Falmouth survives Cape, primed to defend title
FALMOUTH—From the moment the 2012 spring sports season began, it was obvious that the two best boys' lacrosse teams in the state were defending Class B champion Falmouth and perennial powerhouse Cape Elizabeth.
After two months of zero separation, something had to give in Wednesday evening's Western B Final and to the surprise of no one, the battle was decided by a single goal.
In the Yachtsmen's favor.
The two Goliaths produced 48 palpitating minutes which featured eight ties and four lead changes. Neither squad led by more than a goal until senior standout Mitch Tapley scored unassisted with 10:03 to play.
With 7:15 remaining, Capers junior Alex Bornick scored his fifth goal to make it a one-goal contest, but despite ample opportunities to pull even, the visitors weren't able to and Falmouth, behind a strong defensive effort led by senior Mike Ryan and senior goalie Cam Bell, held on for a 10-9 victory.
Tapley led the way with four goals and two assists, junior Charlie Fay scored three times and senior Jack Cooleen added a pair of goals, while Bell made 15 saves as the Yachtsmen improved to 13-1, ended Cape Elizabeth's season at 12-2 and set up a rematch in Saturday's Class B state final, when they'll face North Yarmouth Academy at 12:30 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
"I expected this," said Falmouth coach Mike LeBel. "Either way. I knew it would be very tough and it was. It's nice because for us to get here, we've had to play the best and we've had to play (Cape) multiple times. At least tonight, we've proved we're the best team. If we play 10 times, we win five, they win five. It's so evenly matched."
It was Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth and then everyone else this year.
The Capers opened with a 20-0 win over Lake Region, then enjoyed an 8-6 home victory over Falmouth. Cape Elizabeth followed that up with wins over visiting NYA (14-2), host Waynflete (15-5), host Yarmouth (12-8), visiting Greely (14-5) and Cheverus (12-2). After a 14-12 loss at Falmouth, the Capers downed host Kennebunk (12-3), visiting Fryeburg (19-0), host NYA (10-4) and visiting Yarmouth (10-5).
As the No. 2 seed, the Capers ousted No. 3 Greely, 12-1, in the semifinals.
Falmouth dropped its opener, 8-6, at Cape Elizabeth, but then ran the table, defeating visiting Greely (15-7), visiting Yarmouth (14-7), host Portland (13-4), visiting Lake Region (18-1), host NYA (11-7), host Wells (21-4), visiting Deering (18-0), visiting Cape Elizabeth (14-12), host York (15-5), host Yarmouth (12-6) and finally visiting NYA (14-2).
The Yachtsmen's out-of-conference schedule was slightly stronger than the Capers', so Falmouth earned the top seed in Western B and had little trouble dominating No. 4 York in Saturday's semifinals, 13-1.
Prior to 2009, the teams had never met in the postseason, but it's now a regular occurrence.
Cape Elizabeth took the regional final that year, 11-7, shocked the host Yachtsmen, 7-6, in overtime, in the regional final two years ago, then Falmouth finally got over the hump in 2011, with an 11-9 regional final triumph.
Each team held serve on their home turf in the regular season and Wednesday's showdown lived up to advance billing, coming down to the final seconds.
The Yachtsmen got the jump when junior Will Sipperly set up Fay for a goal just 26 seconds in, but Bornick scored unassisted with 8:52 to go in the first quarter and added a second goal (assisted by senior Brian Brett) 1:28 later to give the Capers their first advantage, 2-1.
With 29 seconds to play in the stanza, Cooleen got in the scoring column, finishing after taking a pass from Tapley and the game was deadlocked heading back to quarter number two.
A Sipperly unassisted goal with 9:18 remaining in the first half put Falmouth back on top, but Brett (assisted by senior Timmy Lavallee) forged a third tie with a goal at 7:13.
Just 12 seconds later, the hosts went back on top when Tapley scored unassisted.
Cape Elizabeth tied the game with 2:13 left before halftime, as senior Thomas Bottomley took a pass from senior Forest Hewitt and beat Bell to tie the game again.
With 1:04 to go, Bornick set up sophomore Justin Cary and the Capers were back on top, but the Yachtsmen got a gift 12 seconds later as a pass ended up in the Cape Elizabeth net. Tapley was credited for the goal and the Yachtsmen were even at halftime, 5-5.
"It worked out for us," Tapley said. "I had made a bad pass and got a little down on myself, but the ball came back down. I rode (the defender), he tried to throw to the goalie and it just went into the net. It was luck."
The second half was more of the same.
Just 38 seconds in, the visitors retook the lead as Cary (from Lavallee) scored.
With 10:48 to go in the third period, Cooleen took a pass from Tapley and beat Capers senior goalie Will Goduti.
Forty-one seconds later, Fay scored unassisted to put Falmouth ahead once more, but once again, Cape Elizabeth answered and made it 7-7 when Bornick (from Lavallee) delivered at the 7:30 mark.
Tapley's unassisted goal at 4:21 put the Yachtsmen ahead, 8-7, and he almost extended the lead as time wound down in the quarter, but Goduti made a clutch save to preserve the one-goal differential.
It took only 31 seconds of the fourth quarter for the Capers to respond and Bornick tied the score for the final time with an unassisted tally.
With 10:56 remaining in regulation, Lavallee had a look to give Cape Elizabeth the lead, but Bell turned it aside.
Falmouth then transitioned to offense and with 10:25 to play, Fay scored unassisted, eluding a defender with a nice move before shooting past Goduti, putting the Yachtsmen ahead for good.
Tapley added an unassisted goal 22 seconds later and for the first time all night, a team had more than a one-goal advantage.
"We needed a two-goal lead," said LeBel. "We probably needed three. When we needed a big goal, Mitch stepped up and gave it to us. That's why he's the best player in the state. When the pressure was on, he stepped up and scored."
As expected, the Capers didn't buckle.
After Bell saved shots by Lavallee and Brett, Fay almost made it 11-8, but Goduti came up huge and made a save with 8:10 to go.
Then, with 7:15 showing, playing man-up, Cape Elizabeth cut the deficit to one as Bornick took a pass from Lavallee and finished.
The Capers had tons of time to earn the equalizer, but it never came.
With 6:04 to go, Lavallee shot high.
At the 3:11 mark, Bornick's shot trickled wide.
Thirty seconds later, Bottomley had a shot, but Bell made the save. Lavallee managed to get the rebound and fired a shot wide.
With 2:01 left, freshman Griffin Thoreck had a look, but he shot wide.
Cape Elizabeth kept possession and with 1:45 left, Lavallee's shot was wide and a Falmouth defender was closest to the ball when it went out of bounds, giving the Yachtsmen possession.
They managed to get the ball into the offensive zone, almost lost it, got it back and LeBel called timeout just in the nick of time just inside the final minute.
Out of the timeout, however, Falmouth committed a turnover and the Capers called timeout, hoping to set up the tying goal.
Two years ago, as the Yachtsmen were on the brink of a first regional title, Cape Elizabeth rallied late and broke their hearts in overtime. While the situation was set up for history to repeat, Falmouth wasn't about to let that happen.
Lavallee did manage to get off a shot, but it went wide with 22.6 seconds remaining. Again, a Yachtsmen defender was closest to the ball when it went out and Falmouth had a chance to close it out.
After running a few seconds off the clock, Bell heaved the ball all the way down the field. It went out of bounds with 8.6 seconds remaining and the Capers still had hope.
Cape Elizabeth threw a long pass into the offensive zone, but Ryan pounced on the ball before a Capers' attackman could to get to it and that did it.
The final horn sounded and the Yachtsmen celebrated as if they'd won a championship.
"Both teams came out strong," said Tapley. "It was probably the most fun lacrosse game I've played in. Both teams played hard and knew what they needed to do to beat the other. We took a two-goal lead. A couple big goals. We had to hold on. We've been practicing ball control in the last two minutes the whole entire week. We all really wanted it. I have never seen the look in my teammates' eyes like I saw there. I knew we'd come out of it. The defense played great."
"We made proper adjustments in the weeks leading up to this game," said LeBel. "I think we looked at the video of the last two games and saw what they liked to do and what we had to do to combat that. We drilled our two-minute drill. Keeping the ball in the box. Luckily, we came out on the winning side."
Falmouth got four goals and two assists from Tapley, three goals from Fay, two from Cooleen and one from Sipperly, who also had an assist.
Bell staked his claim as the state's best goalie with his 15-save performance. Had any of those shots gotten past him, the game may have had a different ending.
Then, there was senior faceoff specialist Abyn Reabe-Gerwig, who, despite not being 100 percent, won 16 of 23 opportunities in a pressure setting, helping the Yachtsmen get possession and just as importantly, keep the ball away from the potent Capers.
"Abyn didn't practice, but he played awesome," said LeBel. "He showed up and played hard."
"Abyn did a outstanding job on faceoffs," said Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond. "It's a possession each time. Even if they don't score, it's time off the clock."
Falmouth only put 13 shots on cage, but 10 tickled the twine.
After the win, LeBel was effusive in his praise of the vanquished Capers.
"I love their kids and I have so much respect for Ben," LeBel said. "He coaches the right way and does the right things. It's always nice to beat the best programs. It's a euphoric feeling that's difficult to explain.
Cape Elizabeth's offense was paced by five goals from Bornick. Cary scored twice and Bottomley and Brett both had one goal. Lavallee didn't score, but assisted on four goals. Bornick, Brett and Hewitt each had one assist. Goduti made three saves.
The Capers had 24 shots on cage, but Bell stopped 15 of them from going in.
A new-look Falmouth zone defense helped hold Cape Elizabeth in check as well.
"This is the first game we ran a zone," LeBel said. "We practiced it all year in the anticipation we might need to change it up against Cape. They always have something in store for us. I wanted to have something different for them. They like to feed the crease. A lot of their goals come off the crease. A zone eliminates the inside shot and gave Cam a shot at making saves. Defensively, we had some breakdowns having not run a zone in a game yet, but we worked through it, tightened things up and figured things out."
Falmouth will likely end up the state's best team, but Cape Elizabeth is a solid 1A and put forth a tremendous performance in its final contest.
"It was a good game," Raymond said. "We're two evenly matched teams. It's great it came down to a chance to tie with the last possession. We had what we wanted, but they came up big.
"Their defense played well and made stops when they had to and Cam made big saves. That was the difference in the game. We had way more time of possession and probably had way more shots. We did better in ground balls. We played very, very well. They changed up their defense and played very well. When they played man-to-man, we were fine. When they played a zone, we took more time off the clock. They were willing to give up those shots because they have a great goalie. Our offense did what we tried to do. We got our shooters in good spots. We scored nice goals and moved the ball really well. They just made more saves in the end.
"The two-goal lead gave them an ability to stay in a zone. A one-goal lead would have made them take more chances. If we tied it, they'd have to play us more. There aren't many things we'd have done differently. I don't think there's much they'd do differently. I think it's four seasons that it's been a really good quality (rivalry). We get good competition."
Another superb season didn't end in what the Capers always aspire to, a state title, but the 2012 campaign was triumphant nonetheless.
"It's disappointing absolutely, not to play in a state championship game and win a state championship," Raymond said. "That's our goal every year. These guys should be proud of where they are. They're always considered a top team in the state. It's a lot of pressure. It's unfortunate that their last memory is this game and not a pig-pile at Fitzpatrick Stadium."
As always, Cape Elizabeth will take some serious graduation hits, yet return an abundance of talent. There's a good chance the Capers will find their way back to the pinnacle in 2013.
"We have a lot of good players coming back, but we obviously graduate a lot of good talent," Raymond said. "Timmy graduates. Three defenders, our goalie. We'll come back and start over again."
While many viewed the regional final as the de facto championship game, Falmouth will have to be cautious Saturday not to underestimate a dangerous NYA squad.
The Yachtsmen swept the Panthers (11-7 and 14-2) in the regular season and dominated NYA in last year's state final, 15-4.
The Panthers (9-6) are playing with house money, however, after winning one-goal games at top-ranked St. Dom's and rival Yarmouth to advance.
Falmouth was thrilled to beat Cape Elizabeth, but knows the job isn't done yet.
Don't expect the Yachtsmen to underestimate the Panthers.
"We'll have a couple good days of practice and get prepared," Tapley said. "We know what to do against NYA. You can't overlook anything. They'll be ready to play too."
"It's going to be tough to get these guys focused, but I have faith they'll come out, work hard, be focused and be alright," said LeBel. "I think they know how hard it is to get to this point. The seniors don't want to lose and they understand what's on the line."