Perfect Clippers repeat as Class B boys' lacrosse champions, 12-9 over Cape Elizabeth
PORTLAND— Prior to Saturday afternoon, the Yarmouth boys' lacrosse juggernaut had accomplished just about everything imaginable, but had never won two straight state titles and had never climbed the pinnacle in an odd-numbered season.
Now, the Clippers have done it all.
At Fitzpatrick Stadium, Yarmouth broke open a tight game with a third period surge and capped just the second undefeated campaign in program history with a 12-9 triumph over rival Cape Elizabeth to capture the Class B championship for the second year in a row, third time in four years and the fourth since 2004.
Yarmouth, which wasn't even mentioned as a top five team in one publication back in April, displayed its offensive balance, getting goals from five different players, had a big advantage on special teams and got a clutch effort from its seniors to go back-to-back.
"It's such a good feeling to win the game," said Clippers senior Rob Highland, who had three goals in the victory. "Cape was definitely the other best team in the league. I knew they'd give us a good game and they did."
"It gave us fuel to win another one to hear we weren't even in the top five after being the state champion," said senior Peter Erickson, who had an assist and was huge all over the field.
"It was a great season," added Yarmouth coach Craig Curry. "These kids really came out of nowhere. I really believe that. Not many people gave us a whole lot of thought in the preseason. We lost 18 kids and most of them were starters. These kids worked their hearts out and brought themselves to a place where they could challenge anybody. It was a great season."
Worth the wait
Last year, the Clippers were overpowering en route to a title, but the core of the 2009 team had to either play a cameo role or sit behind an accomplished senior class.
This spring, now seniors, that group met every challenge and then some.
"We talked a lot about being ready to step up and step in," Curry said. "Obviously, it's a disappointment to be a junior and not be on the field. We talked about that a lot last year. We told them their turn would come this year.
"Last year was special because those boys were my son (John's) friends. These boys waited their turn and couldn't have been more gracious about it. When it was their turn, they treated the underclassmen so much better than ever before and I think it's because they were underclassmen for so long. They had to wait three years. They didn't start as a sophomore or a junior. They were awesome."
Yarmouth opened with a hard-fought 8-6 home victory over Cape Elizabeth. The Clippers then beat their next five foes by a composite 80-13 score. On May 18, Yarmouth hosted eventual Class A champion Portland in what proved to be the most compelling game of the year. The Clippers kept their home winning streak alive with an 11-9 victory and wouldn't be tested again. Yarmouth won its final five games by an average 16-2 margin (capped by a stunning 18-5 victory at Falmouth) and wound up 12-0 for just the second time (2004 was the other) and earned the top seed for the Eastern B playoffs.
The Clippers were even more dominant in the playoffs. In the semifinals, Yarmouth demolished St. Dom's 26-1. Rival North Yarmouth Academy wasn't able to keep things much closer in the regional final as the Clippers advanced with a 15-4 win, extending their home winning streak to 64 games, dating back to May 24, 2002.
Cape Elizabeth produced another solid campaign, losing only to Yarmouth and Portland in earning the top seed in Western B with a 10-2 mark. The Capers then ousted No. 4 Waynflete, 14-2, and No. 2 Falmouth, 11-7, to reach the state final.
Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth have been almost annual competitors in the state final. The Capers were victorious in the 1995, 1996, 1997, 2003 and 2005 tilts, while the Clippers beat Cape Elizabeth for their first title in 2004, then won last year's contest, 9-4.
Yarmouth would repeat, but it wouldn't come easily.
The Capers scored first, just 56 seconds in, getting an unassisted goal from junior Tommy Foden to go up 1-0, but the Clippers answered at the 10:10 mark when junior Evan Henry scored an unassisted goal of his own.
After a pair of penalties on both teams, Yarmouth took its first lead, 2-1, with 1:42 left in the opening stanza when Henry again scored unassisted.
"I felt like it was the last game so I had to give everything I had," Henry said. "The other guys dodged first and my guys would switch to them and I'd be open."
With 48.4 seconds left in the quarter, Cape Elizabeth drew even on a goal from senior Cam Smith (set up by senior Ben Lydon). With just 10.6 seconds to go, the Clippers went ahead to stay, 3-2, when Henry set up senior Luke Torres for a goal.
Yarmouth could have been ahead by even more had it not been for Capers sophomore goalie Jack Roos, who stopped six shots.
Three times in the second period, Yarmouth would go up by a pair of goals, but on each occasion, Cape Elizabeth responded.
Junior Steven Petrovek got into the scoring column for the Clippers with 10:49 to play in the second, taking a pass from Erickson and scoring in transition. With 8:33 to go before the half, senior All-American Mike Holden answered for the Capers (scoring a transition goal of his own off a pass from senior Jon O'Hearn).
At the 4:51 mark, Highland got his first goal, unassisted, but just 13 seconds later, Foden fed Smith for a goal and it was 5-4. Henry scored unassisted with 3:31 left to apparently give Yarmouth a little breathing room, 6-4, but with 16 seconds to go in the half, Holden (from junior Ben Brewster) scored and despite a big edge in faceoffs and shots, the Clippers led by just one at the break.
Yarmouth finally seized control in the third quarter.
With 10:06 left, Highland fired a shot through traffic and past Roos for a 7-5 lead. This time, the Clippers kept the pressure on and went up 8-5 on an unassisted goal from junior Colby Shields, which Roos slowed, but couldn't stop.
Cape Elizabeth got back to within 8-6 on another Smith goal (from Foden) with 7:02 left, but three goals in a 3 minute, 19 second span gave Yarmouth breathing room at last.
Petrovek got the surge started with a turnaround shot over Roos' shoulder with 3:37 to go.
"I think we still felt confident," Petrovek said. "We knew we had to win the ground ball wars and we'd be fine."
Fifty-six seconds later, playing down a man, the Clippers got a goal from Highland (assisted by Petrovek).
"I wasn't surprised it was close at the half," Highland said. "We just got the offense rolling in the third quarter. We switched me to attack and they couldn't lock me off as well. I had a good opportunity to create some offense."
With 18.7 seconds remaining, Torres capped the uprising and made it 11-6 with an unassisted tally.
"We kept doing what we were doing and the ball went in," Curry said. "Early on, we hit the pipes or hit the goalie. We had shots, we just didn't put them away."
Twelve minutes from a championship, Yarmouth tightened its defense and set about finishing the job.
The Capers pulled back to 11-7 when Foden scored unassisted with 10:11 to go, but with 7:03 remaining, Petrovek scored the signature goal of the season, taking a pass from Henry before flicking a behind the back shot into the cage for a 12-7 advantage.
"I always goof around with it in practice," Petrovek said. "I figured I could pull it off and went for it."
The Capers again got back to within four, 12-8, with 6:21 to play when Holden (from senior Alex Pillsbury) scored man-up. Foden then added an unassisted goal in the final minute, but Cape Elizabeth could draw no closer and Yarmouth was able to celebrate its 12-9 victory.
"My goal this year wasn't All-American or a lot of points," said Highland, who scored a lot of points, was named All-American and earned the hardware. "I just wanted to get back to this field on this day and win it again. I'm so happy. I think we improved every day. We got better each time. It showed by the end of the year."
"We're the returning champs and a lot of people didn't think we could it again," Henry said. "We worked hard and stayed together."
"It feels great to do it two years in a row," added Erickson. "Going in undefeated, we had a huge target on our back. Cape's a good team. Their defense shut us down at first. So many different players stepped up today. That's a great thing about our team."
The Clippers got three goals apiece from Henry (one assist), Highland and Petrovek (one assist), two from Torres and another from Shields. Junior Cam Woodworth stopped eight shots.
"A bunch of people scored today," Highland said. "Other kids stepped up. Luke Torres had two goals. Cam made some big saves at the end of the game."
Yarmouth had a 36-28 advantage in shots, a 47-33 edge in ground balls and forced 26 turnovers, but perhaps its most impressive stat was senior Steve Derrey's 15 faceoff wins (to 10 for the Capers).
"When I first got on the team, I tried to work on both offense and faceoffs," said Derrey, who also grabbed five ground balls. "During the year, I realized I loved going out and doing the faceoffs and how big a part of the game it was. I wanted to help the team. I really had to focus and read what the other guy's doing. He won a couple and I altered what I was doing and started winning them. It felt good to help the team like that.
"I think we lost a lot of great players, but we came in with our game face on every single game or we wouldn't be able to win it all. We did it and we're state champs."
Cape Elizabeth got three goals each from Foden (two assists), Holden and Smith. Brewster, Lydon, O'Hearn and Pillsbury all had one assist. Roos made 13 saves.
"Their goalie played a great game," Curry said. "We could have shot a little better. It was a little unusual. I think both teams played less tentatively than they did the first game and in previous championship games. We were moving the ball around. They were moving the ball around. A lot of fastbreaks. Because we pushed so hard, they got some easy looks."
Longtime Capers coach Ben Raymond was pleased with his team's effort.
"We worked hard right until the end," he said. "I think Jack and our entire defense had a great game. We didn't play really well in the third quarter. We had some mistakes that really cost us. They did an excellent job taking advantage of their mistakes. They had some great individual efforts. Henry did a nice job early on. Petrovek played really well. Their goalie did a nice job and played really well.
"I would not have called us the underdog. The game was a lot like the game we had early in the season. It was tight all along. Today, we did a better job not taking a lot of penalties. It was much cleaner and better played. When we did get loose in the third quarter, that's when they scored a bunch of goals.
"We made some adjustments with Henry at halftime. We were able to have Conor Lawler push him below the crease. We went a little early on him. Conor was sliding from him too early. They did a nice job putting Henry as the adjacent player to Robbie Highland. In the second half, I don't think we gave up very many settled goals. We executed our settled defense very well. It's hard to deal with a team like that in transition. We had to slide to somebody and that's where Petrovek got free and scored goals on the doorstep. We took chances we didn't need to take that early."
The Capers fell short of their ultimate goal for the fourth straight season, but had plenty of success to hail.
"We definitely accomplished an awful lot this year," Raymond said. "We beat Pinkerton and that was big for us. More than any year, I think our kids improved from day one to the end. The improvement was huge. We didn't start off great. They really worked hard and put a lot of effort in."
As always, the program graduates a ton of talent, but as always, Cape Elizabeth has many other standouts in reserve and will be back knocking at the door in 2010.
"Our goal is to get back next year," Raymond said. "We lose some great players. Mike Holden's had an outstanding career here. We lose our defense. Peter Kane, Sether Hanson and Conor Lawler were all outstanding. We have some work to do, but we hope to be here next year."
Speaking of next year
Yarmouth plans to be back in the final game as well in 2010. While the Clippers will once again be hurt by graduation, the likes of Henry, Petrovek and Woodworth return, hungry to create a new legacy of their own.
"We have a lot of returning guys," Henry said. "Doing it again is possible. I look forward to next season."
"We hope to do it again," Petrovek said. "We hope the underclassmen step up over the summer and get back here again."
"Next year, I'm sure they'll keep it going," added Erickson. "They'll be underrated next year, but there are a bunch of really good players."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.