Cape girls oust Freeport, off to regional final
CAPE ELIZABETH—The Cape Elizabeth girls' soccer team might have felt it dodged a bullet by playing Freeport instead of Yarmouth in the Western Class B semifinals, but that doesn't mean the Capers took the Falcons lightly Saturday evening at Hannaford Field.
Instead, Cape Elizabeth made a point of taking it to Freeport early and the Capers were rewarded just five minutes in when senior Addie Wood scored.
Tallies from junior Kathryn Clark and sophomore Kate Breed put Cape Elizabeth firmly in control, up, 3-0, by halftime.
While the Falcons played their hearts out in a strong second half and even got a goal from junior Julia Smith with 8:29 to play, the Capers were able to secure their second straight trip to the regional final with a 3-1 victory.
Top-ranked Cape Elizabeth improved to 13-2-1, ended fifth-seeded Freeport's best season since 1990 at 10-6 and advanced to set up a showdown versus No. 2 Greely (11-4-1) Wednesday at 5 p.m., with a trip to the state game hanging in the balance.
"Some of the soccer we played was breathtaking for a high school team," said Capers first-year coach Craig Fannan. "Some of what we showed was fun to watch. I told the girls we have to respect every team. No team will lie down and give us a win. Freeport had a good win at Yarmouth. That second half, they put us under a lot of pressure. They showed how they got this far, but we're confident playing everybody. We talk about starting fast."
Entering Saturday's contest, Cape Elizabeth and Freeport had never met in the playoffs and the Falcons were appearing in their first semifinal since beating Mt. Abram, 2-1, in triple overtime, in that round back in 1990 when they were still playing in Class C.
The Capers, who moved down to Class B this fall, came into the season as a co-favorite with Greely and didn't disappoint.
Cape Elizabeth opened 2013 by blanking host Freeport, 5-0, then beat visiting York, 1-0, and visiting Poland, 6-1. Falmouth then came to town and registered a surprisingly decisive 2-0 win. Cape Elizabeth bounced back with a 2-1 win at Greely, then downed host Lake Region (4-0). After rallying for a 1-1 home tie against Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth handled visiting Kennebunk, 5-0, then avenged its lone loss with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Falmouth, before avenging its tie with a stirring, come-from-behind 2-1 double overtime victory at Yarmouth. The Capers extended their unbeaten streak to seven with a 5-0 triumph at Kennebunk, but then couldn't hold a 2-0 halftime lead and lost to visiting Greely, 3-2, before closing with a 3-0 home victory over Fryeburg and a 2-0 triumph at York.
As the top seed in Western B, Cape Elizabeth began its playoff run with an impressive 4-0 quarterfinal round victory over No. 8 Poland Tuesday.
Freeport, meanwhile, enjoyed its best regular season since 1990.
The Falcons fell at home to powerhouse Cape Elizabeth in its first game, 5-0, then handled visiting Sacopee, 4-2, and Wells, 2-1, before losing a tough one at Yarmouth, 1-0. After beating host Gray-New Gloucester, 1-0 and visiting Fryeburg, 3-0, Freeport lost at home to Greely, 2-0. Wins over host Lake Region (2-0), visiting North Yarmouth Academy (3-0) and host Wells (1-0) followed, but the Falcons lost at home to Waynflete Oct. 8, 2-0. After winning at Traip (4-1) and Poland (2-0), Freeport finished 9-5 with a 1-0 setback at Falmouth.
The Falcons went into the playoffs seeded fifth, their best ever ranking in Class B and highest in any class since 2001 (third in Western C) and Tuesday went to Yarmouth and shocked the Clippers, 1-0, in the quarterfinals.
Saturday, however, Freeport had some early jitters and Cape Elizabeth pounced.
After failing to capitalize on a couple early corner kicks, the Capers went ahead to stay, thanks to the tenacity of Wood, who attempted an initial shot, had it blocked and after sophomore Katherine Briggs fed the ball back to her, Wood blasted a 30-yard shot over Falcons senior goalkeeper Livvy Dimick to make it 1-0.
"I think it set the tone," said Wood. "I think it gave us confidence. They really tested us tonight. We needed that confidence to settle us down. I think I shot it, it sort of rebounded and I was angry and I kicked it again. I've been practicing volleying a lot. That came in handy."
After a couple near misses from Clark (she got a feed from Wood after a nice passing sequence, but was denied by Dimick, then couldn't quite reach Briggs' feed), the scoring sensation broke through with 24:22 remaining in the first half.
The goal was set up by sophomore Montana Braxton, who sent a through ball into the box. Dimick and a defender converged, but somehow, Clark squeezed her way into the picture, then redirected the ball into the net for a 2-0 advantage.
"It was great placement," said Clark. "Montana played a nice through ball. I think it was a miscommunication between the defender and the keeper and I tried to take advantage."
The Capers kept pressuring and a shot by Clark was deflected to sophomore Tori Diaz, whose shot was saved.
Senior Elise Flathers then sent a free kick shot just high and Braxton, taking a pass from Breed, shot just high. An apparent goal off a corner kick was waved off for offsides as well.
Then, with 10:01 showing, off another corner, Braxton played the ball in short, got it back, then lofted it into the box where it landed, surprisingly, right in front and Breed was there to bang it home for a 3-0 advantage.
"We wanted to come out really strong," Breed said. "The first goal's really important, so thank goodness Addie got one. Mine was a short corner. It went to Elise, then back to Montana and she sent it over everybody. I was just kind of standing there and it came right to my feet. I just placed it in the goal."
Freeport didn't even manage a shot until 9:30 remained before halftime and it resulted in an easy save for Cape Elizabeth senior goalkeeper Mary Perkins.
In the first 40 minutes, the Capers had a 14-1 shots advantage and took eight corners to none for the Falcons. Five saves by Dimick kept her team alive.
"We were very intimidated going into the start of the game," said Freeport coach Elayna Girardin. "The semis are a new place for us. We were really fired up and were in a positive place before the game. The girls knew they weren't expected to win and knew that whatever happened happened, but then we got here. I think it started to set in. They saw the fans. Cape came out hard. Other teams have underestimated us. Cape didn't. They played us like they knew we could win. That took us aback."
"The good thing is we've been here before and Freeport's hadn't," he said. "They got here and they had their music and they were dancing, but in the pregame handshakes, I saw that they were nervous. I told the girls, 'We know what this is about. Let's show them.' We came out guns ablazing."
The second half was a different story.
The Capers did have some chances, but Briggs headed a Braxton corner just high, a Clark shot went high, a blast by Briggs was saved by Dimick and a Breed hit the crossbar.
The Falcons did a much better job possessing, however, and after one good chance, a rush from sophomore Maddie Squibb that was broken up by Cape Elizabeth sophomore Siera Aceto, they were rewarded with a goal.
It came with 8:29 left and featured a nice feed from junior Alyssa Richardson to Smith, who got behind the defense, then shot past Perkins to make it 3-1.
Another goal could have made things very interesting, but two minutes later, Perkins came way out to break up a pass to Richardson and with 4:23 to go, a soft shot from senior Brooke Heathco was denied by Perkins.
The Capers put it away from there and advanced, 3-1.
"It was kind of a relief not to play Yarmouth, but Freeport tested us," Clark said. "They came out hard, nothing to lose in the second half. They deserved that goal they got."
Freeport made history and proved it was no fluke by how it comported itself Saturday. While the Falcons would have loved a victory, they have much to be proud of.
"I told them at halftime we were playing scared and playing not to lose, but we definitely picked it up in the second half," Girardin said. "We got the goal, but we had other chances too. It was a much more equal game in the second half. That shows how far we've come.
"It's been a journey for a couple years now. Other players got it going, but this group of seniors had the desire to take it further. They demanded the best out of everyone all the time. This season has been great. The girls, every game, have done what I asked. They've played hard and played with heart. It's been a great journey. We had to break into that top group. We finally caught that win. This year was a year of firsts. A first time beating Yarmouth at Yarmouth and it happened to be in a quarterfinal game. There have been great things all season. The girls rode it as long as they could."
Freeport loses seven seniors, including captains Heathco and Ashley Richardson, as well as Dimick, but the bar for contention has been established and the 2014 Falcons will look to continue to keep the program at the top level.
"It will be tough to lose these seniors," Girardin said. "They've set the bar high. My two center-backs are juniors and returning. Both wings are returning. A striker's returning. The hard part will be filling center-mids. My backup keeper has done well in JV games. I think going forward, we'll be strong. The challenge is finding the leadership these seniors had. Ashley and Brooke were four-year starters. We'll build on this."
As for Cape Elizabeth, it played in the regional final last fall (losing in overtime to Scarborough in Western A) and this time around is seeking its first state final berth since winning the Class A championship in 1999.
The Capers will be at home Wednesday, but face a daunting task in a rival their know all-too-well. Not only did the teams split in the regular season, but they are longtime playoff foes, having met 16 previous times, dating to 1985. Last fall, Cape Elizabeth beat the Rangers, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, to improve to 6-10 in those meetings.
The Capers feel they've learned from their loss to Greely earlier this fall and are ready to deliver up a dish of revenge and earn a trip to Hampden Academy Saturday to face either Hermon or Waterville for all the marbles.
"I'm really excited," Breed said. "I want to get back at them and get a win. For them to come back from 2-0 last time was incredible."
"We'll train really hard the next few days and we'll be ready for whatever they throw our way," Wood said. "I think we're ready for them and they're ready for us, so it should be a great game."
"We have to go into the game like we have nothing to lose," said Clark. "It could be the seniors' last game. I'm going to go in like it's all or nothing. I'm so excited. (Last time) was kind of a good loss because we couldn't go into playoffs thinking we could walk all over teams and expect to win easily. We have to get a good lead and keep it. Greely can come back."
"Being put under pressure in the second half tonight couldn't be better for our preparation for Greely," Fannan added. "I hope we have the same first half we did last time. I probably got the team talk wrong that day. My message wasn't, 'Let's calm down,' it was, 'Their heads are down, go get another one.' We lost our composure. We let them get a sniff and get back in it. We have to be composed and frustrate them. We did a great job in that first game at Greely. I hope we learned our lesson.
"I think last year, we enjoyed getting to the regional final. Now, we're here to win. We have the talent. Hopefully we'll just relax and play. Enjoy the emotion before and after. I think we're the best team around. It's been a long season. It's been a great season. We've come a long way. Hopefully we can go one further."