Freeport rallies past Poland, saves season in breathtaking fashion

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Freeport senior Alexa Koenig (3) lifts classmate Natalie Anderson in celebration  after scoring the go-ahead goal in the Falcons’ 3-2 come-from-behind win over Poland in Tuesday’s Class B South quarterfinal. Senior Kerry Lefebvre joins in the fun.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

FREEPORT—Freeport’s field hockey team ran the gamut from deja vu to despair to delirium Tuesday evening at the Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field and as a result, the Falcons’ historic ride rolls on.

The third-ranked Falcons hosted No. 6 Poland in a Class B South quarterfinal and three weeks after dominating the Knights by four goals, in a game that could have been decided by even more, Freeport dug a familiar early hole.

The Falcons, who were quickly and unceremoniously ushered out of last year’s playoffs in a four-goal home loss to Lake Region, this time found themselves down a goal less than two minutes into the game when junior Autumn Willis scored in transition.

When Knights senior Brianna Doucette added a goal with 23:22 to go in the first half, Freeport was down by two and was on the ropes.

The Falcons settled down and began to pressure, but Poland senior goalie Ashton Sturtevant held them at bay and the score remained 2-0 at halftime.

When Sturtevant made a highlight reel save to deny Freeport sophomore Ally Randall early in the second half, things looked dire, but the Falcons would save their best for last.

Senior-laden Freeport got a lift from sophomore Aynslie Decker, who scored her team’s first goal with 21:13 to play.

Less than two minutes later, classmate Hannah Groves found the cage as well and just like that, the score was tied, 2-2.

After Doucette had a goal waved off for shooting outside the circle, the Falcons completed their exhilarating comeback with 2:27 remaining, when senior standout Alexa Koenig converted off a penalty corner.

Freeport’s defense and senior goalie Katelyn Rouleau slammed the door from there and the Falcons survived and prevailed, 3-2.

Freeport improved to 12-2-1, won a quarterfinal round playoff game for the first time in any class since 2002, ended valiant Poland’s season at 7-8 and advanced to set up a semifinal at No. 2 Fryeburg (11-2-2) Saturday at a time to be announced.

“I’m super-proud of them for coming back from a two-goal deficit,” said Falcons coach Marcia Wood. “It’s a special crew. All the seniors have been with me since freshman year and I know they want it. They keep surprising me.” 

Big step

Freeport had reached the postseason in 13 of the past 15 years, but in none of those seasons were the Falcons able to advance past the quarterfinals.

This year’s squad came in with expectations and has matched, if not exceeded them.

Freeport’s only blemishes were a home loss to Fryeburg Academy, a tie at Fryeburg Academy and a loss at defending regional champion York (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).

Poland had an up-and-down 7-7 campaign, highlighted by victories over Lake Region, York and defending Class C champion St. Dom’s.

Freeport blanked the visiting Knights, 4-0, Sept. 24 behind two goals from senior Natalie Anderson and one apiece from Decker and senior Kerry Lefebvre.

The teams had no playoff history.

Tuesday, in front of a raucous crowd on a chilly (52-degree) night, the Falcons got pushed to the brink, pushed back and in one of the most heroic chapters in program history, got the job done.

Barely.

Freeport got the first chance, three in fact, but Sturtevant announced her stonewalling presence by stopping three successive shots by Groves.

The Knights then transitioned to offense and off a feed from senior Hwida Nawass, Willis got the ball and fired it past Rouleau for a 1-0 lead just 1 minute, 43 seconds into the game.

After the Falcons had successive corners not result in a shot and after a rush by Anderson was broken up, Poland struck again.

With 23:22 to play in the half, after a failed Falcons’ clear, Doucette got to the ball and rattled the cage for a 2-0 lead.

“We shocked Freeport and shocked everyone,” said Doucette. “No one expected us to come out strong like that. We knew what we can do.”

“We knew last time we played them, Bri wasn’t much of a threat because she wasn’t feeling well, so we knew today that Bri and (Autumn) would be their big guns,” Wood said. “We could have done better marking them and keeping them from getting the ball.”

Wood called timeout before the ball had rattled off the backboard and did her best to stem the tide.

“I was thinking about what I was going to do after school tomorrow because we were going to be done,” said Wood. “We’ve talked so much about last year and how fast it happened. They were focused yesterday in practice and today, but then the game started and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m having a flashback.’ I had to remind them in the timeout that I didn’t want to be a ‘Debbie Downer,’ but it happened so fast last year and it was about to happen again. They beat us to every ball. Kudos to them. They out-hustled us much of the game.”

“It was so stressful,” Koenig said. “I knew Poland would come out strong. They were super-aggressive. Their goalie shut everything down and it was terrifying when they started scoring early. It wasn’t us not appreciating how good they are, but we were caught up in the moment, we had nervousness and we weren’t really together at the start. Communication wasn’t there. Coach said, ‘You can decide if you want this to be over, or you can turn it up a notch.'”

Poland nearly went up by three, but after a shot by Doucette off a penalty corner was blocked by Falcons senior defender Kelsey Williams, Rouleau denied Doucette.

“Our first timeout, we talked about how much we wanted it after last year,” said Rouleau. “We wanted that heart and hustle. The overall message was that we’ve played together so many years and we knew we could use each other to bounce back. Be a family.” 

Freeport then went on the attack, but couldn’t break through.

After Sturtevant denied Randall, Koenig twice shot wide, then had a great look at an open goal, but missed just wide.

With 8:09 remaining in the half, Koenig scored, but her shot came outside the circle and was disallowed. 

After Knights coach Mara Balboni called timeout to settle her team down, the Falcons kept trying to get on the board, but Sturtevant robbed Koenig.

Late in the half, Rouleau made three big saves, sending the game to the break with Poland on top, 2-0.

In the first 30 minutes, the surprising Knights had an 8-5 advantage in shots on cage. Freeport had a 6-1 edge in corners, but Sturtevant’s five saves held the Falcons at bay.

The Knights nearly scored the backbreaking goal on two separate occasions early in the second half, but first Rouleau robbed Willis on a breakaway, then Doucette just missed wide.

With 25;08 to go in regulation, in transition, Randall appeared primed to cut the deficit in half, but her promising bid was kicked aside by Sturtevant at the last second.

“We were getting frustrated,” Koenig said. “Ashton is absolutely amazing. She’s one of my really good friends. She shuts down everything.”

But just as soon as it looked like the night would end in disappointment, the Falcons’ offense awakened and quickly tied the game.

With 21:13 left, Lefebvre set up Decker for a quick shot which Sturtevant couldn’t stop and the score was 2-1.

“I was so happy it was Aynslie scoring,” Koenig said. “An underclassmen scored, so I knew the seniors had to pick it up too.”

“Aynslie coming off the bench and scoring the first goal was huge,” Wood said.

As so often happens, once the Falcons get a goal, another follows suit and with 19:17 on the clock, Randall set up Groves for the tying tally, making it a brand new game, 2-2.

“Once it was 2-2 it was like 0-0 again,” said Koenig. “We were still terrified they could score, but I think we were able to hold it together.”

“It was about momentum,” Wood said. “We couldn’t get it, then we scored and got momentum and everyone started moving faster. I was super-impressed with Ally Randall just getting the ball down there. She’s so reliable.”

After a Poland timeout, Freeport had a chance to take the lead with a penalty corner, but after the ball sat loose in front of the goal for a split second, it was cleared.

At the other end, the Knights earned a corner and appeared to retake the lead.

With 15 minutes remaining, Doucette ripped a shot into the cage, but the official closest to the play immediately waved the goal off for coming from outside the circle.

“That shot that didn’t count, honestly, my heart just broke because at first, I thought it was good,” Rouleau said.

Poland got another corner, which Koenig broke up, then another, which didn’t result in a shot.

With 6:10 remaining, a rush by Nawass was broken up by Rouleau.

After Lefebvre had a shot deflected just wide at one end, the Knights nearly took the lead again with 4:02 to play, but Rouleau stopped Doucette’s shot.

The Falcons then raced into the offensive end and Lefebvre fed Groves, but Groves’ shot was tipped just wide.

With 2:35 left in regulation, Freeport earned its eighth and final corner and with it came the go-ahead tally.

Sophomore Amelia Farrin inserted the ball to Groves, who passed in front to Koenig (who is usually stationed up top). With Sturtevant closing in, Koenig was able to get the ball past the goalie and sent it into the cage for a 3-2 lead with just 2:27 showing.

“I’m usually not near goal, so that was kind of exciting,” Koenig said. “Our corner went up to Hannah and she passed it straight to post. It was perfect. I was a little nervous being that close. Ashton beat me strong side, so I switched backwards and tried to sneak it past her back foot and luckily, I got it. It was kind of miraculous. It wasn’t even that cool of a goal. It was a tip-in, but being a game-winner, it’s awesome.”

“I don’t know if Poland was marking (Alexa) out, but they did a nice job containing her,” Wood said. “She dealt with it.”

Poland had one last bid to extend the game, but Willis’ rush was broken up.

After one final clear, the Falcons rushed the field at 7:15 p.m. and celebrated their historic 3-2 victory.

“I’m so happy to do it with my team,” Rouleau said. “There are 10 seniors this year and we’ve played together since middle school and we want it so bad.”

“I thought back to last year and I knew we couldn’t let it happen again,” Koenig said. “Losing last year helped us win tonight. The defense stepped it up and played tremendously in the second half. This shows we can compete with anyone and we’re willing to fight even if we fall behind.”

Freeport had an 8-4 edge in penalty corners and got 10 saves from Rouleau.

“Katelyn has worked really hard and the defense just got it out,” Wood said. “We tell them it doesn’t have to be fancy. We just had to hold them.”

Poland finished with a 12-11 edge in shots on cage and got nine saves from Sturtevant as it fell just short.

“We really came together as a team,” said Doucette. “It was sad, but at the same time, I’m glad we went out with a big bang. It’s what we needed coming from a lull where we lost a few games. We fought for it.”

“One of our strengths is our girls don’t give up and they fight the entire time,” Balboni said. “We’re low on numbers and they played the whole game and fought the entire time.”

Off to Fryeburg

Fryeburg Academy barely survived its quarterfinal, needing overtime to fend off No. 7 Leavitt’s upset bid, 2-1, Tuesday.

Freeport didn’t beat Fryeburg Academy this year, but the Falcons have reason to believe they can do so, since the loss was by just one goal (2-1 at home Sept. 4) and the teams settled for a 1-1 draw the second time, Sept. 28 in Fryeburg.

The Falcons and Raiders have never met in the postseason.

Freeport knows that its first trip to the regional final since 2000 is just 60 triumphant minutes away.

“We have to stay pumped up and level-headed,” Koenig said. “We need to go out and know we can win and that we will win if we go out there strong and powerful.”

“We have to keep up our communication, our passing, our overall teamwork and keep pushing forward,” Rouleau said.

“We’re going to Fryeburg and we’ve lost one and tied one, so we’re hoping what’s left is a win,” Wood added. “(Assistant coach Karin) Kurry and I will dye our hair if we go to regionals, so that can be (the girls’) motivation. We have to figure out our game plan on grass. It will be hard to do some of our moves on grass.”

Times Record staff writer Eric Maxim contributed to this story.

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

Freeport sophomore Hannah Groves, who scored the tying goal, reaches for the ball in front of Poland junior Nyah Levesque.

Freeport junior Rachel Harmon tries to get the ball away from Poland senior Brianna Doucette.

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