game."
The Panthers wound up a misleading 5-9 due to a brutal schedule and late-season turmoil, but certainly gave Yarmouth a mighty scare.
"It was a great statement today," Sterling said. "We had nothing to lose. There were ups and downs and obstacles. We had three fantastic practices this week. We're ranging from freshmen to sophomores to a couple juniors and some excellent seniors to a goalie who hasn't played before. It was absolutely awesome. I'm so proud of them. I knew 3-1 going to the second half, (Yarmouth would) resettle and we had to stay up. We were the underdog. We gave them the best competition. When I think about our underclassmen, she has 12 seniors. I coached them in eighth grade. It was a bittersweet situation. A long day for me today."
NYA fought through obstacles, but wound up one goal shy of making it back to the state final for the fourth successive year.
"It was a long, hard season weather-wise," Sterling said. "We also had the weariness of the ups and downs of the team and the different ages. Really inexperienced kids popped into places we never thought they would in the tournament. We have a great feeder system."
Yarmouth had a 7-6 edge in draws as Bell won 7 of 12 chances and Simsarian went 0 for 1. For NYA, Wellenbach finished 6 of 10 and Fortier 0 for 3.
Each team wound up with 31 ground balls, but NYA had 22 turnovers to just 10 for the Clippers. Yarmouth had a 31-13 shots on goal advantage and put 20 shots on cage to just 10 for the Panthers.
One game left
Yarmouth and Waynflete have a long history, but have met just once in the state final in the Maine Principals' Association-sanctioned era.
The teams first met in the playoffs in 1994, when the Flyers earned a 7-6 win in the state game. The next year, Waynflete edged the Clippers, 6-5, in the semifinals. In 1996, Yarmouth beat Waynflete, 5-4, in the Division I state championship game. In 1998, the Flyers capped their first perfect season with a 13-8 win over the Clippers in the inaugural MPA state final. The next spring, Waynflete beat Yarmouth again, 5-3 in the championship game. The squads wouldn't meet in June again until 2006, when the three-time defending state champion Flyers, riding a 36-game win streak, were no match for the ascendant Clippers, who dominated from start to finish in a 12-5 triumph.
Saturday, Yarmouth knows it will be in for a much tougher battle than the one it got in the regular season finale.
"I'm nervous, but excited," Conrad said. "It's time to go do it."
"We have to come out strong," Purpura said. "We've been playing since December and this group of seniors has been playing together since third grade. It's what we've wanted the whole time. We have to come out with everything we have and leave it all on the field."
"Tomorrow, we'll practice and forget about this game," Dilworth said. "Our next focus is winning states. That's been our focus since the beginning. Waynflete's a huge challenge for us. As a team, we'll have to push ourselves to the next limit. Today was a really hard game. Next game will be even tougher."
"This makes us want to win states that much more," said Torres. "We know our last game will be a challenge. We have two practices left in our season. We know what it feels like to win and that's what we want. They have the experience for sure and none of us have ever been there. Nerves come with that, but together we'll go through it and we'll prep each other in the right way to be prepared and relaxed at the right time. We know we can beat them at our game, but we can't get overhyped. They're such a talented team. So much ball control. So many individual, talented players. We know it will be a challenge, for sure."
"We'll see what we can do," Holt added. "We split the season series. These girls deserve it. It's going to be all about controlling the ball and hitting the net. The team with the least amount of turnovers will win the game. I haven't wanted it more in a long time. It's for this group of seniors and the freshmen we brought up this year. What a trip it's been."