Scarborough shuts down Cheverus, punches ticket to state game
SCARBOROUGH—The Perfect Storm rolls on.
Next stop, Orono.
The 2012 Scarborough field hockey team has erased the heartache of recent early playoff departures by producing a level of dominance this fall so dazzling it is bordering on the historic.
Tuesday evening, on its home turf, the Red Storm put on another shutout show versus Cheverus in the Western Class A Final.
Just 3 minutes, 5 seconds in, Scarborough got the only goal it would need when senior Emily Bunting scored unassisted.
Considering the Red Storm hadn't given up a single goal all season, even a 1-0 lead was daunting, but when Scarborough senior Ali Pelczar converted a penalty stroke 10 minutes later, the Stags' deficit was insurmountable.
To its credit, Cheverus didn't wilt and instead put a lot of pressure on the Scarborough defense, but despite some good looks, couldn't break through.
Then, with 13:11 left in the game, Red Storm sophomore Abby Walker delivered the coup de grace on a rebound and Scarborough went on to a 3-0 victory.
The Red Storm improved to 17-0 on the season, extended its shutout streak to 17 games (further broken down into 1,020 minutes of impenetrable defense), ended the Stags' fine season at 15-2 and set up a delicious Class A state final showdown Saturday versus undefeated, two-time champion Skowhegan at the University of Maine in Orono.
"It feels great," said Pelczar. "I've been wanting this for a couple years since I was a freshman and watched (the 2009) team win (a championship). I wanted to be the one on the field doing it and it feels so awesome."
Unlike a year ago, when the top four seeds were shocked in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, form helm this autumn and it was fitting that Cheverus and Scarborough were the last two teams standing, considering they were the best in the regular season.
The Red Storm served noticed right out of the gate that this was going to be a season to remember with a 10-0 home win over McAuley and a 7-0 triumph at Bonny Eagle. Clearly, Scarborough wasn't going to just score goals, but it wasn't going to surrender much either.
As it turned out, the Red Storm wouldn't allow a single tally.
After a 2-0 home victory over Westbrook, Scarborough dominated visiting Portland, 6-0. The closest call of the season came at Sanford Sept. 13, a 1-0 triumph. After a 4-0 win at South Portland, the Red Storm made its most impressive statement, 4-0 at Cheverus. The shutouts kept coming: 3-0 at Gorham, 4-0 at home over Thornton Academy, 2-0 over visiting Windham, 4-0 at Deering, 6-0 at home over Noble and 5-0 at Kennebunk to end the regular season.
As the top seed, Scarborough held serve in the quarterfinals, blanking No. 8 Thornton Academy, 4-0, then shutting down No. 4 Westbrook, 2-0, in Saturday's semifinals.
As for Cheverus, it opened with a 4-0 home victory over Thornton Academy. Shutout wins over visiting Deering (5-0), host Windham (2-0), visiting Biddeford (3-0) and visiting Bonny Eagle (4-0) followed. The Stags finally gave up a goal in wins at Massabesic (3-1) and Portland (7-1), but returned to their shutout ways at Marshwood, 2-0. Cheverus then met its match, falling, 4-0, to visiting Scarborough. The Stags bounced back with a 6-0 home triumph over South Portland, then closed with wins at Gorham (2-1), at home over Kennebunk (3-0) and at McAuley (5-0) and Sanford (4-1) to earn the No. 2 seed.
A fast start helped Cheverus survive No. 7 Gorham in the quarterfinals, 2-1. Saturday, in the semis, the Stags eked out a 1-0 victory over No. 3 Marshwood, the reigning regional champion.
Scarborough entered the game having beaten Cheverus in 10 of 11 all-time meetings (please see sidebar), including the one-sided affair at the Stags on Sept. 21. The teams had split two prior playoff meetings (please see sidebar).
Tuesday, in front of an enormous and vocal crowd, the Red Storm put forth an emphatic display of balance and skill.
It took only 185 seconds to break the ice and Bunting, as she has in other games this year, did the honors, scoring unassisted for a 1-0 lead.
"An early lead was huge," said Red Storm senior goalie Shannon Hicks. "We were ready to play and it showed by that goal. We kept playing harder and harder and that made Cheverus have to come back."
"You never know how the girls will respond to the crowd, but they came out firing yet again," said Scarborough coach Kerry Mariello. "(Scoring early) is (Emily's) niche. That's her thing now. She's a hard worker."
"We didn't want them to score first," lamented Stags coach Amy McMullin. "They fed off the momentum. We hoped to get the first one in."
With Cheverus reeling, the Red Storm kept on the attack and was rewarded with 16:48 to go before halftime when it was awarded a penalty stroke after Stags junior goalie Libby DesRuisseaux was ruled to have illegally trapped the ball.
Pelczar was selected to take the stroke and snapped a shot past DesRuisseaux, to the goalie's left, for a 2-0 lead.
"I haven't taken strokes much," Pelczar said. "I wasn't thinking about it. It was like practice or warming up before a game and I just shot. (Senior) Karli-An Gilbert and I are the two people who take them. This is the first stroke we've had all year. I wasn't nervous. I always thought I would be, but I didn't think about it. I just took the shot."
Walker almost made it 3-0 with 12:50 to go before halftime, but shot wide.
Then, the Stags began to possess and at least make the Scarborough defense and Hicks sweat a little bit.
Cheverus didn't manage a shot in the first half, but the Stags made it clear they weren't going to go quietly.
The second half play was even much of the way and Cheverus had a good look with 16:30 to play, but senior Emily Rodrigue shot just wide.
Two minutes later, a shot by Scarborough senior Grace Whelan on a corner forced DesRuisseaux to make a save.
On its next opportunity, the Red Storm delivered the dagger.
With 13:11 left, a shot came in and was saved, but Walker didn't hesitate banging home the rebound to make it 3-0.
From there, the only remaining drama concerned the shutout streak.
With 10 minutes to go, Scarborough reached the 1,000 minute mark of holding the opposition off the scoreboard.
The Stags got a penalty corner 20 seconds later and it nearly resulted in a goal as senior Staci Swallow sent a perfect pass to junior Laura Bither on the doorstep, but Bither couldn't handle the pass.
In the final minute, Cheverus again almost scored, but after Hicks made a save and fell down, a Scarborough defender cleared the ball.
The final horn sounded and the Red Storm celebrated a regional title that was three years in the making. After receiving their medals and the championship plaque, the party continued with photos, the team's recognition of its cheering section and a backflip display from senior defender Mikaela Coombs.
"We knew Cheverus was going to be a great battle," said Mariello. "They're a great team. We'll take it any way we can. All the girls are hungry. They'll take advantage and execute. We didn't want to have the sting we had in the past."
Scarborough finished with a 5-1 edge in shots and a 4-1 advantage in penalty corner. DesRuisseaux made two saves, while Hicks stopped one shot.
It didn't come easily, but another shutout was in the books and the Red Storm is now one shutout from tying the 1998 Winslow Black Raiders from right here in Maine for the all-time national record for successive whitewashings in one season.
"I had seven shots against Sanford, but this was a really intense game," said Hicks. "Sometimes I get a little bored, but tonight was a good feeling. A lot of other teams have a couple really, really strong players. We have 11 players at a time who are amazing. No one is better than the other. That's how we've done it."
"The girls maintain a level of stability with their heads," Mariello said. "We expected to get some shots fired at us. We were bound to get some (pressure). We were ready. These girls have challenged themselves. We take it as a compliment to take a challenge and overcome. It's incredible. You can't fathom the fact (the shutout streak has) happened or as a coach think it would. They work double the amount in practice to get to this level. It's a tribute to them."
Cheverus was disappointed with the outcome, but proud of all it accomplished this fall, most notably how it never quit Tuesday night.
"It shows a lot about our character as a team," McMullin said. "We're fighters. We fight until the end no matter what the score and I couldn't be more proud of these girls. We could be down 100-0 and they believe in themselves. (Scarborough's) a good team. I think they have a good chance Saturday. Skowhegan's a great team, but so is Scarborough. They click all over the field. They have such great support. Eleven up, 11 back. If you beat one defender, another one comes out. They play so well as a unit. They know where each other will be. They're a turf team and we're not a turf team, we have such sloppy skills on this turf. We had some great chances. We really thought we were going to score. Unfortunately for us, it didn't happen today.
"We went far this year because we believed in each other, not necessarily because we were the most skilled team. We outfought Marshwood, we fought today. We fought all season. I'm very proud of 15-2. This is our third piece of hardware. We're building the program. Each year, it seems like we do as well as we can. I'm very proud to be the Cheverus coach."
The Stags will be hard hit by graduation, losing 11.
"I'll miss the seniors a lot," said McMullin. "They've done a lot for the program, not just on the field, but what they do for the school. Getting the Cheverus community involved. They've really built this program. They know me so well and my style and what to do if I freak out. I can't thank them enough."
Cheverus does have a lot of talent coming back, however, and will look to avenge this loss in 2013.
"We're going to keep working," McMullin said. "We went farther than we did last year. That's all you can ask. Each year try to go farther and get better."
The stuff of legend
Scarborough now has a chance to not only win a second state championship in its third title game appearance, but to do so by not surrendering a single goal.
Its opponent Saturday won't make it easy, as Skowhegan has outscored its 17 foes this fall by a composite margin of 144-2, including 27-1 in the postseason.
Scarborough played Skowhegan in each of its prior two championship appearances, dropping an agonizing 2-1 overtime decision in the 2008 game and returning the favor by the same score the following year, thanks to Ellie Morin's game winner in OT.
The Red Storm is eager to get back to the pinnacle and to leave its mark as arguably the finest team the state has ever seen.
"We played really, really hard tonight, but that just means we have to play that much harder Saturday," Hicks said. "We're very confident. We have to do what we've been doing, play with our heads, our hearts and our sticks. I know we can do it."
"We have far more depth and balance (than the 2008 and 2009 teams)," Mariello said. "The unity is unexplainable. We'll prepare the girls mentally for Saturday as much as a possible. (Skowhegan puts) their shoes and clothes on the same as our girls. It will be a hell of a game. We'll give them a fight."