FALMOUTH—What a difference a year makes.
In 2010, the Falmouth field hockey team struggled through a rare losing season, winning just four times.
This fall, the Yachtsmen have returned to form.
Wednesday evening on its turf field, Falmouth entertained longtime rival Greely and the two Western Class B contenders put on a show.
The hosts scored consecutive goals in less than four minutes during the first half, which ended with them up, 2-1, although they could have been ahead by even more.
The Rangers tied the score early in the second half and after the Yachtsmen went ahead 3-2 with just under 16 minutes remaining, Greely drew even again, this time with 4:27 left, seemingly sending the game on a course for overtime, but with just 3 seconds to go, Falmouth’s emerging star sophomore, Mikey Richards, delivered the game’s biggest blow, rattling the cage to give her team a 4-3 win and a 2-0-1 mark (the Rangers fell to 2-1).
“We really dug it out like we always do,” said Richards, who’s already scored three goals this season. “That’s the important part. We pushed all the way to the end. We didn’t settle for overtime. It says to all the other teams that we’re definitely ready and we’re here to win.”
Falmouth and Greely are usually among the last teams standing in Western B, but last year, only the Rangers went deep into the playoffs, reaching the regional final before losing to York. Greely came into 2011 as one of the favorites and made an immediate statement with a 2-0 home win over defending Class C champion North Yarmouth Academy and a 1-0 home triumph over Fryeburg (in a game that was started Monday, postponed by rain nine minutes in and finished Tuesday).
The Yachtsmen did make it to the postseason in 2010 and gave eventual regional champion York a scare before falling in the quarterfinals. While that team took its lumps, several players improved due to trial by fire and returned much stronger this autumn. That and the addition of senior Megan Fortier, who was part of that NYA championship team, propelled Falmouth right back into the upper echelon of contenders. The Yachtsmen opened with a 4-0 victory at Wells, then settled for a 1-1 tie at Lake Region.
Wednesday’s game was played with a steady rain as a backdrop, but that only added to the festive atmosphere as two rivals, who greatly respect each other, put on a compelling show.
Greely came out strong to start the game and five minutes in had three successive penalty corner opportunities and one good chance, but failed to convert.
With 20:59 to play in the 30-minute first half, the Rangers broke the ice when senior Eliza Porter banged home a loose ball in front for a 1-0 advantage.
Falmouth then came to life and pressured for the equalizer. The Yachtsmen would get it, then another in quick succession.
With 15:24 remaining before halftime, a rebound goal by sophomore Jillian Rothweiler made it 1-1. Just 3 minutes, 15 seconds later, Rothweiler one-timed another shot past Greely senior goalkeeper Emma Seymour and Falmouth took a 2-1 lead to the break.
It only took 2 minutes, 18 seconds of the second half for the Rangers to draw even when senior Helena McMonagle scored on a rebound.
With 15:42 left, Fortier took centerstage and ran the emotional spectrum from frustration to elation.
On a penalty corner, sophomore Leika Scott passed the ball to Fortier, who tried to one-time a shot, but missed the ball completely. She did have the presence of mind, however, to keep possession, elude a defender, then rocket a shot into the far corner for a 3-2 advantage.
Greely pushed for the equalizer, but when Porter shot wide on a rush with just over 5 minutes to go, it looked like the Rangers might fall short.
Not so fast.
With 4:27 showing, a scrum developed in front of Falmouth sophomore goalie Hillary Nash and Greely junior Paige Tuller was in the right place at the right time to rattle the cage and make it a 3-3 score.
The Yachtsmen put plenty of pressure on the rest of regulation, but with 15 seconds remaining, it looked like overtime loomed before the visitors were whistled for a transgression and Falmouth got one final look.
It would be Fortier setting up the winner as she sent the ball to Richards, who calmly sent it into the goal for a 4-3 lead with a mere 3 seconds showing.
The Yachtsmen rushed the field and mobbed Richards, as if it was a game-winner, and the Rangers walked off in defeat, but the officials called both squads back and they played out the final three ticks to make it official.
Then, Falmouth was able to celebrate in earnest.
“We had a great cross and the fact we were still pushing made the difference,” said Richards, of the winning goal. “It tipped off the Greely girl’s stick and it was just one hit in. It felt good. Our intensity and the amount of respect for each other made the difference. We push for ourselves and each other. Megan adds confidence that we might not have necessarily had before. That really does help.”
“It was a great win,” added longtime Yachtsmen coach Robin Haley. “It was a good game of skill and a fun game to coach. Both teams played well. It was exciting and it’s always healthy competition between Falmouth and Greely. The games are always close.
“I was telling (assistant coach) Liz (Koharian), ‘Let’s get our seven players ready.’ It looked like overtime was going to happen.”
Haley praised both Richards and Fortier for their role in the victory.
“(Mikey’s) working at her game and trying to stay at the basics,” she said. “Megan’s a catalyst. No question she brings a lot to a team coming off a championship. She maintains her composure and gives the girls a lift.”
The Rangers wound up with a 7-3 edge in penalty corners, but couldn’t convert any of them. Despite the painful nature of the loss, Greely expects to learn from it and rebound.
“(The winning goal) just goes to show that every single ball counts,” said Rangers’ coach Kristina Lane Prescott. “You can’t let up even a little bit, especially against a team like that. Falmouth’s always a strong team. The best part about playing Falmouth is that it always comes down to skill and we’re always evenly matched. It comes down to stickwork and passing. It was back and forth. It was an unbelievable game.”
The Rangers are back in action Friday at home against Wells. A big home showdown versus York looms on Sept. 15. Expect this team to keep getting better.
“We still need to work on defensively recovering and that every single ball counts,” Prescott said. “We have an unbelievable team. We have some young players who haven’t played before. We have a lot to work on, but we’re pretty solid. I’m still very confident in the team. I’ll take the way they played tonight all year.”
As for Falmouth, it hopes to keep the good times rolling Friday night when Cape Elizabeth pays a visit. The Yachtsmen host resurgent Yarmouth and York next week. They’ll build on this exciting win and get even stronger as the season goes on.
“The sophomores got some experience last year,” Haley said. “They gain confidence each game. They were gritty today and didn’t’ give up. I’m really proud of them.”