Cheverus holds off Messalonskee rally
PORTLAND—The Cheverus girls' lacrosse team played a tough schedule in the regular season and had a pair of agonizing one-goal losses to traditional powers Kennebunk and Scarborough.
Little did the Stags know that those setbacks would give them the experience necessary for them to hold off a valiant foe and earn a monster victory Saturday afternoon.
Playing a talented and valiant Messalonskee squad in an Eastern Class A semifinal under a glorious sun at Boulos Stadium, Cheverus never trailed, but never got comfortable either and had to hold its breath until the final horn.
The Stags shot to a 6-2 lead behind two goals each from sophomores Alex Logan and Sadie Lyons and three separate times held a three goal advantage in the second half, including 10-7 with under eight minutes to play, but the Eagles, behind sophomore standout Kristyna Bernatchez, never quit and when Bernatchez scored on a free position with 4:51 remaining, Messalonskee was within one.
The Eagles would have chances to tie the game, but the unheralded Cheverus defense rose to the occasion and late ground ball wins by Logan and junior Emily Rodrigue helped the Stags keep possession and they were able to run out the clock on a palpitating 10-9 victory.
Lyons had four goals, sophomore sharpshooter Meredith Willard three and Logan added a pair as Cheverus improved to 9-5, ended Messalonskee's season at 8-6 and advanced to set up an Eastern A Final rematch with 12-1 Brunswick Wednesday at a time to be announced.
"We told the girls at the end, 'Defense bend but don't break,'" said Stags coach Jamie Chamberlain. "We knew they'd throw everything at us and they certainly did. It was close and exciting to the end. Having our tough schedule helped us. We've been through dogfights through the season."
Fifty minutes of fun
Messalonskee, which was upset by Cheverus in last year's quarterfinals, opened its 2012 season with a 17-12 home win over Gardiner. After losses at Brunswick (16-6) and at home to Cony (11-1), the Eagles downed host Morse (13-9), host Mountain Valley (12-3) and visiting Oxford Hills (13-11) before losing at Mt. Ararat (9-6). An 8-7 victory at Gardiner was followed by losses to visiting Brunswick (14-10) and host Cony (12-11). Messalonskee closed the regular year by downing visiting Morse (17-8) and Mt. Ararat (11-8) to finish 7-5 and seventh in Eastern A.
Cheverus embarked on a storybook run last spring, shocking the local girls' lacrosse world by qualifying at the last moment before springing a pair of upsets to reach the Eastern A Final as a five-win team. The run finally ended with a 14-3 loss to Brunswick, but the pieces were put in place for this year's success.
The Stags opened with a 12-9 loss at Massabesic, then enjoyed wins over visiting McAuley (14-5), North Yarmouth Academy (13-8) and Portland (10-3) and host Deering (15-10), before struggling, dropping close games to Marshwood, 7-5, and two-time defending Class A state champion Scarborough, 11-10. Cheverus then lost at Waynflete, 16-5, but got back on track with a 14-10 triumph at Windham. Then, the Stags went back-and-forth with perennial power Kennebunk, but lost, 16-15, despite 10 goals from Willard. Cheverus bounced back and closed with wins over visiting Thornton Academy (10-5) and host Gorham (15-7) to earn the No. 6 seed. Wednesday, the Stags went to No. 3 Lewiston and earned another playoff upset, 12-8.
Last year's 10-8 Cheverus triumph in the quarterfinals was the lone previous time it had played Messalonskee in the postseason.
Saturday, the Stags did it again, but it sure wasn't easy.
Lyons and Logan hinted at a big day to come when they combined for a goal (with Logan finishing) just 3 minutes, 25 seconds in.
Bernatchez got going with 19:05 left in the first half, scoring unassisted to make it 1-1.
With 16:49 to go, Logan took a pass from senior captain Catie Walsh and beat Messalonskee junior goalie Izzy Skinner to put Cheverus on top for good.
Lyons added her first goal, unassisted, 30 seconds later and when Willard got a gift goal at the 10:16 mark (collecting a ground ball in front of the cage and shooting past Skinner), the Eagles, trailing 4-1, called timeout.
A free position goal from Bernatchez with 8:28 to go before halftime was quickly answered by an unassisted Lyons goal at 7:52.
With 4:36 remaining in the first half, Logan set up senior Sarah LaQuerre for a goal and the Stags' biggest lead, 6-2.
Bernatchez scored unassisted 34 seconds later and the Eagles brought a little momentum to the break, even though they trailed, 6-3.
First half draws were even, 5-5, but Cheverus collected more ground balls, forced more turnovers than it committed and had an edge in shots.
When the second half commenced, the visitors quickly reminded everyone on hand that the game was far from over.
Just 1 minute, 7 seconds in, someone other than Bernatchez scored for the first time as senior Sam Briggs set up sophomore Sara Grenier for a shot Stags freshman goalie Hope Correia couldn't stop and the score was 6-4.
Cheverus responded and pushed the lead back to three just 20 seconds later when Lyons scored unassisted.
A Bernatchez unassisted tally with 19:51 remaining made it 7-5, but again the Stags went back up by three when Lyons scored unassisted at 18:28.
Grenier answered just 15 seconds later unassisted and when Bernatchez (from sophomore Sydney Gagne) scored at 16:47, the Eagles were only down 8-7, the closest they'd been since 2-1.
Chamberlain called timeout and it worked as Willard, who had been held almost completely in check, made her presence felt.
Willard scored two goals in a 21-second span, both unassisted, and with 14:32 to play, the Stags had the lead back up to three, 10-7.
They wouldn't score again, however, and Messalonskee made things very, very interesting down the stretch.
After Grenier hit the post with a free position, the Eagles kept the pressure on and with 7:20 to play in regulation, Bernatchez scored on a free position.
With 4:51 remaining, Bernatchez did it again on a free position and just like that, Messalonskee was again within one.
Logan won the ensuing draw, but Cheverus turned the ball over.
After the teams traded turnovers, the visitors had a chance to draw even, but Grenier's shot was wide and a Stags defender was closest when it went out of bounds, so the hosts got possession with 1:52 to play.
Cheverus couldn't hold on, however, and a turnover gave the ball back to the Eagles.
Messalonskee wasn't able to get a shot off and put the ball on the ground where Logan swooped in to gain possession with 1:05 left.
The Stags transitioned into their offensive zone and almost gave the ball away, but Rodrigue managed to outfight an Eagle for possession of a 50-50 ball with 33.5 seconds showing and Cheverus kept the ball.
The hosts almost put the win on ice when Willard broke free and shot with 24.7 seconds to play, but Skinner made the save and Messalonskee had one final chance.
Again, the Eagles wouldn't manage a shot as they turned the ball over, Logan collected the loose ball and the Stags ran out the clock on their 10-9 win.
"It was pretty exhausting playing the whole game in the midfield, but I knew we had to try to hold on to the ball," Logan said. "We knew that last possession would be the game. The schedule we play in the regular season helps us so much in the postseason. We've played hard teams in close games. When it came to a game like this, it was good to have this experience. We never feel like the game's over because a lot of goals can get scored quickly. We decided to keep up the intensity and keep our lead."
"The defense came up with big stops when they had to," Chamberlain said. "Every time (Messalonskee) seemed to get momentum, our attackers came up with a good play to get us back up there. The midfielders, Catie, Sarah and Emily, getting loose balls and pressuring and getting turnovers really helped us. We did a nice job forcing turnovers. The defense didn't panic. They really stepped up and made good plays. We were patient with the ball and got good looks. Their attack players made some good moves and good plays. It was a battle."
Lyons, a first-year varsity player who set up more goals than she scored in the regular season, took centerstage as a scorer Saturday, tickling the twine four times.
"I had fun," Lyons said. "Toward the end it was kind of scary, but we pulled through. The crease rolls were there today. It was nice to finish. We just ran our offense like normal. This is my first year, so it feels good. "
"That's how we're set up all year for our offense," Chamberlain said. "It's not one person. It's whoever is getting the good look has the green light to go to goal. I know Meredith and (sophomore) Elyse (Caiazzo) have been there quite a few games. Alex played a good game and certainly so did Sadie."
Willard had three goals, Logan two and LaQuerre one. Logan, Lyons and Walsh each had an assist. Correia made two saves.
Logan was very effective in the draw circle, winning 12 of 21 opportunities.
"Draws are big," said Logan. "Today was especially hard with the sun, but it went in my favor. I'm thankful for that."
"I think the difference today, you could the see, was the draws," Chamberlain said. "When we got the draws, we got some good looks. When they got the draw, they went down and got good looks."
Cheverus finished with 35 ground balls, to 39 for Messalonskee. Caiazzo and LaQuerre led the way with six each. Rodrigue collected five.
The young Stags only committed 15 turnovers in 50 minutes of high pressure playoff lacrosse.
Cheverus enjoyed a 20-16 edge in shots (18-11 on cage).
Bernatchez put on a show for the Eagles, scoring seven times, but her team fell one goal short. Grenier added a pair of tallies. Briggs and Gagne both had assists. Skinner made eight saves.
In the draw circle, senior Mara Balboni won 8 of 17 opportunities, while Grenier went 1 of 4. Sophomore Kristen Kern led the team in ground balls with six. Messalonskee turned the ball over 19 times.
With just five seniors on the roster and a lot of talent returning, expect more playoff noise to be made by the Eagles going forward.
Here we go again
An argument can be made for last year's Cheverus team simply being happy to be in the regional final and its loss at Brunswick not being a big surprise.
This spring, the Stags are confident they can not only go to Brunswick and compete, but beat the Dragons and make it to a state final for the first time in program history.
When Cheverus is on its game, it can play with and defeat anyone.
"Brunswick's very good and talented and has played together for a long time," Logan said. "It'll definitely be a challenge for us, but we just have to just keep playing our game and make sure we're on on offense and defense. We want to win. We want to go all the way."
"Each step of the playoffs you have to come with your 'A' game," Chamberlain said. "If we don't, we'll be in trouble. We know we'll have to take care of the ball, make good plays and play solid defense."