Falmouth romps in state final rematch, locks up top seed

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FALMOUTH—For the third year in a row, the road to the Western Class B boys’ lacrosse title will go through the Falmouth Yachtsmen.

Falmouth locked up homefield advantage Wednesday night with a 14-2 victory over visiting North Yarmouth Academy and now turns its attention to the biggest prize, repeating as state champions.

Wednesday, the Yachtsmen took an early 3-0 lead and never looked back, going up 7-2 at halftime and 13-2 after three periods before cruising home to their 11th straight victory, finishing the regular season 11-1 and first in Western B.

Senior Mitch Tapley had four goals and two assists, junior Charlie Fay added three goals and two assists and senior Jack Cooleen also scored three times as Falmouth dropped the Panthers to 6-6, giving them the No. 4 seed for the upcoming Eastern B postseason.

“It was good to come out strong,” Cooleen said. “They played us really tough last time, so we knew we couldn’t come out soft like we did the first game. We turned it up in the first quarter and never lost the lead.”

Playoff tuneup

Both teams entered Wednesday’s game essentially locked into their playoff spots, barring a major upset in their game or the Yarmouth at Cape Elizabeth contest.

Falmouth dropped its opener, 8-6, at Cape Elizabeth, but then took off and lived up to preseason billing, defeating visiting Greely (15-7) and Yarmouth (14-7), host Portland (13-4), visiting Lake Region (18-1), host NYA (11-7) and Wells (21-4), visiting Deering (18-0), visiting Cape Elizabeth (14-12) and host York (15-5) and Yarmouth (12-6).

NYA opened with a 10-4 victory over Wells, then fell at Yarmouth (11-9), Cape Elizabeth (14-2) and at home to defending Class A champion Scarborough (4-3). After a 17-0 home win over Fryeburg, the Panthers battled visiting Falmouth to the finish before losing, 11-7. The wins then came as NYA triumphed at Gorham (16-3), at home over Yarmouth (8-6), at Thornton Academy (3-1) and at Freeport (12-5) before it lost at home to Cape Elizabeth Friday, 10-4.

The Yachtsmen entered Wednesday’s contest having beaten the Panthers in eight straight meetings dating back to May 2, 2008. That includes this year’s earlier meeting and a 15-4 triumph in last year’s Class B state final.

Falmouth, which paid tribute to its whopping 15 seniors in a pregame Senior Night ceremony, then went out and made it nine in a row over NYA and 11 straight overall.

The Yachtsmen got early possession behind senior faceoff specialist Abyn Reabe-Gerwig and took the lead for good with 10:21 left in the first period when senior Andrew Murry set up Fay.

With 8:07 left in the first, Cooleen got on the board, taking a pass from junior Will Sipperly, dodging a defender and beating Panthers sophomore goalie Wesley Nolan.

Cooleen scored again unassisted at 6:29 to make it 3-0.

NYA finally got on the board with 2:30 left in the quarter as junior T.J. Daigler took a pass from senior Forrest Milburn and beat Yachtsmen senior goalie Cam Bell.

Falmouth had a 13-2 edge in shots on goal in the first 12 minutes.

“I like the way we came out of the blocks very well in every game this year, except maybe the last Yarmouth game,” said Yachtsmen coach Mike LeBel. “I felt we were better prepared this year than any other team I’ve had. We never really got down early. We scored early and often and kept going with that and I think if we can start fast, it just does something mentally to the other team and sets us up.”

The second quarter went even better for the hosts.

Tapley got on the board with 9:30 to go in the first half, taking a pass from Sipperly and finishing for a 4-1 lead.

Tapley scored again at 8:56 (from underrated senior Hunter LaFond) and a third time at 4:42 (assisted by Sipperly) to make it 6-1.

An unassisted goal from Milburn 37 seconds later cut the deficit to four, but the visitors wouldn’t score again.

With 2:06 left in the half, Fay took a pass from Sipperly and finished to give the Yachtsmen a 7-2 advantage at the break.

Falmouth held a whopping 24-7 advantage in shots in the first half and only six saves from Nolan kept the Panthers within hailing distance.

The Yachtsmen ended all doubt in the third period.

Just 42 seconds in, Fay scored unassisted.

With 10:28 to go in the quarter, LaFond (from Tapley) beat Nolan.

Goal number 10 came at the 7:21 mark when Tapley scored his final goal (from Fay).

Sipperly (unassisted at 6:19), senior Danny Goodrich (on a rocket from Tapley at 3:59) and Cooleen (from Tapley at 51 seconds later) pushed the lead to 13-2 heading for the final stanza.

There, an unassisted goal by Falmouth sophomore Brad Gilbert, who slapped the ball home hockey-style, accounted for the 14-2 final score.

“I think it benefited us how well (NYA) played against us the first time,” LeBel said. “We were just more prepared mentally to play. Luckily, we had a practice yesterday. Last time, we came off the weekend and played on a Monday and were caught off guard. We knew they have talent on their team and if we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing, they’d capitalize. The guys, every position, they were all focused and on tonight. Everything seemed to be clicking. We just saw the field very well today.”

Tapley led all scorers with four goals. Cooleen and Fay both added three, while Gilbert, Goodrich, LaFond and Sipperly each finished with one. Sipperly had three assists, Fay and Tapley a pair apiece and LaFond and Murry one each.

“The strength of our team is where even last year, teams could’ve taken away one or two of our strengths and we may have fallen apart, this year, we have depth everywhere,” Cooleen said. “All three of our attackmen can score goals. Two lines of midfielders play really well. You can’t really stop one portion of us.”

Bell made seven saves. Falmouth won 11 of 19 faceoffs. Reabe-Gerwig went 10 of 18, sophomore Tyler Jordan 1 of 1.

The Yachtsmen had a big 45-26 advantage in ground balls. Fay led all players with a dozen. Senior defensive standout Mike Ryan grabbed six and Reabe-Gerwig and Tapley both had five.

Falmouth only committed 10 turnovers and outshot NYA, 43-17 (27-8 on cage).

After the game, LeBel paid tribute to his group of seniors who turned this program into one of the state’s finest.

“They came in during a time where we didn’t have a lot of underclassmen,” LeBel said. “We were forced to play a lot of them off the bat. Mitch and Jack are four-year starters. We didn’t have anyone else. Over the years, they gained a ton of experience and played in summer leagues and got additional coaching and experience there. Now, as seniors, they can handle anything.”

The Panthers got one goal each from Daigler and Milburn (who also had an assist). Nolan continued his impressive campaign with 13 saves. Sophomore Austin Kidder won 8 of 17 faceoffs, sophomore Colin Merrill went 0 for 2. Milburn had a team-high five ground balls. NYA committed 17 turnovers.

“It was a little tougher than we had hoped,” said Panthers coach Peter Gerrity. “(Falmouth) has good players all over the field. After a couple breakdowns on defense, we seemed to lose the momentum we hoped to build. That really killed us. Our intensity was different from the first game. These guys don’t indicate before the game whether they’ll play great or not. It usually takes the first couple minutes. Sometimes, we can climb back, but we just couldn’t today.”

Let the fun begin

NYA will play one home playoff game, likely against Maranacook/Winthrop (9-3), Wednesday in the Eastern B quarterfinals. The teams didn’t play in the regular season. If victorious, the Panthers could have to run a St. Dom’s-Yarmouth gauntlet to get back to the state final.

“We have to show up to play every game,” Gerrity said. “If we beat Maranacook/Winthrop, we’ll have St. Dom’s. Though their schedule’s weak, they’re undefeated. We want another Yarmouth meeting. And another Falmouth meeting. That’s what we want. We’ll have to work pretty hard to get there.”

Falmouth is idle until June 9, when it will host either No. 4 York (7-5) or No. 5 Wells (8-4) in the semifinals. The Yachtsmen won 21-4 at Wells May 9 and handled host York, 15-5, May 22.

Presuming Falmouth does the expected and passes that test, it will likely host Cape Elizabeth in a highly anticipated regional final June 13.

“It’s good to play home games,” Cooleen said. “We definitely embrace (being the favorite). Every team should hope to win a state championship. It’s a reasonable goal for us. We won last year and have so many kids back. It’s definitely in our reach, but we can’t take any teams lightly. We’ll prepare well. Watching a lot of film helped us out before last game. It should help us out again. Hopefully we can come out with a win.”

“I think we’re ready,” LeBel said. “I’m very happy we secured homefield. I don’t know who our first game will be against. That’s going to be a challenge, getting up for that first game. I don’t think it’ll be an issue getting up for Cape. That’s going to be a tough one. That Cape team really amazes me. They remind me of Yarmouth a couple years ago where they graduated their whole starting lineup and the next year, they’re in the championship game again. It’s amazing what they do over there. They’ll have a good game plan for us. We’ll do our best.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. 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.