FALMOUTH—For the past decade, the Falmouth girls’ lacrosse program has worked its way up the ranks.
Last year, the Yachtsmen truly arrived, reaching the regional final for the first time, but heading into Thursday evening, they had never beaten one of the state’s elite Class B teams, Waynflete, Yarmouth or North Yarmouth Academy.
Falmouth can now cross the Panthers off that list after the biggest regular season victory in program history.
The Yachtsmen rallied from an early 5-2 deficit, went on a 10-2 run and held on down the stretch for a 13-10 triumph on an evening where the rain stayed away until the very end.
Senior Jess DiPhillippo and junior Vanessa Audet both scored three times, sophomore Alex Bernier scored two goals and had a pair of assists, senior Caitlin Costello added three assists and junior Moie Aaskov made eight big saves as Falmouth improved to 4-1 and dropped NYA, which is still hitting its stride, to 2-3.
“We did what we needed to,” said Yachtsmen coach Robin Haley. “It was a tough game, a physical game. (NYA’s) a great team. It’s a nice boost. It’s like getting the monkey off our back. We did that today and I’m really happy.”
One down, two to go
Falmouth went a program-best 10-4 in 2010, losing only to NYA, Waynflete and Yarmouth in the regular season and 11-6 to the Flyers in a hard-fought Western B Final.
The Yachtsmen began 2011 with a 16-7 home win over Greely, then were disappointed by an 18-10 home loss to Waynflete. Trips to Massabesic and York resulted in easy 17-3 and 17-7 victories, respectively.
NYA finally got over the hump and after five state final losses to Waynflete beat the Flyers in last year’s championship game, 7-3. The Panthers began this season with a 14-4 home victory over visiting Freeport. NYA dropped a 16-9 home decision to Yarmouth, but bounced back to win at Brunswick, 13-6. Tuesday, however, the Panthers were stunned at Greely, 13-12, in overtime.
Last year, Falmouth gave the host Panthers a scare, before falling, 13-10.
Thursday night, the Yachtsmen dug a hole, but answered with a flourish.
Just 38 seconds into the 25-minute first half, NYA senior standout Lilly Wellenbach took a pass from junior Megan Fortier, a transfer from Falmouth, and beat Aaskov for a 1-0 lead.
Fortier (from sophomore Molly Strabley) struck 67 seconds later and it was quickly 2-0 Panthers.
With 22:09 to go in the half, Bernier assisted junior Sam Smithwick’s goal, coming after a turnover, to make it 2-1, but NYA got free position goals from junior Katherine Millett at 18:10 and Wellenbach at 15:52.
Smithwick (from Costello) scored at 14;31, but junior Katie Cawley answered with 11:10 to go in the half and the Panthers appeared in control, up 5-2.
“I kept thinking about the score and telling myself to relax,” said Haley. “If we stayed close, I felt good we could make a game of it. In the past, we got nervous and I didn’t want that to happen with this group.”
Falmouth would score three times in a 2:15 span to draw even.
Bernier got things started with an unassisted tally. Audet followed with a goal after a rebound and with 4:46 to go before halftime, DiPhillippo scored unassisted and it was a 5-5 game.
NYA retook the lead when Wellenbach (from senior Rozi Smith) scored with 2:40 to go and the Panthers held the lead at the break.
In truth, the Yachtsmen could have had a healthy lead at that point if it wasn’t for the superb play of NYA senior goalie Frances Leslie. Leslie, in her first year in goal, made eight saves in the initial 25 minutes, almost all of them point blank.
“I thought Frances was fantastic,” said Panthers coach Julia Sterling. “She made some big saves.”
After more than six scoreless minutes to start the second half, Falmouth drew even at 6-6 when sophomore Geneva Waite (from Costello) scored with 18:13 to play. The hosts took their first lead when Bernier set up sophomore Molly Ryan with 17:39 remaining.
The Panthers tied the game anew when Wellenbach scored unassisted with 16:45 showing. Wellenbach picked up a ground ball with her left hand, then drove in and beat Aaskov.
But with 15:20 to go, Bernier put Falmouth on top for good, making a nice move to elude two defenders. A little over two minutes later, Costello had a free position opportunity, but instead of going for a shot from a difficult angle, she threw a quick pass to Waite, who beat Leslie, making it a 9-7 score.
NYA called timeout, but couldn’t stop the onslaught.
With 12:38 to play, Audet scored unassisted. Fifty-five seconds later, DiPhillippo (from senior Laura Fay) found the net. Then, with 6:07 remaining, not long after Aaskov robbed Strabley on the doorstep, DiPhillippo scored an unassisted goal to cap a 5-0 run and give the Yachtsman a seemingly safe 12-7 bulge.
The champions wouldn’t quit, however.
With 5:21 left, Fortier (from Strabley) scored and it was 12-8. Just 41 seconds later, Fortier set up Wellenbach to make it 12-9. After the teams traded turnovers, the Panthers cut the deficit to 12-10 when Fortier set up Smith for a goal.
Ryan managed to win the ensuing draw, however, and Falmouth managed to run nearly two minutes off the clock before Waite broke free and found an open Audet in front of the goal. Audet calmly shoveled a backhand shot past Leslie and that iced it.
“Running out the clock is one of my favorite things to do,” Bernier said. “You spread out and casually pass it around. You get a lot of draw-and-dump opportunities. It’s an advantage when you’re up like that. It was nice at the end.”
Ryan won one more draw and the Yachtsmen ran out the clock. At 8:13 p.m., Falmouth had finally vanquished the Panthers of North Yarmouth Academy, 13-10.
“It feels really great,” DiPhillippo said. “I’m just really happy we did it. Once we got on offense, we settled down, passed it around and looked for our shots. When we had the ball, they didn’t and we knew they wouldn’t score. We’re young, but we have eight or nine seniors, so we’re strong in all aspects.”
“We were a lot more patient with the ball and played smarter in the offensive end,” Haley said. “The defense was phenomenal today. The key was being able to calm down offensively and execute the way I know we can. The Waynflete loss was an eye-opener. It’s been a confidence thing. The girls were disappointed with how they played, not to take anything away from Waynflete, because they’re great, but it helped us get ready for games like this.”
Audet and DiPhillippo had three goals, Bernier, Smithwick and Waite had two and Ryan scored once. Costello had three assists, Bernier two and Fay and Waite one each. DiPhillippo had a team-high seven ground balls, while Fay finished with six and Bernier and sophomore Katie Cooleen each collected five.
Aaskov, who splits time with senior Jen Greene, saved eight shots.
“We’re switching off,” Haley said, of her goalie rotation. “(Moie) did phenomenal. It’s nice having two goalies. She played a great game. They’ve both done very well for us.”
“I think the defense did really well and our goalie made some really great saves,” said Bernier. “Once we got the draws more and settled on offense, it got us going. The loss against Waynflete was an upset for us, but this is a big pick-me-up. It’s nice. We’ve never beaten a team like this.”
For NYA, Wellenbach, arguably the state’s finest player, led all scorers with five goals. Fortier struck twice, while Cawley, Millett and Smith all had one goal. Fortier had three assists, Strabley a pair and Smith one. Strabley had a game-high 10 ground balls, while Fortier and Wellenbach each grabbed eight. Leslie finished with 10 saves.
“It’s tough,” said Sterling, about her team’s recent struggles. “We had exams all week and we have three hard games. It’s a great group. I need to keep everyone healthy. Falmouth did a good job double-teaming, making sure to take Lilly out. We’re working to pass to others and not rely on her.
The Panthers won 18 of 25 draws. Fortier went 10-of-16, while Wellenbach won 8-of-9. Ryan won just 7-of-25, but got the last two with the game in the balance.
Falmouth had a 45-39 advantage in ground balls, forced 24 turnovers (while only committing 15), outshot the Panthers, 29-23, and had 23 shots on frame to 18 for the visitors.
You can argue that girls’ lacrosse features more compelling games this spring than any sport. That trend will continue Saturday when Falmouth visits Yarmouth and NYA plays at Waynflete.
The Panthers are hoping to beat the Flyers for the fourth time in a row and turn things around. Their four-game road trip then ends and Wednesday of next week, they host York.
“We’ll rearrange a couple things,” Sterling said. “We have some things we need to work on. We need to run more in practice, which we haven’t been able to because of weather. The transition we also need to work on. It’s a work in progress. (Waynflete) has a tight zone, but we’ve been confident against them. We hope to turn it around. We don’t have a lot of depth, but we’re working it out. We’re having a lot of fun.”
The Yachtsmen hope to beat Yarmouth for the first time. They host Cape Elizabeth in a playoff rematch Wednesday.
“This puts a target on our back for other teams,” said DiPhillippo. “They’ll want to beat us.”
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Haley added.
NYA- 6 4- 10
F- 5 8- 13
24:22 NYA Wellenbach (Fortier)
23:15 NYA Fortier (Strabley)
22:09 F Smithwick (Bernier)
18:10 NYA Millett (free position)
15:52 NYA Wellenbach (free position)
14:31 F Smithwick (Costello)
11:10 NYA Cawley (unassisted)
7:01 F Bernier (un)
6:14 F Audet (un)
4:46 F DiPhillippo (un)
2:40 NYA Wellenbach (Smith)
18:13 F Waite (Costello)
17:39 F Ryan (Bernier)
16:45 NYA Wellenbach (un)
15:20 F Bernier (un)
13:08 F Waite (Costello)
12:38 F Audet (un)
11:43 F DiPhillippo (Fay)
6:07 F DiPhillippo (un)
5:21 NYA Fortier (Strabley)
4:40 NYA Wellenbach (Fortier)
2:23 NYA Smith (Fortier)
22.3 F Audet (Waite)
NYA- Wellenbach 5, Fortier 2, Cawley, Millett, Smith 1
F- Audet, DiPhillippo 3, Bernier, Smithwick, Waite 2, Ryan 1
NYA- Fortier 3, Strabley 2, Smith 1
F- Costello 3, Bernier 2, Fay, Waite 1
NYA- Leslie (10)
F- Aaskov (8)
Draws (NYA, 18-7)
NYA- Fortier 10-of-16, Wellenbach 8-of-9
F- Ryan 7-of-25
Ground balls (Falmouth, 45-39)
NYA- Strabley 10, Fortier, Wellenbach 8
F- DiPhillippo 7, Fay 6, Bernier, Cooleen 5
Shots on goal:
Shots on frame: