Greely survives Leavitt; Nemesis York next

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CUMBERLAND—The Greely field hockey team passed its first playoff test Thursday afternoon and it didn’t take much prompting for it to look ahead to the next one.

In a game postponed 24 hours due to rain and a wet field, the fourth-ranked Rangers welcomed No. 5 Leavitt for a quarterfinal and two teams without much separation put on a show.

After a back-and-forth first half which resulted in an abundance of chances, but no goals, Greely finally broke through early in the second half when senior Julia Maine tipped home classmate Eliza Porter’s shot.

Then, it was up to the Rangers’ defense and first-year senior goalie Emma Seymour to stand tall and protect it and that’s exactly what they did as Greely improved to 11-4 with a 1-0 win, ending the Hornets’ season at 10-4-1.

The Rangers now have the daunting task of going to No. 1 York, the defending regional champion and a team that’s broken their hearts for years, Saturday for the semifinals.

“It was a nervewracker,” said Seymour, after her first playoff game. “A 1-0 win says a lot. It’s more scary when we’re up a goal rather than being tied because the other team pushes so hard to try and get a goal.”

First step

Greely made it to the regional final a year ago, but lost to York, 3-1. This autumn, the Rangers won six of their last seven games to wind up 10-4 and fourth in the region.

Leavitt was 5-3 at one juncture this fall, but went 5-0-1 down the stretch to place fifth.

The teams have met a couple times in recent postseasons. In the 2007 semifinals, the Hornets rallied to tie the game late, then won in overtime, 3-2. Last year, in the same round, Greely prevailed, 1-0.

After rain prevented the game from being played Wednesday, it was in jeopardy again Thursday before the skies cleared and it was game on.

And what a game it was.

In the fifth minute, Leavitt had the first good chance when senior Casey Fichter sent a cross to senior Adrianna Newton, but Newton couldn’t make contact.

Two minutes later, the Rangers had a look as senior CeCi Hodgkins sent a cross that trickled across the crease, but no teammate could reach it.

With 18:57 to go in the 30-minute first half, Greely almost took the lead as senior Meaghan Labbe sent a long hit ahead and junior Jess Wilson got to the ball and got past Hornets senior goalie Taylor Eells. Wilson managed to release a shot under pressure, but it went just wide.

With 17:10 remaining, Maine had a good look on a corner, but the shot was blocked. In the 19th minute, Porter had a good look, but her shot trickled wide. Junior Freyja Victory got to the rebound, but Eells made the save.

After Leavitt transitioned, the visitors had a great chance of their own. With 10:05 showing, Fichter sent on a shot on goal that Seymour had to sprawl to deny. The rebound sat loose in front of the goal, but before a Hornet could get to it, the defense cleared it away.

With 6:55 to go before halftime, Leavitt had back-to-back corners and the second resulted in a deflected shot that improbably landed on top of the netting at the top of the goal.

In the 26th minute, the Rangers again threatened to take the lead, but Wilson’s shot was denied by a sprawling Eells and the rebound was kicked away and neither team threatened again before the break.

Even though the game was scoreless at the half, Greely felt it had carried the play and should have been ahead.

“I just told them at halftime that nothing mattered until we scored,” said Rangers coach Kristina Lane Prescott. “We felt like were dominating, but it didn’t matter since it was 0-0.”

The Rangers finally broke through with 28:24 to go. In transition, Wilson brought the ball upfield, shot it forward where Porter fought her way through two defenders then sent a shot on goal that Maine knocked into the cage for a 1-0 lead.

“Jess was taking it down and she hit it and Eliza took a shot and I just sort of touched it and it went right past (the goalie’s) pads,” Maine said. “I didn’t think it would go in, but it slipped past the post and went in.”

“I told the girls at halftime to just put the ball in the net,” Prescott said. “That’s all that matters. They stepped up. (Julia) knew where to be. She’s a strong player. It’s been her season. It’s coming together for her.”

Then, Greely had to protect the lead.

After the Rangers almost went up 2-0 seconds after the goal when Maine had a rush broken up, the Hornets pushed for the equalizer.

With 20:35 to play, Newton, a key cog on Leavitt’s girls’ basketball state championship team last winter, had a shot in close, but Seymour turned it aside. A rebound shot was sent high.

At the 13:08 mark, Leavitt senior Kayla Royer had a good look on a corner, but shot wide.

Seymour might have made her best save with 7:16 to go when sophomore Briana DeGone broke free down the right side, ran into the box and fired a blast that the goalie had to kick at twice to finally clear.

The frustrated Hornets called a timeout with 4:18 showing and hoped to rally, but with 3:10 left, Greely junior Kaley Sawyer broke up a corner (each team finished with nine). Then, with 1:55 to play, Leavitt’s last good look resulted in its greatest frustration as a blast from senior Amanda Jordan got past Seymour, but hit the post.

“Luckily it did hit the post,” Seymour said. “I was very lucky with that. We did really well blocking the girls in front of the net. There were girls on me, but the defense took charge and got in front of them. They never got off a good shot.”

“Emma was amazing today,” Maine said. “She’s half our team. I don’t know where we’d be without her. We’re lucky to have her.”

“Emma, in her a first season playing field hockey, having (seniors) Meaghan (Labbe) and Maggie (Norton) as our backs, them as a unit, they’re so strong,” Prescott said. “They support each other.”

The Rangers were then able to transition to offense and ran out the clock on the 1-0 victory.

“We needed this,” said Maine. “I think (not playing yesterday) gave us more time to get excited. It was a little stressful, but it worked out in the end. I slipped a couple times (today), but the conditions weren’t that bad. It wasn’t about the field. It was about the  game. It was a really good game for all of us. I’m proud of us. It was nice to score in the second half and not the first, so we didn’t have to be nervous the whole game.”

“It was a good game,” Prescott said. “Leavitt always comes to play. It’s a different style of field hockey. The hardest thing is we don’t see them in the season so we don’t know what to expect. They’re more aggressive and way more physical than what we’re used to. That can break down a team, but we prepared for it.”

Gutcheck time

So now, Greely goes to York (14-1 after Thursday’s 4-0 quarterfinal round win over No. 8 Lake Region). The Rangers beat the Wildcats in the 2001, 2002 and 2003 regional finals, but since then, York has dominated the rivalry and the region.

Last fall, in the regional final, the Wildcats prevailed, 3-1, taking Western B for the sixth time in seven years. This fall, York won at Greely (in a game played on the Yarmouth High turf), 3-2, and at home, 2-0. The Rangers have dropped seven straight to the Wildcats, dating back to a 2-0 home triumph Oct. 3, 2008.

Despite the one-sidedness of the rivalry, the Rangers expect to take care of business Saturday.

“We’re going to get them this time,” Maine said. “We just have to keep it together and be the better team. I think we are. We always have issues with the field and the refs and blah, blah, blah, but I think we can get past them. I think it’s definitely a mental thing. This year, we want to break the York curse. I hope so.”

“I think we can beat them,” Seymour said. “I have a feeling we’ll win. I think we’ll play through it. We’re confident.”

“Unfortunately, there are random things that happen there,” Prescott added. “We have to play field hockey. We can’t worry about anything else. If we put the ball in the net, nothing else matters. Everyone will be rooting for us. We’ve worked so hard. I truly feel this is our year. The girls want it so badly.”

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

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