FALMOUTH—The finest season in the history of Falmouth girls’ lacrosse program came to an end Wednesday afternoon and now the Kennebunk Rams find themselves one win from making some pretty sweet history of their own.
The state’s two best girls’ teams squared off in a highly anticipated Western Class B Final on the Yachtsmen’s turf field and three weeks after Falmouth enjoyed a victory at Kennebunk, the Rams, who had lost in the regional final each of the past two seasons, made sure this one would be different thanks to an absolutely dazzling start.
After winning the opening draw, Kennebunk junior standout Jenny Bush scored on a free position 37 seconds into the game and the Yachtsmen would never catch up.
The Rams added goals from juniors Kyra Schwartzman and Liv Sandford to go up 3-0 just over two minutes in and Falmouth coach Kait Johnson had to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Kennebunk stretched its lead to 6-1 a little over eight minutes in on another Bush free position goal, but not surprisingly, the Yachtsmen hit their stride and pulled within 7-4 at halftime thanks to a late goal from senior Leigh Bernardy.
Falmouth had its chances to pull off a miracle rally, but Rams junior goalie Bella Kudas made several clutch saves in the second half and the visitors extended their lead to 9-4 behind goals from Sandford and Schwartzman.
The Yachtsmen tried to answer late, getting goals from senior Lizzie Goodrich, sophomore Olivia Stucker and sophomore Sydney Bell, but Falmouth could get no closer as Kennebunk forced a turnover, then ran out most of the final four-plus minutes to prevail, 9-7.
The Rams won their first regional title since 2009, their first Western B crown since 2007, improved to 14-1, ended the Yachtsmen’s transcendent campaign at 12-2 and advanced to battle Yarmouth (11-4) in the Class B state final Saturday at 6 p.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
“It’s an unfortunate way to end a great season,” Johnson said. “The girls worked so hard and deserve credit and the homefield advantage they got for this game.”
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Bush said. “We knew it was our time. We’ve had two years of losses. We were so ready to win. We wanted it so badly.”
Kennebunk was viewed as the state’s best girls’ team going into the season and it took all of one game for Falmouth to join the Rams in that stratosphere. As the spring went on, it was clear that no other team was at their level.
Each squad only stumbled once, at home.
Falmouth lost early to Cape Elizabeth, but beat everyone else (see link to previous games, below), including a dramatic 10-8 victory at Kennebunk May 26.
As a result of that victory, the Yachtsmen earned the top seed in Western B and had a bye into Saturday’s semifinals, where they rode a seven-goal first half to an 8-2 victory over Waynflete.
The Rams wound up second in Western B and after ousting No. 7 Greely in the quarterfinals, 14-8, they held off No. 3 York in Saturday’s semifinals, 13-10, to reach the regional final for the third year in a row (Kennebunk was upset at home in overtime by Cape Elizabeth last spring and fell to Massabesic by a goal in the 2013 Western A Final).
The teams had met just twice previously in the playoffs, with the Rams winning in both the 2006 and 2007 quarterfinals (see sidebar, below).
Wednesday, on the biggest stage on which Falmouth had ever played, Kennebunk’s fast start proved to be the difference.
Bush won the opening draw and she was fouled, earning a free position. Just 37 seconds in, Bush beat Yachtsmen junior goalie Sarah Hutcheon and the Rams were on top to stay, 1-0.
“We were so fired up,” Bush said. “We knew we had to come out hard and set the tone for the whole game and that’s what we did. I’m so happy we did that. That felt pretty good.”
“Once Jenny won that first draw, I thought we’d be OK,” said longtime Kennebunk coach Annie Barker.
Bernardy won the next draw, but Falmouth turned the ball over and Kennebunk quickly struck on the fastbreak, as sophomore Gabby Fogg passed to Schwartzman, who finished with 23:31 to play in the first half.
Just 41 seconds later, after another Bush draw win, Schwartzman passed to Sandford, who beat Hutcheon and it was 3-0.
Johnson called timeout to settle her team, but with 21:22 to go in the half, Bush scored again (from junior Carly Sandler) to make it 4-0.
The Yachtsmen got on the board with 19:14 left, when sophomore Olivia Stucker, who played a terrific game, finished a pass from Bernardy, beating Kudas to cut the deficit to 4-1.
Undaunted, the Rams came right back and got goals from Schwartzman (set up by Sandler, after a turnover) and Bush (on a free position) to make it 6-1 with 16:50 to play before halftime.
After Kudas denied Goodrich, Bell scored for the first time, using her left hand to finish on a free position.
After Hutcheon denied Sandford, Stucker set up Bernardy for a goal with 10:51 showing and Falmouth was within three, but after Hutcheon turned aside shots from Sandler, Schwartzman and Fogg, Schwartzman set up Sandford for a goal to make it 7-3 with 4:03 left in the half.
After Kudas denied Bell, Bell set up Bernardy with a gorgeous pass and the Yachtsmen were back within three with 1:31 to go.
After Bush shot high on an open net with 6.9 seconds to play, a whistle appeared to give Kennebunk the ball with a fraction of a second remaining. After Falmouth went to the sidelines to begin its halftime discussion, the officials convened and determined that 0.2 seconds be restored to the clock. The Yachtsmen reluctantly returned to the field and the Rams weren’t able to do anything before the half officially arrived.
In the first 25 minutes, Bush won nine of 12 draws and Kennebunk enjoyed a 16-6 shots advantage.
The Rams knew Falmouth would make a run in the second half, so extending their lead would be paramount.
As it did to start the game, Kennebunk began the second half strong as Sandford scored from Schwartzman with 22:17 to play to push the lead to 8-4.
After Kudas robbed Yachtsmen sophomore Devin Sarazin, Schwartzman finished a pass from Sandler and scored to make it 9-4 with 21:12 remaining.
The Rams wouldn’t score again, but they had enough of a cushion to hold on.
After Yachtsmen junior London Bernier hit the post with 19:12 left, Kudas made arguably her finest save, robbing Bernardy point blank with 13:15 to go. Kennebunk milked over four minutes off the clock before Falmouth got the ball back.
With 8:48 left, Goodrich snapped her team’s 17 minute, 43 second drought when she took a pass from senior Elle Fitzgerald and scored.
After Bell hit the post and Sarazin had a shot denied, Stucker scored unassisted with 7:59 to go.
Bell then had a free position opportunity to draw her team closer, but she shot wide.
Bell got another look with 5:26 showing and this time, after splitting the defense after a nice run, she finished and suddenly, the Yachtsmen were only down two goals, 9-7.
Barker called timeout to settle her team and the Rams finished the game with the poise of the champion they hope to become.
Bell won the draw coming out of the timeout, but after Falmouth got the ball behind the cage, Kudas anticipated a pass and intercepted it. Kennebunk turned the ball back over, but with 4:26 to go, the Yachtsmen gave it up again and Sandford pounced on the loose ball.
The Rams then put on a stalling clinic and they passed over or ran around frustrated Falmouth defenders until the clock ran under a minute.
“We all have pretty good stick skills and we move the ball quickly, so that made it easy,” Bush said. “We work on stalling all the time in practice, we’ve gotten good at it and we used it to our advantage.”
“I think there should be a shot clock in girls’ lacrosse,” Johnson said.
Falmouth finally got the ball back with 15 seconds to play, but there was far too little time left and the season that no Yachtsmen or any of their fans will ever forget came to a close at 6:29 p.m. with a 9-7 setback.
“I knew we had to keep pushing and that’s what we did,” Bush said. “We knew we needed to keep playing because we knew they could come back. At halftime, we knew we had to play hard for another 25 minutes and that’s what we did. I got a little nervous, but we pulled it off. I think the (previous) loss was a good thing. It’s tough to beat a good team twice, especially when we’re so evenly matched, so we wanted to come to their field and beat them.”
“I knew they’d make a run,” Barker said. “It’s a good thing we got up by so much and had a little cushion. We knew if we used the clock a bit, we’d be OK. They’re very dangerous. (Bella) did a great job and defensively, we did a great job. Everybody out there did a great job tonight.”
Kennebunk got three goals apiece from Bush, Sanford and Schwartzman. Seven of the Rams’ nine goals were assisted as Sandler and Schwartzman both had three and Fogg added one.
“We moved the ball and they couldn’t defend it,” Barker said. “You can’t just take one person out because everyone can go to goal. We don’t just rely on Jenny, we rely on everyone who’s out there. The juniors were done with losing in this round.”
Kudas made six clutch saves, Sandford had a team-high seven ground balls and Bush, who cemented her status as the state’s premier player, won 11 of 18 draws.
Kennebunk only turned the ball over 13 times and outshot Falmouth, 20-15 (14-13 on cage).
The Rams now turn their attention to winning a first ever championship.
Kennebunk has played in the state final in 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2009, but fell short each time.
The Rams lost to Yarmouth in 2002, back when lacrosse had just one class (13-8) and again to the Clippers in 2007 in Class B (a 7-5 thriller). Kennebunk’s other state game losses came to Brunswick in Class A in 2008 (15-11) and 2009 (13-9).
This group is ready to seal the deal and make history.
“We can’t wait for Saturday,” said Bush. “We have to go in with the same mindset as today. We want to hold ourselves to a high standard. We want to finish it with a state title. We’ll give it our all. We’re really excited.”
“We’re moving forward,” Barker said. “It feels good to get through this round. It will be a battle. I think we’re prepared. We’re clicking on all cylinders now, I think. The girls want it.”
Falmouth got two goals apiece from Bell, Bernardy and Stucker and another from Goodrich in its lowest offensive output since a 7-6 home loss to Cape Elizabeth May 6. Bell, Bernardy, Fitzgerald and Stucker all had one assist. Bell led the team with seven ground balls and Hutcheon made five saves. The Yachtsmen committed 10 turnovers, but were out-possessed by a wide margin.
“They out eight-meter-shot us,” Johnson said. “It would have been a one-goal game without eight-meter shots. Kennebunk’s a veteran team and they’ve been here numerous times, while we haven’t been. We’re a young team with a lot of young girls in leadership roles. It’s hard to play when things don’t go your way. We just ran out of time.”
Falmouth’s 12 wins were a program best and will likely become the norm going forward, not the exception.
“I said to the girls, we’re number one in the conference,” Johnson said. “This game just makes it even, 1-1. Technically, we should play another game. If we played them again, we’d beat them.”
The Yachtsmen graduate seven key seniors: Bernardy, Fitzgerald, Goodrich, defenders Jenna Costa, Angie DiPhilippo and Nina Marsanskis and attack Katie Barlow, but this group’s young and talented core, featuring Bell, Bernier, Hutcheon, Sarazin and Stucker, will be heard from again.
“Hopefully this fuels (the girls),” Johnson said. “Experience is king. Hopefully they’ll take this into next year.”
Falmouth sophomore Sydney Bell shoots as Kennebunk seniors Kristin Wiewel (16) and Hannah Pepin defend.
Falmouth senior Leigh Bernardy shoots on Kennebunk junior goalie Bella Kudas.
Falmouth junior London Bernier shoots past Kennebunk senior Hayley Fecko.
Falmouth senior Elle Fitzgerald shoots as Kennebunk senior Hannah Pepin defends.
Falmouth senior Lizzie Goodrich is defended by Kennebunk junior Molly Parent.
Falmouth sophomore Devin Sarazin battles Kennebunk senior Hayley Fecko for a ground ball.
Falmouth sophomore Olivia Stucker is chased by Kennebunk junior Molly Parent.
To the victor goes the spoils and Kennebunk was more than happy to show off its first regional championship trophy since 2009.
2007 Western B quarterfinals
@ Kennebunk 11 Falmouth 7
2006 Western B quarterfinals
@ Kennebunk 14 Falmouth 6
Falmouth senior captains (from left) Elle Fitzgerald, Lizzie Goodrich and Angie DiPhilippo receive the runner-up trophy following the Yachtsmen’s 9-7 loss to Kennebunk in Wednesday’s Western Class B Final.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
K- 7 2- 9
F- 4 3 -7
24:27 K Bush (free position)
23:31 K K. Schwartzman (Fogg)
22:50 K Sandford (K. Schwartzman)
21:22 K Bush (Sandler)
19:14 F Stucker (Bernardy)
18:26 K K. Schwartzman (Sandler)
16;50 K Bush (free position)
13:15 F Bell (free position)
10:51 F Bernardy (Stucker)
4:03 K Sandford (K. Schwartzman)
1:31 F Bernardy (Bell)
22:17 K Sandford (K. Schwartzman)
21:12 K K. Schwartzman (Sandler)
8:48 F Goodrich (Fitzgerald)
7:59 F Stucker (unassisted)
5:26 F Bell (unassisted)
K- Bush, Sandford, K. Schwartzman 3
F- Bell, Bernardy, Stucker 2, Goodrich 1
K- Sandler, K. Schwartzman 3, Fogg 1
F- Bell, Bernardy, Fitzgerald, Stucker 1
Draws (Kennebunk, 11-7)
K- Bush 11 of 18
F- Bell 6 of 15, Bernardy 1 of 3
Ground balls (24-24)
K- Sandford 7, Bush, Fogg 4, Fecko, Kudas, Parent, H. Schwartzman 2, Small 1
F- Bell 7, Bernardy 4, Bernier, Stucker 3, Marsanskis 2, Costa, DiPhilippo, Hutcheon, McMahon, Proctor 1
Shots on cage
K (Kudas) 6
F (Hutcheon) 5