CAPE ELIZABETH—The calendar read Aug. 31, but Friday afternoon’s regular season opening girls’ soccer contest between two-time defending Class B state champion Falmouth and host Cape Elizabeth featured postseason intensity and drama.
The Yachtsmen appeared in good shape when they took a 2-0 lead to the half behind two pretty goals from senior standout Caitilin Bucksbaum, but the Capers carried play in the second half and cut the deficit to one on a goal from senior Talley Perkins with 28 minuets remaining,
Cape Elizabeth had some golden opportunities to earn an equalizer, but Falmouth senior goalkeeper Caroline Lucas came up huge and made sure the Yachtsmen got out of town with a victory and the Yachtsmen held on and prevailed, 2-1.
“It showed us our weaknesses and that there’s room for improvement, but we got a win over a quality team,” said Falmouth coach Wally LeBlanc. “It’s great to build off.”
Long among the state’s elite programs and longtime rivals, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth entered the new year full of optimism.
The Yachtsmen have a talented core returning and are favorites to win Class B for the third year in a row, with a three-peat being about the only thing this powerhouse program has yet to achieve.
The Capers had a superb 2011 campaign, falling in double overtime of the Western A semifinals. While the program lost top scorer Melanie Vangel to prep school, plenty of young talent dots the roster.
Last year, the teams played two memorable contests, battling to a 1-1 draw at Falmouth early in the season, then meeting again in the finale and almost settling for another tie before Yachtsmen then-junior Alex Bernier scored the game’s lone goal with 18.9 seconds left in OT.
This year’s first of two meetings was just as close and just as palpitating.
There was a fair amount of back and forth action early, but shots were few.
Finally, with 12:37 to go before halftime, Falmouth got the jump and it was Bucksbaum, last Fall’s Female Athlete of the Year and Maine Gatorade girls’ soccer Player of the Year, who finished.
Much of the credit for the goal has to go to freshman Tyler Spence, who impressed in her first varsity action. Spence got the ball to Bucksbaum and Bucksbaum floated a shot over Cape Elizabeth junior goalkeeper Mary Perkins to make it 1-0 Yachtsmen.
Eight minutes later, the tandem combined again, as Spence sent a cross to Bucksbaum, who settled it before pounding a shot past Perkins to put Falmouth up 2-0 and seemingly give the team an insurmountable lead.
“Credit to our freshman, Tyler Spence, and to Caitlin for finishing,” said LeBlanc. “(Tyler) does some nice things and understands the game and speed of play. I wasn’t surprised they didn’t mark (Caitlin), but they wanted to possess the ball and change. (Cape Elizabeth coach Luke Krawczyk) had a great game plan. We knew it and practiced for it. If they man-marked Caitlin, they had one less person to change field. They were smart and tried to open things up. They got balls through the middle, but she took advantage. She understands diagonal runs. So many kids play a linear game, but she understands diagonal runs. That creates space for her and her teammates.”
“(Bucksbaum’s) a great player,” Krawczyk said. “You try to mark her. She makes great runs. She’s the best player in the state, bar none. She won the game for them today. They found her quite a lot. I’m not about concentrating on one player. We defend as a team.”
There’s a reason coaches say the worst lead in soccer is 2-0, however, and sure enough, the Capers were a different team in the second half.
After carrying play for several minutes, Cape Elizabeth got on the board with 12 minutes to go as Perkins took a pass from freshman Kate Breed and fired a high shot past Lucas, making it a 2-1 game.
That’s how it would end up, but the Yachtsmen had to scratch and claw to hang on.
With 25:27 left in regulation, the Capers almost drew even as this time, Perkins set up Breed for a great look, but Lucas dove and knocked the shot off course.
In the 66th minute, off a Cape Elizabeth corner kick, the ball sat loose in front of goal for an agonizing second before Falmouth senior Angela Mallis cleared it out of harm’s way.
In the 73rd minute, Capers sophomore Kathryn Clark had a look, but couldn’t make solid contact.
Then, with 5:10 left, junior Addie Wood set up Clark for a rush, but once more, Lucas raced out and while sprawling, managed to grab the ball a split second before Clark could reach it.
“It’s my training,” said Luacs. “”I owe a lot to my coaches. Especially throughout the winter. It’s instinct at this point. Obviously, the easier games are more comfortable, but these are what a goalie lives for. It’s more fun.”
“Caroline came up strong for us,” Bucksbaum said. “She’s a great rock for our team.”
“Caroline deserves credit,” LeBlanc added. “That’s the ability that girl has. We had nice team defense. Without Caroline, the score’s not the same. She reads play very well. She has an idea of where shots are going. She has great reaction speed. It’s fun to watch her grow.”
Cape Elizabeth would possess the ball much of the remainder of the game, but wouldn’t get another good scoring chance and the Yachtsmen ran out the clock on their 2-1 triumph.
“It was a really exciting game,” said the North Carolina-bred, Villanova University-bound Bucksbaum. “It was good to play a great team first. I think we went into the second half looking for a third goal. A 2-0 lead is a hard lead. They got some momentum on us and we had to calm ourselves down. This was a great game for us.”
“It seemed a lot like last year’s game,” Lucas said “It was a defensive effort. We have some new people in there, but we worked as a team and pulled through. We have a great group of girls. Tight-knit. I love every single one of them. We work really hard at practice.”
“I watched Cape play in the preseason and I knew they possessed the ball intelligently,” LeBlanc added. “Full credit to that team. I’m extremely pleased with our girls adjusting. We counterattacked and got a couple nice goals early.”
Falmouth is back in action Tuesday when it plays at North Yarmouth Academy. The Yachtsmen’s home opener is Sept. 8 versus Poland.
As for Cape Elizabeth, while it was disappointed it couldn’t complete the rally, it did make a statement and suggested that better results are to come.
“The first half we probably outpossessed them 60-40, at least and we had three or four good chances in the second half to tie it up,” Krawczyk said. “I think we outperformed the opposition today, but they got the result. It’s a long season, hopefully we get the result next time.
The Capers seek their first win Tuesday at Fryeburg. They have another big home test Friday when Yarmouth pays a visit.
“They’re all tough,” said Krawczyk. “Hopefully we’ll get better. We wanted a performance today and the performance was very good. We could have easily tied it or won it.”