Falmouth's valiant effort falls one goal short

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SACO—As Wednesday evening’s Western Class A field hockey quarterfinal wound down, the Falmouth Yachtsmen appeared to have everything in their favor.

After surrendering an early goal to host Thornton Academy, on sophomore Grace Decker’s penalty corner goal, Falmouth carried play for much of the game, then was rewarded with 14:40 to play, when sophomore star Sydney Bell scored to make it 1-1.

But the fifth-seeded Yachtsmen wouldn’t get the happy ending they sought and instead, saw their season end in heartbreak.

With just 1:10 left in regulation, the fourth-ranked Golden Trojans scored on a penalty corner for the second time, as junior Libby Pomerleau did the honors, and just like that, Falmouth’s title hopes were dashed.

While Thornton Academy improved to 12-3 and advanced to face top-ranked Scarborough (15-0) in the semifinals next week, the Yachtsmen’s season came to a close at 11-5.

“It was a great game,” said longtime Falmouth coach Robin Haley. “It really was. I’m sad our season’s over. It was two great teams playing a great game and someone had to come up short. Thornton’s a great team. I’m proud of how my girls played. Down one, it would have been easy to shut down, but we didn’t.”

Fight to the finish

Falmouth and Thornton Academy had no history when they took the field Wednesday night, but both squads wanted a crack at the undefeated Scarborough juggernaut in the next round.

The Golden Trojans took the Red Storm to overtime before losing at Scarborough, 1-0, Sept. 26. That was part of a solid 11-3 campaign (the other losses came to No. 2 Gorham and third-ranked Marshwood) which culminated with a six-game win streak.

The Yachtsmen have been strong all season, losing twice to both Cape Elizabeth and York, but beating everyone else to go 10-4, good for the No. 5 seed in Western A (Falmouth plays up for the playoffs due to its enrollment). Saturday, the Yachtsmen had no trouble dispatching No. 12 South Portland in the preliminary round, 4-0.

Wednesday, despite a steady rain, Falmouth and Thornton Academy produced a game worthy of a 4-5 pairing, one that appeared to be heading to overtime until suddenly, it was over.

The hosts had the better of the play early, but couldn’t convert on an early penalty corner.

Then, with 23:05 to play in the first half, the Golden Trojans got a second chance and struck.

The ball came in to senior Carli Legere, who passed to Decker, whose rocket eluded Yachtsmen senior goalie Caroline Dyhrberg to make it 1-0 Thornton Academy.

Instead of rolling over, however, Falmouth controlled play for most of the remainder of the half.

In the 10th minute, Yachtsmen senior standout Elle Fitzgerald broke in, but a defender knocked the ball away.

With 13:34 to play in the half, sophomore Kate Kelley, the hero of the preliminary round win, tried a backhanded shot, but it went just wide.

With 7:45 left, Falmouth earned a corner and Fitzgerald got a good look, but her blast was tipped in front, then hit a teammate’s foot.

Late in the half, another Yachtsmen corner led to a shot from sophomore Devon Sarazin which was tipped wide and another corner gave Fitzgerald a chance, but her shot was blocked.

In the first half, Falmouth had a 4-2 advantage in both shots and corners, but trailed where it mattered most, on the scoreboard.

Early in the second half, the Yachtsmen tried again to pull even, but a Fitzgerald blast went just wide.

After a Fitzgerald hit was deflected wide by junior Keunjoo Kim on a corner, Falmouth kept pressuring and was rewarded.

With 14:40 left, Bell, as she does like no one else, weaved through the defense, then took a shot which Thornton Academy sophomore goalie Isabella Capozzi couldn’t stop and the game at last was deadlocked, 1-1.

That goal awakened the hosts, however, and it wasn’t long before they were pushing to go back on top.

After Falmouth managed to clear one corner, the Golden Trojans got another chance with just over a minute to play and they ensured that the home folks would go home happy and on time.

The ball again was inserted to Legere, who passed to Pomerleau, whose shot was true and with 1:10 to play, Thornton Academy was ahead to stay, 2-1.

“We didn’t even know what the play was,” Pomerleau said. “We just played it out. (Junior) Grace Pickering, our inserter, passed it to Carli and she saw me open. I just shot at the goal. I was looking for the post player or the corner. To be honest, I would have been happy if anyone else on the field scored.”

“We’ve changed our corners quite a bit,” said Golden Trojans coach Lori Smith. “We hadn’t scored much on corners this year.”

Haley called timeout to try to figure out a way to respond, but it wasn’t to be.

Falmouth did get the ball on offense one final time, but Fitzgerald’s rush was broken up.

“I wanted them to get the ball down the side and hopefully get it in the circle for a quick shot,” Haley said. “It almost happened.”

Thornton Academy then went on to the 2-1 victory.

“I’m just happy we came out with a win,” Pomerleau said. “They had a lot of big hits. We ended up running up a lot. We did a good job staying with the ball, switching fields, using all that space. We know they liked to play in the middle, so we tried to emphasize using the wings.”

“We were really worried about (Fitzgerald),” Smith said. “I’d watched them play twice. They passed a lot more the first time, then the next time, they hit a lot. That can make you nervous. I told my kids to keep their sticks down and get low. It’s not our style of play.”

The Golden Trojans finished with a 6-5 advantage in corners. Falmouth had an 8-6 edge in shots, but only converted one.

“We tied it and made the game exciting,’ Haley said. “We had some great opportunities. We just couldn’t get it in today. They did. They had two great corners. They’re tough to defend.  We had a little difficulty adjusting because they’re a quick team. We made some adjustments as the game went on, but it came down to corners tonight.”

On to Scarborough

Thornton Academy has played Scarborough twice in the postseason, losing in the 2009 quarterfinals (2-0) and 2012 quarterfinals (4-0). The Golden Trojans believe they’re capable of beating the Red Storm and are eager for their chance.

“We’re very excited to play Scarborough,” said Pomerleau. “We played well the first game. It could have gone either way. We’re definitely ready to play them again.”

“My girls were really fired up after (the regular season) game,” Smith said. “They wanted a second chance. Last year, we lost to them in the last minute. This year, we lost in overtime. Maybe the third time will be the charm, who knows? They’re tough, obviously, but we look forward to it.”

A season to remember

Falmouth wasn’t highly touted at the start of the year, but certainly impressed and laid the foundation for even more success going forward.

“I’m extremely proud of our season,” said Haley. “A lot of people wrote us off because graduated a big class last year. We held our own and I’m really proud of that. Some girls really improved their game and showed tremendous leadership that really made a difference this year.

“We have big shoes to fill, but we have a super sophomore group returning and some good juniors as well. I’m excited to see what happens next year. Hopefully, we’ll still be in the mix. That’s our goal.”

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

Falmouth sophomore Maddie Rouhana shadows Thornton Academy senior Alicyn Romprey.

Falmouth junior Keunjoo Kim tries to get around a Thornton Academy defender.

Falmouth senior standout Elle Fitzgerald shows off her powerful shot.

Falmouth sophomore Sydney Bell plays the ball forward.

Falmouth senior Morgan Allen knocks the ball away from Thornton Academy senior Karaghan Curran.

Falmouth senior Emily Alexander tries to knock the ball away from Thornton Academy sophomore Emma Dutremble.

Falmouth sophomore Devon Sarazin fires a shot.

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Falmouth sophomore Sydney Bell (21) is congratulated by (from left) sophomores Kate Kelley and Devon Sarazin after tying Wednesday’s Western Class A quarterfinal at Thornton Academy. The Yachtsmen ultimately fell, 2-1.

Mike Strout photos.

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