Waynflete survives NYA's upset bid with last second goal
YARMOUTH—A champion always finds a way.
Even when faced with self-induced adversity, an inspired opponent and less than ideal weather conditions.
The two-time defending Class B champion Waynflete girls' lacrosse team had a lot to overcome in its regular season opener Saturday morning at a North Yarmouth Academy squad eager to rejoin the upper echelon.
The Panthers led almost the whole first half and clung to a 2-1 halftime advantage, thanks in large part to an uncharacteristic 14 Flyers' turnovers and two Waynflete goals which were waved off.
The Flyers appeared to restore order early in the second half when senior Ella Millard scored to end a 22 minute, 31 second drought, scored again, then set up junior Helen Gray-Bauer for a goal and a 4-2 lead with 16:12 to play, but to its credit, NYA wasn't about to buckle.
After new coach Lucy Gerrity inspired the Panthers in a timeout, they ended a 22:48 drought of their own and moments later, drew even on a tally from senior Abby McKelvy.
After Waynflete retook the lead, 5-4, on junior Hannah Thompson-Greaves' strike following a fortuitous bounce with 9:37 to play, NYA tied the game one final time on a goal from sophomore Alex Wahlstrom with 4:06 to go.
Then, just as it appeared overtime was imminent, the Panthers turned the ball over deep in their territory and Flyers senior Cat Johnson was given possession and an opportunity to go one-on-one with NYA junior goalie Scout Fischman.
Fischman had a terrific game, but she was no match for Johnson, who put Waynflete ahead for good with 8.6 seconds showing.
The Panthers had one last-ditch chance as time expired, but a McKelvy shot was off target and the Flyers held on for a 6-5 triumph, their 20th in a row over the past three seasons.
"It was very exciting," said Johnson. "This is step one in like a 20-step process. Once we found our tempo, we were OK."
Saturday felt more like winter than spring, as most of the game was played in a steady drizzle in temperatures that never got out of the low 40s.
Of course, it wasn't the first time that the Waynflete and North Yarmouth Academy have done battle in the rain.
Back in 2005, in an absolute downpour, the host Flyers pulled away in the second half and prevailed, 8-4, in what became immortalized as the "Splish Splash" game.
That was one of many instant classics between the schools this century (see sidebar, below). Between 2001 and 2010, the teams played six times in the state final, with Waynflete capturing five of them before NYA finally won a championship for the first time in 2010.
The Panthers gradually fell from contention following that crown, however, and the Flyers won four straight meetings in 2011 and 2012 by an average of 8.5 goals. Last year, the squads didn't even play as NYA missed the playoffs with a 3-9 mark and Waynflete repeated as Class B champion, capping a 15-0 campaign with a 7-4 win over Yarmouth.
While the Flyers were hit hard by graduation, they expect to be in the title hunt again this spring.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have high hopes of returning to contention.
Saturday, NYA showed signs of improvement, but ultimately, Waynflete was able to keep its streak going.
It didn't take long for the Panthers to let the Flyers know that nothing would come easily.
Just 50 seconds into the game, Fischman first made her presence felt, denying Millard.
Then, with 21:17 left in the first half, NYA scored first, as senior Olivia Madore beat Waynflete sophomore goalie Charlotte Majercik on a free position.
The Flyers scored their first goal with 19:34 remaining, as Johnson scored unassisted, but that would be the only time they would tickle the twine all half, as their attack was consistently stymied by turnovers (five in the game's first seven minutes and 14 in the half).
After Majerick made a save on a bid from McKelvy and at the other end, Fischman denied Johnson, the Panthers went back on top, 2-1, when junior Melanie Regan scored a free position goal with 12:24 to go before halftime.
Neither squad would score again for quite awhile.
Waynflete actually put the ball in the net twice before the break, but neither counted.
First, with 8:17 to go, Johnson was called for a charge on a shot she sent past Fischman.
Then, seconds after Johnson was robbed by Fischman in transition, Johnson took a pass from senior Leigh Fernandez and finished with just 7.7 seconds showing, but the goal was waved off because Johnson was ruled to be in the crease.
NYA was content to take a surprising lead to the half, but it knew the margin could have been greater.
"We played so well in the first half," Gerrity said. "We just had too many turnovers. It's a good game to learn from, especially in that respect."
The Flyers, meanwhile, needed to refocus during the break.
"I addressed everything at halftime," said longtime Waynflete coach Cathie Connors. "Mostly turnovers and fouls."
Offense would pick up, but little separation would be found in the second half.
With 22:03 left, Waynflete finally got its offense going again, as Millard scored on a free position, ending a nearly 23-minute drought without a goal.
After Fischman denied bids from Fernandez and Johnson, Millard put the Flyers ahead, 3-2, when she took a pass from Thompson-Greaves off a restart and buried a shot.
After McKelvy missed just high, Waynflete appeared primed to take control of the game when Millard fed Gray-Bauer for a goal with 16:12 to play and a 4-2 advantage, but Gerrity called timeout and the Panthers responded.
After nearly 23 minutes without a goal, McKelvy took a pass from sophomore Acacia Bright and beat Majercik with 14:36 remaining, pulling NYA within 4-3.
Gray-Bauer scooped up a ground ball on the ensuing draw and raced in with a chance to extend the lead back to two, but Fischman turned her shot aside.
Then, with 11:21 to play in regulation, Wahlstrom set up McKelvy for a goal and the game was deadlocked, 4-4.
"We'd worked on patience on attack and the girls executed well," Gerrity said. "When they went up, 4-2, I called timeout and made sure the girls knew that a two-goal deficit wasn't anything to be upset about."
The Panthers never managed to go on top, however, and with 9:37 to play, the ball came loose in front, appeared to go off Fischman and ricocheted right to Thompson-Greaves, who didn't hesitate, as she tickled the twine to make it 5-4 Flyers.
Fernandez had a free position opportunity a minute later, but her attempt to make it 6-4 was saved.
Fernandez then received a yellow card and had to sit for two minutes, but the hosts couldn't capitalize. Majerick stopped a free position shot from Bright and Waynflete ran out the remaining time on the penalty.
After Fischman stopped a Johnson free position, NYA went back on the attack and with 4:06 to play, Regan set up Wahlstrom and the sophomore finished to tie the game for the fourth time, 5-5.
Wahlstrom won the ensuing draw and the Panthers had a chance to go ahead, but they turned the ball over.
Waynflete got the ball into the attacking zone and it came to Johnson, who had a point blank look, but Fischman made the save.
After an NYA turnover, Flyers freshman Isabel Canning shot just wide.
Just inside the final minute, Fernandez was pushed in the crease and earned a free position, but she didn't get a shot off.
Then, with 25 seconds remaining, Canning earned a free position, but Fischman made one final save.
It looked like the Panthers would be able to run out the clock and force overtime, or even transition for the winner, but with just over 10 seconds to go, a foul was called on an NYA player and possession went to Waynflete.
"It's really slippery out and we both lost our footing and they called a charge," Johnson said. "It's hard in those situations."
Even better for the champs, Johnson was given the ball ahead of the defense.
"I was really scared I was going to miss," she said. "I was really nervous."
When the whistle blew, Johnson raced in and after an initial fake, she shot past Fischman and with only 8.6 seconds to play, the Flyers had the lead for good, 6-5.
"I was so glad to do something for the team which does so much for me," Johnson said. "I closed my eyes and went for it. It was just me and the goalie. It's a lot easier when no one else is coming at you."
"I was confident with Cat having the ball," Connors said. "I knew she'd make a good choice. She has a lot of poise."
To its credit, NYA fought to literally the final second, as Wahlstrom won the draw to Madore, who passed ahead to McKelvy, who ran in as time wound down. Just before the horn sounded, McKelvy unleashed a shot, but it was from a tough angle and went just wide.
"That was a senior to senior pass, Olivia and Abby, which was awesome," Gerrity said.
Waynflete held on to prevail in a thriller, 6-5.
"We haven't practiced all week and (NYA) came out with so much confidence, which they should because they're an amazing team," Johnson said. "We have a lot of new players. We had to find each other in the field. We're very youthful. It's a gift and a curse. I'm glad we get to mold together. A lot of the games come down to basics. Once we realized that's what this game would be about, we focused more on basics than the flashy stuff."
"A win is a win," said Connors, who now has 252 of them in her nonpareil career. "I felt like we'd be able to pull it off, but NYA is very improved. Lucy's working hard with them. I'm glad we had them early (in the season)."
Four different Flyers scored in the win, as Johnson and Millard both had two goals and Gray-Bauer and Thompson-Greaves each had one. Millard and Thompson-Greaves also had an assist. Majercik made three saves.
Waynflete won seven of 13 draws and had a 34-29 advantage in ground balls (Gray-Bauer and seniors Sofia Canning and Ellen Silk both collected a half dozen).
The Flyers did wind up with 19 turnovers, but only five came after halftime. They also forced 24 Panthers turnovers as their zone defense was in midseason form.
"We have a lot of veterans on the defense," Johnson said. "Defense wins games. That was evident today. We worked together."
"Ella did a great job on defense," Connors said. "(Sophomore) Christian Rowe is new and she did a great job. The defense was the difference and Charlotte did a great job in her first game."
Waynflete had a 19-11 edge in shots (16-8 on frame).
NYA's offense was paced by McKelvy, who had two goals. Madore, Regan and Wahlstrom all had one. Bright, Regan and Wahlstrom each had an assist. Madore led the Panthers with six ground balls. Sophomore Juju Tardif collected five.
Fischman impressed with 10 clutch saves.
"She stuffed me," Johnson said. "Scout's amazing. She's worked so hard. She's a really impressive player."
"Scout was unbelievable all game," Gerrity said. "She had some great saves."
Ultimately, the Panthers just missed pulling off a statement-making upset.
"I'm very encouraged, but it was a tough loss," Gerrity said. "It was anyone's game at the end. The girls felt a combination of excitement over playing so well and disappointment over losing. They had a win in their sights. It's exciting how far we've come."
Only gets tougher
NYA looks for its first win Wednesday, when it goes to York. Friday, the Panthers visit Fryeburg.
"We still have work do to, but just small things," said Gerrity. "This was a great starting point. Now, we hope to get some wins."
Waynflete returns to the town of Yarmouth Wednesday afternoon to meet the Yarmouth Clippers in a rematch of last year's state game. Yarmouth (which dropped its opener, 9-7, at Scarborough Saturday) is viewed as a top championship contender this spring and the Flyers know they'll have their hands full.
"Our schedule won't get any easier," Connors said. "I hope we keep improving. It will be a process. We have to get our transition and passing and catching going."
Waynflete plays its first home game Friday when Falmouth pays a visit.
It shouldn't be long until the Flyers round into championship form again.
"(Today) was an exciting first step," Johnson said. "Hopefully it doesn't get that exciting again. I think things will start coming together a little more."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Waynflete-NYA results (since 2002)
@ Waynflete 15 NYA 5
Waynflete 16 @ NYA 7
@ Waynflete 12 NYA 10
Waynflete 17 @ NYA 4
@ Waynflete 18 NYA 6
@ NYA 10 Waynflete 8
Class B Final
Waynflete 12 NYA 8
@ Waynflete 8 NYA 5
Waynflete 10 NYA 9 (4 OT)
Waynflete 6 @ NYA 1
@ Waynflete 5 NYA 4
@ Waynflete 8 NYA 4
Waynflete 5 NYA 4 (OT)
NYA 10 @ Waynflete 9
Waynflete 9 NYA 6
Waynflete 5 @ NYA 4
NYA 8 @ Waynflete 6
Waynflete 7 @ NYA 4
Waynflete 9 NYA 5