Falmouth field hockey blanks SP to advance

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FALMOUTH—One team was taking part in its 18th successive postseason.

The other hadn’t played in the playoffs in four years and hadn’t won a win-or-go-home game in eight.

Based on that disparity of experience, the ensuing result wasn’t much of a surprise when the Falmouth Yachtsmen hosted the South Portland Red Riots in a Western Class A preliminary round field hockey playoff contest Saturday afternoon.

The fifth-ranked Yachtsmen, who make an annual habit of playing into late October, needed just over four minutes to get the jump on the postseason neophyte Red Riots, the No. 12 seed, as sophomore Kate Kelley finished a feed from classmate Sydney Bell.

Late in the half, Falmouth took a 2-0 advantage when senior Elle Fitzgerald, who usually does most of the team’s scoring, instead set up junior Keunjoo Kim.

Any South Portland comeback hopes were dashed with 17:12 to play in the second half, when Kelley scored her second goal, this time from Bell, on a penalty corner, producing a commanding 3-0 lead.

The Red Riots weren’t going to keep Fitzgerald off the scoring sheet completely and with 11:23 remaining, the standout scored unassisted to give the Yachtsmen a 4-0 victory.

Falmouth improved to 11-4, more importantly advanced to set up a quarterfinal round showdown at No. 4 Thornton Academy (11-3) Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Saco and ended South Portland’s season at 5-10 in the process.

“We played very, very well today,” said Yachtsmen coach Robin Haley. “We did a nice job passing and we got in the flow early. We had some tough challenges this season, but we’ve become a stronger team. We capitalized on our strengths.”

Experience

Other than two losses apiece against Cape Elizabeth and York, Falmouth was perfect and posted double digit wins for the second year in a row.

South Portland, meanwhile, won just once in its first 10 games, then caught fire, winning its final four and clinching a playoff berth with a 2-1 home win over Cheverus in the regular season finale Tuesday.

The teams came into Saturday’s contest with no postseason history.

The Yachtsmen went out and took care of business.

The first goal in a playoff game is always huge and Kelley was in the right place at the right time to put her team ahead, finishing Bell’s shot.

“It was a great shot by Syd and I was on the post and I was ready to tip it in,” Kelley said. “It felt good to score in a playoff game.”

South Portland had some chances in the first half, but Falmouth senior Caroline Dyhrberg stood tall.

Then, with 8:13 left in the half, Fitzgerald set up Kim for a shot which eluded Red Riots junior goalie Grace Chitam and the Yachtsmen took a 2-0 lead to halftime.

“We knew they would key on Elle and we were able to find other players,” Haley said. “Elle did a nice job in terms of finding open teammates. That was the difference today.”

At halftime, South Portland kept the faith, knowing it was capable of rallying.

“I felt we were still in it,” said Red Riots coach Leslie Dyer. “We didn’t connect in the first half. We were pumped at the start, but it was like we were waiting for Falmouth to bring us the ball. It’s something we’ll learn from. In these playoff games, things won’t come to us.”

Kelley then opened things up by scoring on a corner with 17:12 remaining. Bell set up the goal, which made the score 3-0.

“It was a really smart move by Syd,” Kelley said. “She read it really well and she saw I was ready.”

Fitzgerald’s tenacity produced the fourth goal with 11:23 to go.

With just under four minutes to play, South Portland had perhaps its best chance, on a scrum in front, but the ball was eventually cleared and Falmouth went on to a 4-0 triumph, marking the third year in a row that the program has won at least one postseason contest.

“It was really nervewracking coming in, but we knew we were in a good position,” Kelley said. “We’d been practicing well. We were playing well and wanted to keep doing it. It’s really unfamiliar going against teams we don’t play against (in the regular season), but doing it last year helped us.”

“We had to go out and just play our game,” Haley said. “We were a little calmer this year. We had pregame jitters, but we knew what to expect and we knew we could play.”

The Yachtsmen enjoyed a commanding 19-4 advantage in shots and had 10 penalty corners to just two for the Red Riots. Dyhrberg made four saves.

A fun run ends

South Portland got 15 saves from Chitam, but its season came to a close.

“On a positive note, we fought a good battle today,” Dyer said. “Falmouth has stick skills across the field and they have speed. (Fitzgerald) was our biggest target, but we didn’t underestimate anybody.

“We started out struggling, but we came together as a team at the end. I’m very proud of what we overcame. We met our goal of playoffs.”

The Red Riots return just about all of their top players and want to make the postseason a habit.

“Next year, I want to go longer,” said Dyer. “It shouldn’t have to come down to the last game. We don’t want the last seed.

“We graduate three and have a lot back. Overall, I think the girls are happy, but we’re not satisfied yet.”

Road trip

Falmouth will next battle a Thornton Academy squad it has never met. The Golden Trojans took powerhouse top-seed Scarborough to overtime earlier in the season (losing the game) and also fell to Gorham and Marshwood, but they’ll be a tough foe.

The Yachtsmen like their chances, however.

“We’ll keep practicing and doing what we’re doing and hopefully things will keep going well,” Kelley said. “We’re confident.”

“I think it will be a tough game,” Haley said. “They have some fast players with good stick skills. We have to try and slow it down a little bit. We need to come and play.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.