FREEPORT—Entering its game Oct. 11 at Wells, the Freeport girls’ soccer team was 4-7, reeling after dropping six of seven games and appeared doomed to miss the postseason for a sixth year in a row.
This group of Falcons, however, had other ideas and were bound and determined to turn the program around.
Freeport won that game at Wells, then downed North Yarmouth Academy and Old Orchard Beach to qualify for the postseason and Friday afternoon, in a game moved to Freeport Middle School, due to poor field conditions at the high school, the seventh-ranked Falcons controlled play almost throughout in a 3-1 win over No. 10 Poland.
It was Freeport’s first playoff win since 2000 and just its fourth ever. Junior Macy Stowell broke the scoring ice in the first half and after senior goalkeeper Abby Roney made a highlight reel save to keep the game deadlocked, juniors Aubrey Pennell and Naomi Otis added second half tallies as the Falcons improved to 8-7 and set up a quarterfinal round showdown at No. 2 York Tuesday.
“No one has any idea how good it feels for us,” Pennell said. “All of our seniors have never been to playoffs. To win and keep going, it’s the best feeling in the world. If you asked any of our girls, they’d say it’s the most amazing part of the year so far. We’re definitely on our way.”
In the 1989 Western Class C quarterfinals, Freeport held off Erskine, 3-2. A year later, the Falcons prevailed again in that round, 2-1, in triple overtime, over Mt. Abram. Both of those seasons ended with losses to Carrabec in the regional final. In the 2000, Freeport held off Winthrop, 2-1, in the first round, then was eliminated by Dirigo in the quarterfinals, 2-0.
And that, prior to Friday, was all the Falcons had to show for postseason success.
Freeport was in the playoffs in both 2004 (a preliminary round loss to Wells in the team’s last postseason home game before this one) and 2005 (a quarterfinal round setback at Yarmouth), but hadn’t qualified since.
This year’s team was competitive throughout, but it took the late surge to qualify.
“Last year, we had trouble finishing off the season,” said Pennell, alluding to a seven-game skid to end the 2010 campaign at 5-8-1. “This year, knowing and fulfilling our finishing games was unbelievable and made us believe we had a chance. That last OOB game was a big, big win. Big points. Getting a home game was big.”
The Falcons beat visiting Poland (which was 5-9 in the regular season), 2-0, Sept. 8. The teams had no prior playoff history.
The game was expected to be played at the high school, but the field there was too wet due to poor drainage and too much recent rain and was shifted a mile or so up Route 1.
“We didn’t know we were playing here until 11 o’clock today,” Pennell said. “Most of our girls played on this field in middle school. We’ve played summer games on this field. It was just like home.”
The Falcons quickly seized control of the contest and after some near misses, went on top, 1-0, when freshman Emily Johnson fed Stowell, who blasted a one-timer to the left of Knights goalie Haley Whitworth for a 1-0 lead with 17:37 to go in the 40-minute first half.
Freeport clung to that advantage to start the second stanza and knew it needed more.
It took a heroic effort from Roney just 65 seconds into the half to keep the game tied as off a corner kick, Poland’s Emily Bolduc fired a shot that appeared ticketed for the goal. Roney dove, however, and tipped it out of bounds, keeping the score 1-0.
“(Abby’s) saves get us really pumped up,” Pennell said. “She’s one of our players who pump us up when we need it.”
“I was a goalie too, in high school and college and as a goalie, some of the hardest games are when you’re not as active and then you have to stay mentally in the game,” said Freeport coach Elayna Girardin. “It’s difficult when you don’t see the action. At halftime, we warmed her back up. She stayed mentally in the game, even if she wasn’t moving physically as much.”
The Falcons then transitioned and got some breathing room as sophomore Ashley Richardson launched a pass from the left flank and Pennell blasted it home for a 2-0 advantage with 37:34 to play
“I saw (sophomore Brooke Heathco) coming for it, but I had better positioning,” said Pennell. “I could see where I was going and I placed it where I wanted it. I knew that would pump us up.”
In the 50th minute, Otis had a good look from the left side and lofted a shot over Whitworth and into the net for a 3-0 lead.
“The big thing this year we’ve been working on is the scoring aspect,” said Girardin. “I’ve been trying to work with the defense for a couple years, trying to get them to play my style. Now, having an assistant coach who’s very offensively minded, it’s a good match and has allowed us to be more of a goal scoring team in the past.”
With 15:57 to play, Freeport appeared to take a 4-0 lead when Pennell headed home a pass from Otis, but Pennell was ruled offsides and the game stayed 3-0.
With 3:43 to go, Poland showed some life when Bolduc scored, but the Falcons held on from there and celebrated their long overdue victory.
“We play with our hearts,” Pennell said. “Before, we’d play like we needed to win. Today, we played like we want to win. We played more than our hardest and left it all on the field.”
“It feels really good,” added Girardin. “It’s hard for the team to break tradition and make it clear that we can win like anyone else. I think this team is taking advantage of that and believing in that. I’m happy to see how we’re playing and hopefully we can keep going.
“When you have a good end of the season, it’s a good peak. The wins really helped us bond as a team. I think we’re closer as a team than we were before. It’s kept our momentum going. We’ll ride the momentum as long as we can.”
Freeport will have its hands full and will be a prohibitive underdog when it goes to No. 2 York (10-3-1) for the quarterfinals Tuesday. The Falcons hung tough in a 3-0 loss at the Wildcats on Sept. 14. The teams have no playoff history.
Don’t expect Freeport to roll over. This squad might just convince itself it can go south and shock the world.
“We’re going to put everything on the field,” said Pennell. “We’ll play our hardest, put 210 percent in and do the best we can. There are big upsets. You never know what can happen.”
“We have nothing to lose,” Girardin added. “I love being the underdog. The pressure’s not on you. You can have fun, play intense and with heart. The pressure’s on the team that’s expected to win. These girls deserve some fun. If we come out on the winning end, great. We have that ability. We’ll be more relaxed and that helps with how we play.”