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Freeport sophomore Jake Dumont possesses the ball as York sophomore John Bychok defends during the teams’ contest Thursday afternoon. The Wildcats prevailed, 4-0.
More photos below.
FREEPORT—Don’t give York senior standout Alex Nickerson any breathing room or he’ll make you pay.
Freeport’s boys’ soccer team learned that the hard way Thursday afternoon at Hunter Road Fields, as Nickerson put on a show and led the talented Wildcats to yet another victory.
Less than three minute in, Nickerson finished a chance in the box for the only goal his team would need, but he was far from finished.
Nickerson struck again midway through the second half and the way York’s defense was stifling the Falcons’ offense, 2-0 seemed like an insurmountable lead.
Any Freeport comeback hopes were quickly dashed in the second half, when Nickerson set up senior Zach Westman a little more than two minutes in and with 36:44 to play, Nickerson completed his hat trick, completely putting the game out of reach, and after holding off some late Falcons’ chances, the Wildcats went on to a 4-0 victory.
York improved to 6-1 on the season and in the process, dropped Freeport to 3-3.
“It’s choppy right now,” said longtime Falcons coach Joe Heathco. “We’re still trying to find combinations that work. I had guys in different positions tonight that they hadn’t practiced. That took us out of our rhythm a little bit. I’m trying to find what will make us better. It didn’t work. I screwed up, but I feel good about a lot of the things we did.”
Freeport has made the playoffs in five of the past six seasons, but hasn’t been able to advance to the semifinal round (last year ended with a quarterfinal round loss to Maranacook).
This fall, the Falcons feel like they can really move up the ladder.
After falling at Cape Elizabeth, 1-0, in the opener, Freeport defeated host Lake Region, 7-0. Another one-goal loss, 3-2 at Greely, followed, but the Falcons turned around and defeated host Fryeburg Academy and North Yarmouth Academy by 4-0 margins.
York, viewed by may as the team best equipped to challenge three-time defending state champion Yarmouth this fall, started by winning at Greely (3-2), at home over Fryeburg Academy (5-0) and at Cape Elizabeth (2-1). After a 3-2 home loss to Yarmouth, the Wildcats blanked host Wells (5-0) and Lake Region (10-0).
Last year, York won a double-overtime thriller at Freeport, 3-2.
Thursday, on a pleasant (73-degree) but windy afternoon, the Falcons sought their first win over the Wildcats since Sept. 24, 2008 (2-1, in overtime, at York), but instead, York improved to 6-0-1 over the past seven meetings.
The start of the game was delayed 10 minutes as York’s bus was late arriving, but once the contest began, it didn’t take long for the visitors to seize control.
With 37:13 to play in the first half, senior Keenan Gamache fed the ball to Nickerson in the box. With a defender blanketing him, Nickerson still managed to corral the ball, turn and fire a left-footed shot off the fingertips of Freeport junior goalkeeper Atticus Patrick into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“We didn’t have much warmup, but we came prepared,” Nickerson said. “We wanted to get off to a fast start. That first goal is the biggest goal.”
The Wildcats didn’t rest on their laurels and almost doubled their lead, but Patrick punched away a corner kick, then dove to rob Westman.
With 23:22 to play in the first half, York nearly struck again, but after stealing the ball, freshman Alex Neilson was robbed by Patrick and the rebound was cleared by Freeport sophomore back Damon Butler.
The Falcons’ first look at the goal came in the 19th minute, but sophomore Will Winter sent a free kick high.
The Wildcats then transitioned back to offense and with 20:11 on the first half clock, Nickerson blew past three defenders before firing a shot past Patrick top shelf for a 2-0 advantage.
“He’s a solid player and he made us pay for our mistakes,” Heathco said, of Nickerson. “We really haven’t seen that good a player. He scored goals from tough angles. Give him credit.”
Freeport showed some life late in the first half, but a serve from sophomore Jake Dumont to junior Caleb Arsenault was broken up by York senior goalkeeper Brett Smith and a shot by junior Shea Wagner was deflected out for a corner, which didn’t result in a shot.
The Wildcats ousthot the Falcons, 10-1, in the first half and had a 3-1 edge in corners, but eight saves from Patrick kept the hosts in the game.
York then quickly ended all doubt when the second half began.
After scoring twice, Nickerson set up his offensive counterpart, Westman, for an easy goal on a breakaway and with 37:41 to play, the Wildcats had an all-important third tally.
“I thought we had good momentum going to the second half, so I was hoping that next goal was ours,” Heathco said.
Freeport didn’t even have time to catch its breath, as 57 seconds later, it was Nickerson receiving a long pass, from senior James Peter, before racing in, eluding Patrick with a pretty move, then burying his shot while falling to complete the hat trick.
“We wanted to put it away, because we knew it would have turned into a battle if we didn’t,” Nickerson said. “They fight hard. They’re good. I wanted a third goal pretty badly. That’s two games in a row. I’m just trying to help my team win.”
The competitive phase of the contest was over, but the Falcons still tried hard to get on the scoreboard.
With 13:31 to go, a shot from junior Eriksen Shea was deflected wide.
With 8:21 on the clock, a low, left-footed shot by junior Owen Patrick forced Smith to sprawl and make a save.
Shea then shot just high, senior Joe Ashby missed just wide after a turnover, Ashby shot just high, junior Shea Wagner had a header which Smith saved and a shot by sophomore Gabe Wagner was saved as well.
York then ran out the clock on its 4-0 victory.
“We were clicking up top, me and Westman,” Nickerson said. “We’ve been good all season. We’ve scored a lot. It wasn’t just us, though. Midfield, defense, especially (junior Nick) Rainforth and (sophomore John) Bychok in the middle. It was a great effort. We did everything Coach (Eric Martens) wanted us to do today.”
The Wildcats finished with a 14-5 shots advantage and a 5-3 edge in corner kicks. Smith made five saves.
Freeport got 10 saves from Atticus Patrick, but couldn’t recover from its early struggles.
“This gives us a lot of things to work on, tactically and motivationally,” said Heathco. “They exposed us where we had guys who hadn’t been in those situations. That’s on me, not the kids.
“I feel like we’re talented. The result today is disappointing, but I feel like we can win games.”
York stays on the road Saturday when it meets Gray-New Gloucester. Tuesday brings a showdown at Yarmouth.
“Yarmouth is the team to beat by far, but we can compete with them,” Nickerson said. “It’s not the easiest thing to go their turf, but we’ll be ready.”
As for Freeport, the Falcons will end the first half of their season Friday at Poland.
“We’ll bring up some swing players tomorrow so we have a lot of guys and hopefully we’ll get the result we want,” Heathco said.
Freeport then comes home for three huge tests against Class C South power Waynflete, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth, games which will go a long way in determining if this team will be in the hunt for a high playoff seed.
“I think we have the athleticism and skill level to compete with this team and every team in the league,” Heathco said. “But we have a lot of work to do.”
Freeport senior Nate Thomas plays the ball.
Freeport sophomore Gabe Wagner tries to keep up with York senior Ben Duffy.