Yarmouth girls win a thriller at Kennebunk
The first of two (perhaps three) meetings between the best Class B girls' lacrosse teams in the state (at least to date) turned into a battle of wills, skills and heart Wednesday evening.
The host Kennebunk Rams, unblemished and eager to make a statement, hosted a red-hot Yarmouth squad which has been riding high for two weeks.
For 50 minutes, the Rams pushed the Clippers to the limit, but when the dust settled, Yarmouth showed that its character and mettle are just fine, thank you.
While it took a team effort and many players, some expected, some surprising, stepped up, with the game on the line, Yarmouth's biggest star accepted the challenge and led her squad to victory.
The Clippers looked like they were going to cruise in the first half, as they never trailed, rode a spirited defensive effort keyed by junior Emma Torres, who had the first half of her career, and opened up a 6-2 advantage on junior Lane Simsarian's goal with 4:40 remaining.
Kennebunk never let the game get out of reach, however, and after sophomore goalie Bella Kudas prevented Yarmouth from pulling away, the hosts responded with a furious second half rally.
The Rams kept the Clippers on their heels for huge swaths of time and although Yarmouth freshman goalie Mary Kate Gunville fought valiantly, the hosts scored twice while they were down a player, then, with 8:46 to go, drew even on a goal from sophomore Jenny Bush.
Enter Grace O'Donnell.
The Yarmouth senior standout wasn't about to let her team leave without a 'W' and 46 seconds later, she buried a free position to give the Clippers the lead for good.
Then, it was another Grace, senior Grace Mallett, who helped open things up, feeding O'Donnell for an insurance goal and with 3:18 to play, O'Donnell struck again to essentially end it as the Clippers went on to an inspirational and confidence-building 9-6 triumph.
O'Donnell had four goals, Simsarian and junior Shannon Fallon both added a pair and Gunville stopped a dozen shots as Yarmouth made it five wins in a row, improved to 5-1 and handed Kennebunk its first loss in six outings.
"It was so fun," said O'Donnell. "Kennebunk is a great team. We were really excited, but we were also really nervous. Everyone stepped up. We needed a spark to get us going again. Once we got that, we found our energy. It was all about heart."
Both teams have set themselves apart in Class B with their early play.
Kennebunk, which has spent the past six seasons in Class A only to return to B this spring, opened with a 10-7 victory at reigning Western A champion Massabesic in a rematch of last year's Western A Final, then made a statement at Greely, 8-3, held off visiting Cape Elizabeth, 14-11, outslugged visiting North Yarmouth Academy, 18-11, and handled visiting Wells last Thursday, 16-7.
Yarmouth suffered a season-opening 9-7 loss at Scarborough, then kicked it into gear with a stunningly one-sided 11-4 home victory over Waynflete. After roaring back to down visiting Greely, 11-9, the Clippers rolled at Freeport, 14-3, giving coach Dorothy Holt her 100th career victory. Their most recent game was last Wednesday, an 18-5 win at Gould.
Yarmouth and Kennebunk haven't played often over the years, but several meetings were seismic.
In 2002, after sweeping the Rams in the regular season, the Clippers went to Kennebunk and won the state title (there was only one class then), 13-8, to cap an undefeated season.
Five years later, Yarmouth went undefeated again and again capped a championship run (this time in Class B) with a 7-5 victory over the Rams.
In 2008, Kennebunk went to Yarmouth and snapped the Clippers' 29-game win streak, 9-5, and the following season, in the most recent meeting, the Rams won in Yarmouth again, 8-7.
Wednesday, the Clippers were seeking their first victory in Kennebunk since April 28, 2007 (12-11 in overtime) and their first over the Rams since the 2007 state final. They would get it, but it didn't come without a palpitating 50-minute struggle.
Yarmouth struck on its first good scoring chance, as, after a Kennebunk turnover, the visitors transitioned to offense and Fallon set up junior Caitlin Teare for a goal 86 seconds in and a 1-0 lead.
After Gunville first made her presence felt, robbing Bush in front, Kudas denied Clippers senior Molly Maguire, but once again Gunville stood tall, saving a bid from Rams sophomore Kyra Schwartzman, slowing the ball, then picking it up just before it crossed the line.
With 17:52 remaining in the half, O'Donnell set up Simsarian for another transition goal to double the lead.
Back came Kennebunk, as Schwartzman scored her first goal, assisted by sophomore Carly Sandler.
After Sandler hit the post and Gunville stopped a free position shot by Schwartzman, O'Donnell pushed the lead back to two with 15:42 to go, taking a pass from Maguire, then finishing for a 3-1 advantage.
The Rams cut the deficit to one 30 seconds later, as, after a turnover, Schwartzman converted a feed from senior Allie Truman.
Bush then looked to tie the score, but Gunville made the save.
Yarmouth gradually opened things up from there.
With 13:46 left, Fallon scored on a free position. After Kudas robbed both Fallon and Simsarian, Kennebunk had a great opportunity to cut into the deficit when Kudas heaved the ball down the field, it eluded the Clippers defense and came to Truman, who appeared primed for a one-on-one opportunity with the goalie, but from nowhere came freshman Eliza Lunt to break up the play and get the ball back for Yarmouth's offense.
At the other end, Maguire was denied, but with 5:42 remaining before halftime, Maguire set up Fallon and after Kennebunk coach Annie Barker called timeout, O'Donnell hit the post, but the visitors kept possession and with 4:40 showing, Fallon fed Simsarian for a goal and a seemingly safe 6-2 advantage.
When Rams senior Sophie Joseph received a yellow card and went to the sidelines for two minutes, the Clippers had a chance to really put the game away by the half, but Kudas stopped shots from Maguire and O'Donnell.
Schwartzman almost got a goal back for Kennebunk as time wound down, but inside the final second, her shot went wide.
In the first 25 minutes, Yarmouth had a 14-9 shots advantage. The Rams won seven of nine draws, but committed 14 turnovers, many of which were caused by Torres, who scooped up six ground balls.
Kennebunk's performance would be vastly better in the second half and the Clippers lead drifted away.
It took all of 2 minutes, 20 seconds for the Rams to make it 6-3, as sophomore Olivia Sandford eschewed a shot on a free position and passed to Sandler, who beat Gunville.
That was just the beginning of the Rams' onslaught.
Gunville had to save a shot by Bush and after Sandler shot high on a free position, Gunville turned aside a free position bid from Sandford.
Yarmouth then earned a man advantage again when Kennebunk senior Samantha Bell went to the sidelines with a yellow card with 17:33 to play, but instead of the Clippers taking advantage, the Rams rose up and scored not once, but twice man-down.
Schwartzman scored both goals, both assisted by Sandford, one with 16:08 to go and after a Yarmouth timeout, the other came 24 seconds later and stunningly, Kennebunk was within one, 6-5.
"We wanted to come out strong (in the second half) and we were flat," said Holt. "We threw some balls away. We were excited because we were in the penalty. We're still young at times. We're not there yet."
Sandford looked to tie the score with 13:10 left, but Gunville made the save.
At the other end, Kudas kept the deficit at one by denying Teare in front.
Gunville then was put to the test again and passed it by robbing Schwartzman, inducing junior Haley Fecko to shoot a free position wide, saving a shot from Sandler, then cutting off the angle to force a Sandler shot to hit the post.
Finally, with 8:46 to play, Kennebunk completed its comeback, as Sandler set up Bush for a shot which Gunville couldn't save and the score was 6-6.
"We decided to keep two more people back defensively and we talked about going through the elbows instead of trying to go through the top," said Barker. "We talked about keeping our heads up and looking for a pass. The officials tightened it up in the second half and finally called some stuff on them. That helped us out a bit."
Simsarian then entered the draw circle knowing possession was critical and she won it, as O'Donnell got the ball and the Clippers were able to set up on offense.
With exactly 8 minutes to go, O'Donnell was awarded a free position and she wouldn't be denied, racing in and shooting past Kudas to snap a 21 minute, 40 second drought and put her team ahead for good, 7-6.
"I just tried to play my game," said O'Donnell. "I hit some posts in the first half. (Kudas) had been saving a lot high, so I tried to fake high and go low and get in there as fast I could and bury it. We needed it at that point."
Bush won the ensuing draw and the Rams had a chance to tie the game again, but Schwartzman's bounce shot went over the crossbar.
Kennebunk kept possession, but Yarmouth junior Mary Coyne forced a turnover and Torres grabbed the loose ball. The Clippers had a chance to milk the clock, but instead, an unlikely hero emerged.
Mallett, who replaced Maguire after she was hurt early in the second half, took the ball behind the goal, spotted a cutting O'Donnell and hit her with a perfect feed which O'Donnell finished for a huge insurance tally, making the score 8-6.
"Grace is great," said O'Donnell. "She's stepped up. She has great vision from behind the net. Molly's a great playmaker and Grace can do the same."
Barker called timeout, but Simsarian won the ensuing draw. Yarmouth turned the ball over, but Coyne forced another turnover and the Clippers were able to set up on offense again. O'Donnell then found some operating room, raced in and scored again with 3:18 to play and that gave the visitors a three-goal bulge.
"Grace is incredible," said Torres. "She's the one we always rely on. When it comes down to a game like this, we have to focus on being a team, but when it got close, we knew Grace was there."
Simsarian won one final draw and Yarmouth was able to put the finishing touches on its 9-6 triumph.
"It was more competitive and aggressive than I anticipated," Torres said. "Our team stepped it up and kept our composure. We had to regroup and push forward, which we're pretty good at. I feel like we realized we wanted it more. We had the speed and the endurance."
"We struggled coming out of halftime," O'Donnell said. "We kept getting calls against us. There was a buildup and a domino effect, but we always tell ourselves to play like it's 0-0 and play with urgency."
"I wasn't discouraged (after they tied it) because I know it's not the end of the world if we lose," Gunville said. "It gave me a spark to keep going. They're a great team. It's nice to know we can come together even after being tied and win as a team and really do something that's great."
"It was like a playoff game," Holt added. "Kennebunk's such a good team. The girls answered. They had to dig deep. What I'm most proud of is how we regrouped. We made a lot of mistakes and we got nervous. We still have more to work on, but I'm impressed with how the girls came back. They didn't give up."
While O'Donnell sparked the offense with four goals and an assist, she was quick to note that she had plenty of help.
"We needed to work together and we did," said O'Donnell. "I just got the shots. Everyone stepped up so much. We wanted it and we went and got it."
"Grace certainly stepped up, but she has such a great supporting cast," said Holt. "Emma and Lane kind of took control on the circle. Once we got control on the circle, we were able to control the game."
Fallon and Simsarian both had two goals, while Teare added one. Fallon and Maguire had a pair of assists, while Mallett finished with one.
Gunville came up with 12 huge saves.
"It was hard, but I know that my defense has my back," said Gunville. "They really pushed through. They did the best they could. Kennebunk had amazing shots. They had great vision. It was all I could do to try and get in front. Last year, being in middle school, I had no idea that this would come up. Everything that's happened so far has helped me to prepare."
"Mary Kate saved us in the cage," O'Donnell said.
"Mary Kate could have buckled back there as a freshman goalie," added Holt. "The defense stood strong. It was a great all-around game."
While Kennebunk won 10 of 17 draws, Simsarian captured three of five late to help the cause. The Clippers enjoyed a 44-30 ground ball advantage, as Torres collected nine.
"We knew the only way to beat Kennebunk was getting ground balls," O'Donnell said. "Emma had a crazy game with ground balls."
O'Donnell had six ground balls, while Fallon, Simsarian and junior Ellie Teare all finished with five.
Yarmouth had 17 turnovers, but forced 20. Shots wound up 22-22 with the Clippers putting 20 on frame to 18 for the Rams.
Kennebunk got four goals from Schwartzman and one apiece from Bush and Sandler. Sandford had three assists, while Sandler added two and Truman had one. Sandford had a game-high 13 ground balls and Kudas made 11 saves.
"If we hadn't turned the ball over so much, we definitely could have beaten them," Barker said.
Just the beginning
Kennebunk (still first in the Western B Heal Points standings) is back in action Friday when it hosts Messalonskee in a crossover. The Rams then go to Falmouth, Fryeburg and longtime nemesis Waynflete, before welcoming Greely in their home finale and closing at Yarmouth June 4.
"I'm pleased," Barker said. "We're where we need to be and we're still growing. I think we can play with anybody."
The Clippers (whose lead in the Eastern B Heals keeps growing) finish a four-game road swing Tuesday of next week, when they play at dangerous Cape Elizabeth. Yarmouth then comes home to meet NYA and Falmouth, goes to Waynflete, then closes at home versus Brunswick and Kennebunk.
"Momentum is key and I feel like we have it," Torres said. "As we continue on the path of winning, I think we can go far. It's all about heart. We just have to keep it up."
"The league is really competitive this year," said O'Donnell. "You can't count anyone out. Everyone's neck and neck. We know we can play in any type of situations, playing with a big lead, coming back, tied. We're the real deal and we can do it."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Recent Yarmouth-Kennebunk results
Kennebunk 8 @ Yarmouth 7
Kennebunk 9 @ Yarmouth 5
Yarmouth 12 @ Kennebunk 11 (OT)
Class B State Final
Yarmouth 7 Kennebunk 5
@ Kennebunk 13 Yarmouth 8
@ Yarmouth 9 Kennebunk 8 (OT)
@ Yarmouth 10 Kennebunk 5
Yarmouth 7 @ Kennebunk 6
Yarmouth 13 Kennebunk 8