Falmouth opens SMAA play with loss at Westbrook

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Falmouth junior goalie Caitlyn Bull saves a shot by Westbrook junior Alexis Witham during the teams’ season opener Wednesday afternoon. The Blue Blazes were able to score on four other shots in a 4-1 victory.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

WESTBROOK—Falmouth’s field hockey team got a not-so-hospitable welcome to the Southwestern Maine Activities Association Wednesday afternoon at Westbrook in the opener of the 2017 season.

In fact, the Yachtsmen got pushed into a corner.

Again and again and again.

After fending off multiple Blue Blazes penalty corners in the game’s opening moments, Falmouth fell behind 1-0 11 minutes in when Westbrook sophomore Mary Keef scored on a rebound.

With 16:20 to play in the first half, the Blue Blazes doubled their lead, as sophomore Morgan LeBeau banged home rebound.

Then, with 2:08 on the first half clock, on its 14th corner of the half, Westbrook finally broke through, as junior Alexis Witham rattled the cage for a 3-0 lead.

To their credit, the Yachtsmen played much stronger in the second half and when sophomore MaryKate Bayer backhanded home a shot with 21:47 remaining, the visitors had life, but they could draw no closer and just over three minutes later, a rebound goal from sophomore Katelyn Champagne proved to be final blow and the Blue Blazes went on to a 4-1 victory.

Westbrook handed Falmouth’s its first season-opening loss since 2010 and served notice that it will be a top contender this fall.

“We had a good preseason and we have a lot of returners coming back, so it was great that we set the tone from the beginning,” said Theresa Hendrix, who co-coaches the Blue Blazes with longtime coach Beth Murphy.

“We didn’t get the win, but it’s a learning experience and hopefully we’ll settle down a little more in the next game and be there from the get-go,” said Yachtsmen coach Robin Haley. “Westbrook is an excellent team.”

The big time

Falmouth played in Class C as recently as 2000 and after being competitive for many years in Class B, the Yachtsmen moved up to Class A for the postseason from 2013-16. This year, Falmouth is a full-fledged member of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association and as a result, is playing teams like Westbrook for the first time in a regular season countable game.

The Yachtsmen are coming off a stellar 13-3 season which saw them earn the top seed for the Class A South playoffs and beat Gorham in the quarterfinals before dropping a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to eventual regional champion Massabesic in the semifinals. While the program has lost some top-notch talent to graduation, Falmouth expects to remain competitive in its first go-round in the SMAA.

Westbrook, meanwhile, is a perennial contender. A year ago, the Blue Blazes went 11-2-1, but also lost to Massabesic, 5-1, in the quarterfinals. This season, Westbrook is one of the teams to beat in Class A South.

Wednesday afternoon under cool (71 degrees) but sunny skies, the 2017 season and a new era began for the Yachtsmen, but it wasn’t a victorious debut.

Westbrook set the tone immediately, earning three corners in the first two minutes, but it couldn’t finish.

Falmouth junior goalie Caitlyn Bull then stepped up and broke up a rush and denied a bid by Witham to keep the game scoreless.

The Blue Blazes finally broke through in the 11th minute as junior Abigail Symbol sent a long pass ahead to Witham, whose rush was stopped by Bull, but the rebound came free to Keef, who sent it home for the game’s first goal.

Westbrook kept the pressure on and with 16:20 remaining in the half, sophomore Ariana St. Clair had a shot saved by Bull, but again the rebound produced the goal as LeBeau finished to make it 2-0.

Haley called timeout and the Yachtsmen responded, finally generating some offense.

With 7:10 left before halftime, a long shot from junior Emma Cohen hit the post and the resulting scrum led to Falmouth’s first penalty corner. Junior Liberty Ladd then sent the ball in, but it slid untouched past the goal.

A little over a minute later, a shot from senior Grace Soucy appeared goal-bound, but Blue Blazes senior defender Rhiannon Doiron was there to sweep the ball away at the last second.

Westbrook then added to its lead with 2:08 left in the half.

After 13 corners didn’t produce a goal, the 14th did, as Keef was denied, but Witham scored on another rebound to make it 3-0.

“It was a combination of a slow start and nerves,” Haley said. “I think the SMAA is just a little more physical and that was on the girls’ minds. It was just a case of settling down. We just have to make adjustments.”

The Blue Blazes earned another corner as time expired in the half, but Ladd broke it up.

Westbrook had a 9-2 edge in shots and a 17-2 advantage in corners in the first 30 minutes. Six saves from Bull kept the Yachtsmen within hailing distance.

Falmouth came out strong in the second half and with 24:30 to go, the Yachtsmen earned a corner and almost got on the board but a bid from Cohen was denied by another defensive save, this one by senior Kallie Cyr.

After Blue Blazes junior goalie Kimberly Goddard saved a shot by Falmouth senior Stone Carmichael, the visitors got on the board with 21:47 to play, as senior Grace Soucy passed to Bayer, who backhanded a shot into the cage to cut the deficit to 3-1.

“We’re trying to find some scorers on our team,” Haley said. “We graduated a lot and every player is playing a new role and has to settle in.”

Westbrook called a timeout and it worked wonders, as with 18:37 to go Champagne’s rebound goal restored order and the three-goal advantage.

Down the stretch, Goddard saved shots by senior Nathalie Grobe and senior Brienn Douglas and she dove to somehow turn aside a shot which had ricocheted right on target.

The Blue Blazes then ran out the clock and celebrated their 4-1 victory.

“Field hockey is a game you can dominate and the other team can get three breakaways and score three goals, but we had a timeout and the girls responded,” Hendrix said. “Falmouth is a great team and we couldn’t take them for granted.”

Westbrook finished with a 15-12 shots advantage, but Falmouth outshot the hosts, 10-6, in the second half.

The Blue Blazes took 19 corners to seven for the Yachtsmen.

“We’ll be working on corners tomorrow,” Hendrix said. “To have that many and not produce is frustrating. They played great defense and their flier (Ladd) was right on us. We have to work on getting shots off and not passing.”

Both goalies turned aside 11 shots. 

“Kimmy is in her third year in net and we have three senior defenders rotating in,” Hendrix said. “Having that leadership and experience helps us a lot.”

Quick turnaround

Westbrook is back in action Friday when it plays on the road for the first time, at Sanford. 

“There are a ton of teams in the league that are at the same level,” Hendrix said. “Our girls know they have to fight every day and have to come out with their best.”

Falmouth has its home opener Friday when Scarborough pays a visit.

“Scarborough is a tough team,” said Haley. “They have a rich tradition. We just need to be able to play our game and execute more effectively than we did today in the first half.”

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

Falmouth senior Grace Soucy plays the ball as Westbrook sophomore Katelyn Champagne looks on.

Falmouth junior Liberty Ladd works her way around Westbrook junior Alexis Witham. 

Falmouth junior Emma Cohen fights for possession.

Falmouth sophomore MaryKate Bayer chases a loose ball.

Falmouth’s field hockey team celebrates its lone goal Wednesday.

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