Thrice is nice for Falmouth girls
SCARBOROUGH—The Falmouth girls' soccer team continues to pile up the hardware with amazing regularity.
The Yachtsmen's 23rd varsity season culminated with a record 11th state title Saturday evening at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex with a 2-1 victory over Hermon in the Class B state final.
Falmouth took control midway through the first half on a gorgeous goal from senior Cassie Darrow, doubled its advantage late in the half when junior Megan Miller converted a penalty kick and after the Hawks made things interesting with a goal with 7:29 to play, the Yachtsmen's defense sealed the deal and earned an 11th title in 12 state game opportunities.
Falmouth ended Hermon's season at 15-3 and finished 14-2-2 in the process.
"There's no feeling like this in the world," said Darrow. "Being a part of this team and fighting all the battles we've fought. We play for each other. It's a great feeling not just winning, but doing it well. It's amazing."
One more time
For all its previous accomplishments, Falmouth had never won three straight championships.
This autumn, the Yachtsmen's goal was simple, to win it all again, and they started fast, hit a rough patch, but returned to form in time for the playoffs. After holding off host Cape Elizabeth, 2-1, in the opener, Falmouth blanked visiting Poland (2-0) and host Greely (1-0), won at Gray-New Gloucester (3-1), then shut out visiting Freeport (3-0). After settling for a scoreless tie at Yarmouth, the Yachtsmen had their way with visiting Wells (7-0), Yarmouth (3-1) and York (1-0). Falmouth fell from the unbeaten ranks Oct. 9, courtesy visiting Cape Elizabeth (3-1), then was stunned at Poland, 1-0. A 1-1 home tie against Greely righted the ship and the Yachtsmen closed the regular year with a 1-0 victory at York to wind up 10-2-2 and second to Morse in the Western B Heal Points standings.
Falmouth was challenged in its playoff games, but outlasted No. 7 Yarmouth in the quarterfinals (2-0), edged sixth-ranked Gray-New Gloucester in the semifinals (2-1), then blanked top-ranked Morse (2-0) in the regional final Wednesday.
The Yachtsmen had made the state game 11 previous times, winning Class C in 1992 (3-0 over Madawaska), 1995 (1-0, in double overtime, over Katahdin) and 1998 (2-0 over Madawaska) and Class B in 2001 (2-1, in PKs, over Winslow), 2002 (2-1, 4-2 in PKs, over Bucksport), 2005 (1-0 over Winslow), 2006 (5-0 over Winslow), 2008 (2-0 over Presque Isle), 2010 (1-0 over Caribou) and last year (1-0 over Presque Isle).
Falmouth's lone state game loss came in Class C in 1994 (1-0 to Katahdin).
Hermon went 12-2 in the regular season, with its lone losses coming to Presque Isle, which wound up first in Eastern B, while the Hawks went into the playoffs ranked second. After ousting No. 7 MDI (2-0) in the quarterfinals and third-ranked Camden Hills (1-0) in the semis, Hermon avenged its regular season setbacks with a 1-0 win at Presque Isle in the regional final Wednesday.
The Hawks' lone previous Class B state game appearance resulted in a 3-0 loss to Windham in 1994.
Saturday, Falmouth once again saved its best for last.
The first scoring chance didn't come until the 12th minute when Hermon sophomore Savannah Allain shot wide.
The Yachtsmen's first opportunity came in the 16th minute, but junior Mary Catherine Kowalsky, after taking a pass from senior playmaker extraordinaire Caitlin Bucksbaum, shot wide.
Darrow struck with 21:55 to play in the first half as the ball came to her, she saw she had a little room, took a touch and launched a 30-yard rocket over the defense and into the upper left corner of the goal, where Hawks' freshman goalkeeper Bryanne Crouse couldn't do anything about it.
"Every goal is set up by the whole team," said Darrow. "(Bucksbaum) made a great run and it just opened up a huge space in the middle. I was lucky enough to get a good touch on it. I didn't even think about it. I just fired. It felt good. There's a split second where you know it's a good shot."
"(Cassie) just had the greatest strike," Bucksbaum said. "Perfect placement. Perfect height. She's a great finisher."
Bucksbaum set up the second goal, but paid a price in doing so.
Carrying the ball into the Hermon box, Bucksbaum was tripped up from behind, stopping play as Falmouth was awarded a penalty kick.
"I'm glad (the official) gave us the penalty kick on that one," Bucksbaum said. "It was a critical moment."
Miller was selected to take the shot and she sent a low shot into the right corner for a 2-0 advantage.
"I take PKs seriously," Miller said. "I place them in the same place every time. I'm glad I got it in. There was a big difference being up 2-0 instead of 1-0. I think we came out really intense and hard and I think that made them back off a little. We got in a groove and kept it in their end."
"It was so important to get a second goal," said Darrow. "The other team's going to fight back in a state game. Both teams are here for a reason. We knew we still had work to do."
For most of the second half, Falmouth kept Hermon in check and had chances to extend the lead to an insurmountable 3-0, but couldn't do it.
With 28:30 remaining, Yachtsmen sophomore Georgia Babikian took a cross from Bucksbaum and fired a shot that Crouse had to dive to save.
Falmouth senior goalkeeper Caroline Lucas made her biggest save with 25:34 remaining, denying Allain in close after Allain took a feed from junior Katilin Saulter.
With 13:39 left, Hawks' sophomore Claire Petersen missed high.
Then, with 7:29 to go, Hermon made things interesting.
Allain set up the goal with a high shot from the side that Lucas leaped to catch, but could only get a fingertip on and the ball rolled behind her where Petersen banged it home to cut the deficit to 2-1.
The re-energeized Hawks then pushed for the equalizer.
With 5:27 remaining, a shot by Saulter was denied by Lucas.
With 3:17 to go, Falmouth senior defender Angie Mallis blocked a Petersen shot.
Twice in the final minute, Hermon got the ball into the Yachtsmen box, but both times defenders cleared it.
Then, with time winding down, Falmouth cleared the zone one final time and at 7:33 p.m., could at last exhale and celebrate its 2-1 victory.
"It's such a good feeling," Miller said. "I'm so proud of the whole team to get where we got today. We knew (the Hawks) were a good team and that we had to come and play hard. We've worked hard all season and I think it paid off today. The end was scary. We got a little stressed out. We had to get our composure back and we did. We controlled the last couple minutes. Every year, we have a good team. We always fight through everything and believe in ourselves."
"It was nervewracking, but I'm so proud of everybody," Darrow said. "I have to give (Hermon) credit for putting so much pressure on us being 2-0 down. We did a good job playing intelligent soccer and holding on at the end. I feel like this team built off last year's experience. We're a very close team. It was very important to win as seniors. For some girls, it's the last game of soccer they'll ever play. There's the traditions, the huddles, the national anthem, the feelings. This was the last time we'd ever experience them. You bet it was important."
"(The Hawks) were a lot better than I thought they'd be," Bucksbaum said. "They came out strong. They came back and made it tight. What we developed last year carried over to this year. We had some tough times in the preseason, but I think when we beat Cape at the beginning of the season that turned us around. We started slipping a little. The Poland game was a critical moment for us. It was a complete wakeup call. We wanted it after that. Sometimes it takes a loss to show us what you want. We wanted to get a three-peat for the school. That's what we talked about all season. In the huddle today, we talked about not letting the seniors down. It's been awesome. Ever since the first day I started here, the girls were accepting and we bonded as a team."
Falmouth coach Wally LeBlanc, who's now two-for-two in winning championships with the Yachtsmen, felt this game and season played out in ideal fashion.
"It's not supposed to be easy in a state championship game," LeBlanc said. "I'm just so happy for the girls. It's hard enough to win one state championship, for them to win three in a row is kind of surreal. I think of where we were last year when we weren't sure if we could win and we did. I'm not so sure people felt we were good enough to this. I'm proud of the girls for representing themselves to the best of their abilities.
"I don't think you cruise through a season. You have injuries, you have highs and lows. The struggles make it special. We learned from those experiences and made adjustments and that got us ready for games like today. It was a team effort across the board. The defense won one-on-one battles. The midfield worked really hard. The forwards checked back. We did a lot right. Hermon's a talented group. We had to meet their intensity."
Goodbyes and next year
Falmouth has to part with nine seniors, including several of the team's top players. That group will be missed, but the Yachtsmen have bounced back many times before and even if, as expected, they move up to Class A in 2013, they will be in the title hunt again.
"What a resilient group (the seniors were)," LeBlanc said. "They're so special. It's more than just how they play soccer. They're good sportsmen and they're classy. We'll rebuild. Whether or not you make it to another championship, that's for next year. Right now, we're going to enjoy the moment."