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Cape Elizabeth escapes Falmouth, earns top seed

Sports

Cape Elizabeth escapes Falmouth, earns top seed

FALMOUTH—The Cape Elizabeth girls' lacrosse team entered Tuesday night's regular season ending showdown at Falmouth believing that the playoffs begin now.

The Capers and Yachtsmen then produced a 50 minute Passion Play worthy of June, one that could be reprised in a couple of weeks.

With the highly coveted top seed in Western Class B, the toughest region in the state, at stake, Cape Elizabeth never trailed and wound up winning by a goal, but the Capers needed every single second on the clock and a little bit of help from the goalie's best friend to hold on.

Cape Elizabeth never trailed, went ahead for good just 2 minutes, 28 seconds in and raced to an early 5-1 lead, but unfazed Falmouth, as expected, battled back.

A week removed from a historic come-from-behind victory at Waynflete, the Yachtsmen, playing on their Senior Night, followed a similar script, pulling within a goal late in the first half, but this time, the opponent answered, as the Capers scored three times in the half's final 1:13 to regain control and lead, 11-7.

Cape Elizabeth stretched its advantage to 15-9 and still held that margin with under six minutes remaining, but Falmouth embarked on one final, furious comeback.

The Yachtsmen got three goals in a 43-second span and pulled within 15-14 with 1:49 still to play, but 18 seconds later, senior Megan Fortier's potential tying free position hit the post and with 26.1 seconds left, Capers senior goalie Elin Sonesson denied Falmouth junior Maddie Skop and the visitors were able to run out the clock and finally exhale as they prevailed, 15-14.

Junior standout Talley Perkins had five goals, while classmate Lauren Steidl added three with a pair of assists and Sonesson made eight saves to help Cape Elizabeth finish 12-0 and first, dropping the Yachtsmen to 10-2 and likely the third spot, in the process.

"This is what we worked for all season, to come out and play these kinds of games," said Capers first-year coach Jeff Perkins. "We talked about this as being game one of the playoffs. That we had four games to go. If we want to win a state championship, we had to win four games starting with tonight. I think that's how we played. We talked today on the bus that this was the time to finish something that had never happened to Cape Elizabeth before. We had to go out and finish this game. We knew what the goal was. We went and did it and got homefield advantage."

Good to the last drop

It's been clear all season that the power in Class B girls' lacrosse this spring resides in the West Region.

Falmouth appeared on the verge of competing for a title last season, but was upset at home by Cape Elizabeth in the Western B semifinals, 14-12. The Yachtsmen have been close to unbeatable in 2012, lighting up the scoreboard from the get go. Falmouth started by downing host Yarmouth, 12-2, North Yarmouth Academy, 17-3, Marshwood, 13-10, and visiting Yarmouth, 19-7. The Yachtsmen then fell from the unbeaten ranks with a 13-10 home loss to Waynflete, but rebounded with victories over host Fryeburg (22-4), visiting Kennebunk (17-10) and York (19-8) and host Wells (24-6) before making history with a 13-10 win at Waynflete. Thursday, Falmouth handled visiting NYA, 18-6.

Cape Elizabeth's 2011 season ended with a gutwrenching 8-7 loss to Waynflete in the Western B Final and the Capers entered this spring primed to take the next step, but few expected them to run the table. Cape Elizabeth got things started with a 19-8 home win over Greely, then downed host Freeport (15-7), visiting Gorham (16-8), host York (16-8), visiting Yarmouth (14-6) and visiting Greely 8-7. On May 12, the Capers answered any remaining doubters with a decisive 11-5 victory at two-time defending Class A champion Scarborough. Wins over visiting Freeport (19-8), host Fryeburg (16-1) and visiting Wells (21-6) and York (15-6) set the stage for Tuesday's showdown.

Heading into the game, over the past decade, Cape Elizabeth had won 10 of 14 meetings (please see sidebar), but Falmouth had taken three of the past four.

This one was pivotal. The winner would take home the top spot and not only get to play on their homefield, but force the loser to have to go through perennial powerhouse Waynflete in the semifinals.

Not much separated the contenders, but in the end, the Capers managed to score one more goal to triumph on a rainy night with electricity crackling in both the air and the stands.

With little separating Steidl and Falmouth junior Molly Ryan in the draw circle, keeping possession would be critical and the Yachtsmen committed several unforced turnovers in the first half to help Cape Elizabeth get the jump.

The visitors went on top to stay with 22:32 to play in the first half when Steidl scored unassisted.

Just 21 seconds later, Falmouth almost answered by junior Alex Bernier's shot hit the post.

The Capers then made it a 2-0 game when Talley Perkins scored on a free position with 21:22 to go.

The Yachtsmen got on the board at the 19:44 mark on a gift.

With Sonesson out of the net, a Cape Elizabeth pass went awry and the ball came right to Bernier, who ran in and had an empty goal at which to shoot. She buried the shot and it was a 2-1 game.

The Capers weren't phased and got three goals in just over two minutes to push the lead to four.

With 19:12 remaining in the half, senior Janessa White set up senior Bella Robinson, whose shot eluded Falmouth senior goalie Moie Aaskov.

"We really talk about energy and desire and about movement and not standing around," said coach Perkins. "Getting out in some lanes and filling them when cuts were available. (The girls) did it a to a T. They looked great in the first half."

White finished (from sophomore Hannah Newhall) at 16:58 and nine seconds later, after plucking the draw out of the air, Perkins raced in and scored to make it 5-1.

"Our passes were straight on and we had great ball movement," Perkins said. "We were where we needed to be to get the ball down to the goal from defense to offense. We had fast breaks and we got the draws, which was awesome."

Yachtsmen coach Robin Haley called timeout and her players responded as Ryan sent a long pass to Bernier, who ran in and finished to cut the deficit to 5-2.

Cape Elizabeth didn't allow Falmouth to go on a run as Steidl answered with an unassisted goal.

"It's all about momentum and who has it," Steidl said. "When another team gets momentum, we get collected and stay calm and do what we can to slow that momentum down and turn it back our way. When we got (the ball) in the offensive zone, we wanted to get good looks and turn it into goals."

Bernier scored her third goal with 15:08 remaining in the half, but 20 seconds later, Newhall set up sophomore Liz Robinson and the lead was back to 7-3.

Junior Angela Mallis (from Bernier) responded at the 10:08 mark, but again, the Capers answered as Steidl threw a pass toward White in front of the goal. White couldn't make the catch, but tipped the ball, which threw off Aaskov's timing and the ball found its way into the net for an 8-4 advantage.

Then, the Yachtsmen rattled off one of their patented surges.

A Fortier free position goal at 3:07 got it started.

Senior Vanessa Audet scored unassisted with 1:54 left before halftime.

Then, 28 seconds later, junior Geneva Waite scored on a free position and Falmouth was within a goal, 8-7, and appeared primed to overtake Cape Elizabeth.

Instead, the Capers got off the canvas and went on a half-ending run of their own to open things back up.

Off a draw win, Steidl scored unassisted with 1:13 to play. After Cape Elizabeth got the draw again, Perkins was robbed point blank by Aaskov, but the visitors got the ball right back and Perkins managed to finish at the 48.3 second mark.

As time wound down, Aaskov twice denied Capers' free positions, first by Newhall at 17.7 seconds and then sophomore Abby McInerney with 3.5 seconds to go, but the Yachtsmen couldn't corral the rebound and McInerney got the ball back and shot it into the net just as time expired to give Cape Elizabeth an 11-7 lead and plenty of momentum.

"I couldn't have written it a better way," coach Perkins said. "We were back on our heels a little bit. We got that draw, which is always a big piece of the puzzle. We pushed and got one. We got a second one, bam. The last one, it was lucky. Everyone was playing heads up and we took advantage. That could be the game winner."

"That definitely deflated us," Haley said.

Prior to the start of the second half, the officials and coaches consulted on the possibility of halting the game if thunder was heard or lightning was seen, but it was determined that the show would go on (a girls' lacrosse game has to have 40 minutes elapsed to be official) and the fireworks on the field continued.

Just 1:23 in, Perkins shot through a couple defenders past a screened Aaskov and the Capers were up, 12-7.

Fortier (from Audet) scored at the 21:06 mark, but after a turnover, Steidl set up Liz Robinson for a goal with 20 minutes to play.

Then, with 13:50 to go in regulation, in transition, Perkins passed to Bella Robinson, who finished to give Cape Elizabeth its biggest lead, 14-8.

Falmouth crept back within five when Fortier scored unassisted at the 11 minute mark after a triple fake on a defender.

Again, the Capers answered, however, as Perkins snared the draw, raced in and scored eight seconds later for a 15-9 advantage.

It looked at that juncture like Cape Elizabeth was unstoppable, but it wouldn't score again and the hosts controlled the waning minutes.

After over five scoreless minutes, which included an ankle injury to Perkins, who had to come out of the game, the Yachtsmen made it a 15-10 game when Waite threw a long lead pass to Fortier, who finished with 5:34 on the clock.

With 3:58 to go, Fortier took a pass from Audet and beat Sonesson to make it 15-11 and induce a Capers' timeout.

Falmouth kept coming.

Out of the timeout, Ryan won the draw, the ball came to Mallis and she set up Waite for a goal at the 3:43 mark.

Twenty-eight seconds later, Ryan scored a free position goal and things were suddenly very interesting as the Yachtsmen pulled to within 15-13.

Ryan won the ensuing draw, but Falmouth turned the ball over for the 23rd time.

The Yachtsmen got it back, however, and with 1:49 showing, Audet passed to Mallis, who beat Sonesson and suddenly the Cape Elizabeth lead was a tenuous 15-14.

Perkins again called timeout to implore his charges to play their game and run out the clock.

When Ryan won the ensuing draw, Falmouth looked to tie.

The ball came to Fortier, who was fouled and she earned a free position opportunity to at last pull her team even, but Fortier had to shoot from a tough angle and that might have saved the Capers. Trying to beat Sonesson high and to the goalie's left, Fortier instead hit the post and Cape Elizabeth freshman Melissa Rudberg collected the rebound.

After a near turnover, Bella Robinson kept possession alive.

Then, with 52.7 seconds left, Perkins, who had just returned to the contest, found herself free in front, but her potential game-clincher was denied by Aaskov.

"I was (on the sidelines) and I felt so bad," Perkins said. "I had to get back in there. I couldn't just sit over there and watch. It was terrible."

"As a Dad, I wasn't so sure I wanted her to go in, but as a coach, I didn't have the heart to tell her she wasn't going back in," said coach Perkins. "She has desire. She wanted to finish and be a team player and make this happen."

That gave the Yachtsmen a final chance.

Falmouth transitioned to offense and the ball came to Skop in front, but with 26.1 seconds to play, Sonesson got enough of Skop's shot to keep it out of the net.

"I saved it, but I wasn't really sure," Sonesson said. "It was at my feet. Someone told me it was there."

The Capers then managed to run out the clock and make their 15-14 victory official.

"We kind of played our game like we have this entire season," Steidl said. "(Falmouth's) a really good team. You have to give them that. They worked until the final second. You can get a lot of goals in a short amount of time. We wanted possession and not to do anything too crazy at the end."

"What a phenomenal lacrosse game," added coach Perkins. "It was hard to watch at the end, but it was a great game. Falmouth did exactly what I thought they'd do. We talked about them starting slow sometimes then they come back strong. That's exactly what they did. We were hanging on for dear life. It was two great teams. I don't what more you can expect from a game like that. A one-goal game. Down to the last couple seconds. It doesn't get any better than that."

Only after the final horn did Mother Nature finally appear, but by that point, lightning and thunder were no longer a threat to the game's completion.

"I knew I didn't want to get to a point where we had to sit for 30 minutes (for a weather delay)," coach Perkins said. "That's a momentum killer."

Cape Elizabeth's offense was keyed by the usual suspects, but several players contributed. Perkins had five goals and an assist. Steidl finished with three goals and two assists. Bella Robinson, Liz Robinson and White both scored twice, while McInerney added one. Newhall had two assists, while White added one. Sonesson finished with eight clutch saves.

"I just do my best to forget about the score," Sonesson said, of her approach. "There's nothing you can do about it. I just move forward."

Steidl finished 15 of 30 on draws.

"I really trust the people I have on the circle," Steidl said. "That's the biggest thing. We know (Falmouth). We've played them. They have returning players. I know where I wanted to put it. It changes completely based on where people are positioned."

The Capers finished with a 40-37 edge on ground balls. Perkins led all players with eight, Steidl have seven, while Newhall, Liz Robinson and junior Emily Spidle each collected four.

Cape Elizabeth turned the ball over 22 times, but had a 35-31 advantage in shots (27-22 on cage).

"We took a lot of shots in the first half," coach Perkins said. "At halftime I said, 'Girls, I hate to be picky. We scored 11 goals, but we missed a lot of opportunities as well. Let's clean those up and possess the ball a little better.' In the second half, I think our percentage was better."

The Capers matched the 2002 team with a 12-0 record, but based on the strength of their schedule and their performance against top foes, it's safe to say that this team has no peer in program annals.

That's because it truly is a team.

"In past years, we've had little groups, but this year, we're literally one big happy family," said Talley Perkins. "We connect. We all love and trust each other. We're one big group. It's the best way to play lacrosse. You can't play lacrosse any other way."

"I was blessed with a great team and blessed with a great mentor in Kurt (Chapin), who was coaching before," said coach Perkins. "I really just came in with a great team that was there and just put pieces together. I owe just as much of our success to him and all the things we did in years prior to get to this point. I didn't pull a magic rabbit out of my hat. This is how the program had been going."

Falmouth's offense was paced by Fortier's five goals. Bernier had three goals (and one assist). Mallis and Waite each had two goals and one assist. Audet (three assists) and Ryan added one goal apiece. Aaskov made a dozen saves. Ryan went 14 of 26 in the draw circle. Audet finished 1 of 4. Fortier led the Yachtsmen with seven ground balls. Waite had six, Mallis five.

Falmouth was severely hampered by 23 turnovers, most of which were unforced.

"We pretty much ran out of time," Haley said. "We dug a hole. We had a hard time maintaining possession of the ball today. Cape's extremely athletic and capitalized on all of it. They outplayed us today. We had a couple players who were really jittery today. We'd talked a lot about this game. I think some of that pressure came into play for us today."

In spite of the loss, the Yachtsmen take great pride in their 10-2 record, the best in the program's history.

"I think it's the best regular season we've ever had, without a doubt," Haley said. "It's something to hold on to."

Let the fun begin

Both Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth hope to navigate uncharted waters in the weeks to come and win a first state title (the Capers won a Division I championship in 1997, the year before the Maine Principals Association began sanctioning the sport).

While the final Western Class B Heal Points weren't available at press time, it's believed that Cape Elizabeth will be first, Waynflete second and the Yachtsmen third.

If so, Falmouth will go to the Flyers June 9 in the semifinals. Yes, the Yachtsmen just won at Fore River Field last week, but doing so again in the crucible of the postseason will be a most daunting task.

Falmouth, which expects to be bolstered by the return of senior captain Sam Smithwick from an ankle injury, will approach the challenge head on.

"We can get better," Haley said. "We'll have to. We have to keep it simple. This pressure's off. Now we'll just focus on the game. If we win, we'll go on. If we lose, we're done. It's that simple. We'll just have to do things the hard way."

The Capers have a bye into the semifinals and will host either Greely or York in the semifinals. Cape Elizabeth last hosted a semifinal in 1998. After three straight seasons as the No. 3 seed, the road to Fitzpatrick Stadium will go through the Capers and while they're wary of overconfidence, they can't wait to keep this party going.

"Our egos are most likely very big right now, so we have to stay realistic and keep working hard in practice, stay focused," Sonesson said. "There are still good teams out there."

"I don't think we've every had homefield advantage," Talley Perkins said. "We're always the third or fourth seed.  This year it takes us to a new level. We'll do our best to go all the way."

"Homefield's a big advantage," added coach Perkins. "Cape's never had that before. We finally went out and did it and it's awesome. We're excited. Now, we have to keep playing. We haven't won anything yet. We need to keep playing like we've been playing, keep practicing and learning and keep going. I don't know if there's a formula. It's really keep focused, keep playing and play Cape Elizabeth lacrosse. I tell them every day to decide what Cape Elizabeth lacrosse is and to go out and play it and that's what they've been doing."

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

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth junior Lauren Steidl and Falmouth junior Molly Ryan square off in the draw circle. Each team won 15 on the evening.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Falmouth junior Katie Cooleen tries to hold explosive Cape Elizabeth junior Talley Perkins at bay. Perkins had five goals.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth senior Janessa White beats Falmouth senior goalie Moie Aaskov for a first half goal. White had a pair of goals in the win.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth junior Lauren Steidl is surrounded by Falmouth defenders Caroline McKeon (11), Katie Cooleen (29) and Geneva Waite.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Falmouth junior Molly Ryan races up the field with Cape Elizabeth juniors Talley Perkins (25) and Lauren Steidl in hot pursuit.