CUMBERLAND—The Greely field hockey team has known virtually nothing but close games in 2010, so it came as no surprise or alarm to the Rangers Tuesday afternoon when they were tied late in their Western Class B quarterfinal round playoff game with Cape Elizabeth.
In a contest that featured an abundance of offense, Greely rallied from early 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, then took the lead for good on junior Eliza Porter’s goal with 2:36 to play. After clearing a penalty corner after time expired, the Rangers were able to celebrate a 4-3 triumph, as they improved to 11-4 and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2007, ending the Capers’ year at 7-7-1.
“It’s the most exciting game of my life,” said Porter. (The regular season) helped us a lot because we’re used to going into overtime and having close games. That calmed us down at the end and allowed us to push through.”
Greely has been one of the premier programs in Class B over the past decade, playing in three state finals and winning it all in 2003. The Rangers had early exits by their standards each of the past two seasons, falling in the quarterfinals, but were very strong in the regular season, going 10-4 to earn the No. 3 seed in Western Class B. Five of those games went to overtime, four to double OT. Greely was 3-2 in those contests. They were 2-1 in three other one-goal games.
Cape Elizabeth, meanwhile, didn’t even make the playoffs in 2009, but made great strides in 2010, starting 3-0 en route to a 7-6-1 campaign and the No. 6 seed.
The teams split in the regular season, with both winning at home (the Capers, 2-1, on Sept. 27 and the Rangers, 1-0, on Oct. 5). Greely won four of the previous six playoff meetings including the most recent (3-0 in the 2005 quarterfinals).
Tuesday, Cape Elizabeth delivered a stunning blow just 25 seconds in when senior Ally Boyington scored. Undaunted, the hosts answered midway through the 30-minute first half when senior Jackie Andrews (from sophomore Rachel Hanson) rattled the cage.
“We were phased by (the first goal), but it got us motivated to get going and get it back,” said Porter.
“I honestly think it helped us,” added Greely coach Kristina Prescott. “It pushed the girls to do everything they possibly could. We’re not known for strong first halves.”
With 9:52 to go before halftime, the Capers went ahead again, 2-1, as sophomore Lauren Steidl struck.
Prescott replaced starting senior goalie Maggie Bower with senior Hannah McCord, but stressed afterwards that it had nothing to do with the two goals.
“Our goalies are very strong and very even,” Prescott said. “The reason why I subbed was it’s important to have strong confidence and I felt there was some confidence lacking and she agreed with me. We’re all on the same page. Before it got too far, I wanted to take care of it then and there.”
Again, the Rangers rallied and tied the score when Hanson scored on a rebound with 5:42 remaining.
The second half was just as exciting.
With 25:35 to play, Greely took its first lead when junior Emily Curato sent a pass across to senior Sarah Howard who one-timed a blast high and past Capers’ sophomore goalie Julianne Ayers.
The Rangers couldn’t salt it away, however, as Cape Elizabeth tied the score, 3-3, with 20:53 let on another goal from Steidl.
Both teams then threatened to go ahead.
With 13:38 left, Andrews’ shot on a corner was just wide.
With 8:39 to go, the Capers earned a penalty corner, then another, then another and eventually a fourth, but couldn’t get off a decent shot.
“That’s been our story all season long, but we got closer than we have,” said Capers coach Darci Holland. “We were right on pads, but couldn’t finish. We’ve practiced everything with our corners. We tried to lob it in. It worked, but we couldn’t finish.”
With 3:40 remaining, Porter had the chance to play the hero, but shot high and wide.
Then, just over a minute later, she redeemed herself.
Junior CeCi Hodgkins, who has had the flair for the dramatic all season, played a shot through the defense that Porter was able to direct past Ayers to make it 4-3.
“I shot before that and it went up and just past,” said Porter. “I wanted to get it back. I went on to the ball and pushed it and it went in. It was a beautiful assist. I couldn’t have done it without all my teammates. They set me up. It was the most amazing feeling.”
Greely’s defense held on for most of the rest of regulation, but just before time expired, Cape Elizabeth earned its seventh penalty corner. Even though the clock wound down to zero, the Capers had the opportunity to play it out and conceivably tie the score and send the game to overtime. Instead, sophomore Jane Coffrin’s bid was blocked and eventually the Rangers cleared the ball from the circle, making their palpitating 4-3 win official.
“We’ll take it,” Prescott said. “It feels good. It was an unbelievable game. You can’t ask for more than that. Cape’s got strong stick skills. I told my girls that every single ball counts. We couldn’t let anything by. It’s the best game I’ve seen my girls play all season. We were evenly matched.”
The Capers had seven corners to the Rangers’ five. Ayers made nine saves.
Cape Elizabeth was oh-so-close to advancing to the semifinal round for the first time since 2002.
“We played so hard,” said Holland. “It’s a heartbreaker for my girls. We played until the end and that’s all I can ask for. We just didn’t come out on the right end. I was very impressed with our start, but they answered back. It was a great, even game.”
The Capers figure to be heard from in the future.
“It’s been a team who’s very coachable,” Holland said. “They were dedicated to getting better. It was one of my most fun years coaching. We only graduate three. We’re a young team and we’ll build on this.”
Greely will either go to No. 2 Leavitt (10-2-1) or host No. 7 Mountain Valley (9-5) in Saturday’s semifinals. The Rangers didn’t face either team in the regular season. Three years ago, Greely edged the Falcons, 3-2, in the quarterfinals, then suffered an agonizing 3-2 home loss to the Hornets in the semifinals. The Rangers were on the verge of closing that one out when Leavitt scored late in regulation. The Hornets then stung Greely immediately with an overtime goal to win a game that still resonates in Cumberland.
“Nobody ever forgets a game like that,” said Prescott, whose first season as Rangers coach came to a close with that loss. “I’m rooting to play here. We love our field. That would be ideal.”
The regional final is next Tuesday night at Scarborough High School. The Class B state final is Saturday, Oct. 30, at the University of Maine in Orono.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com