Yarmouth boys fight off Waynflete's rally
PORTLAND—Three days after surrendering 17 goals in a home loss to Falmouth, the Yarmouth boys' lacrosse team, more specifically, its defense and junior goalie, Connor Hoehle, had something to prove.
And it was a good thing they had a chip on their shoulders Friday afternoon when they visited the determined Waynflete Flyers.
On a day on which the offense struggled, scoring just one second half goal, the Clippers had to hold on by any means necessary to snap a two-game losing streak.
After Yarmouth's three-goal halftime lead was cut to two, then one, when Waynflete senior standout Henry Cleaves came off the bench after suffering an injury, then buried a shot Hollywood-style, the Clippers clung to a 5-4 advantage with just over two minutes to go.
But with the devastating possibility of a third straight loss staring it in the face, Yarmouth showed the heart it hopes will lead to great things next month, as Hoehle denied a Cleaves bid to tie, then, after a turnover, the Clippers needed one more stop in the final minute and the stellar defense of seniors Matt Woodbury and Thomas Lord forced Cleaves to turn the ball over and Yarmouth held on for a much-needed 5-4 triumph.
The Clippers had five different players tickle the twine, got 10 saves from Hoehle and improved to 6-3, while dropping valiant Waynflete to 5-4 in the process.
"There's no style points in this game," said Yarmouth coach David Pearl. "I give all the credit to the Waynflete team. They really wanted it and came out inspired and they were flying around the field."
While a holiday weekend looms, the official start to summer no less, the conditions were far from balmy as the game temperature read 52 degrees with an occasional light rain.
The Clippers came into the contest a decided favorite and in need of a win.
Yarmouth opened by knocking off host York, 16-6, then lost at home to Cape Elizabeth, 10-6, before winning at Greely (9-5), at home over Lake Region (21-1), at Brunswick (in a 7-6 thriller) and at North Yarmouth Academy (10-0). Last Friday, the Clippers were staggered by visiting South Portland, 10-7, and Tuesday, they scored 11 first half goals but only one in the second in a 17-12 home loss to Falmouth.
Waynflete began the year with a 15-1 loss at Cape Elizabeth, but turned around and won four in a row: 11-8 over visiting York, 16-9 at Fryeburg, 6-4 over visiting NYA and 14-2 over visiting Oak Hill, before falling at Freeport (8-5) and Thornton Academy (9-2). Tuesday, the Flyers got back in the win column, 18-2, over visiting Lake Region.
Waynflete and Yarmouth don't play often in boys' lacrosse. The last meeting was three years ago in Portland, a 9-3 Clippers' win.
Friday, Yarmouth looked as if it would pull away in the first half, but the Flyers hung tough and made all 50 minutes count.
Clippers senior Brady Neujahr scored the game's first goal, unassisted, with 6:47 to play in the first period, but Cleaves tied the game, when he took a pass from senior Timmy Bollinger and scored on a fastbreak with 5:13 left.
Yarmouth went on top to stay when senior Max Watson scored unassisted with 3:59 showing in the first, but Cleaves almost tied the score 46 seconds later, only to see his shot hit the post.
The post wasn't kind to the Clippers either, as Neujahr hit it late in the first and the Clippers' lead remained 2-1 entering the second quarter.
There, Yarmouth got some breathing room, as senior Isaak Dearden scored an unassisted goal with 7:35 remaining and just inside the final minute, playing man-up, the Clippers scored their only assisted goal of the contest, as Neujahr fed freshman Bill Jacobs for a shot which Waynflete junior goalie Graham Ratner couldn't stop.
The hosts had a great look just before halftime, when sophomore Willy Burdick received a pass up top, but his shot went wide with a second remaining and the Clippers took a 4-1 lead to halftime.
In the first 24 minutes, Yarmouth had a 21-12 shots advantage, but 11 turnovers kept the game close.
The Flyers announced early in the third quarter that they were in it for the long haul, as Burdick set up sophomore Cooper Chap for a goal.
Waynflete junior Harry Baker-Connick then looked to make it a one-goal game, but Hoehle robbed him with 6:52 remaining.
A mere 28 seconds later, the lead was 5-2, as Clippers sophomore Matthew Beatty scored unassisted.
Yarmouth wouldn't tickle the twine again, but still managed to hold on.
With 4:36 to go in the third, Baker-Connick finished a feed from Bollinger and the Flyers were within two.
Then, with 2:41 left, in a pivotal sequence, Cleaves looked to cut the deficit to one, but his shot was saved by Hoehle and on the play, Cleaves suffered an injury and had to leave the game.
Waynflete had ample opportunity to draw closer, but without Cleaves on the field, it failed to do so.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hoehle came up big on a Bollinger bid. Hoehle then saved a Baker-Connick shot.
With turnovers prevalent and offense almost non-existent, the sight of Cleaves going through a concussion test on the sidelines caught the attention of many.
Finally, midway through the fourth, Cleaves was cleared and he re-entered the game with just under three minutes to play.
And he did so with a flourish.
Cleaves got the ball and immediately attacked the goal. He fought his way through the defense and with 2:22 to go, Cleaves beat Hoehle and suddenly, the Yarmouth lead was only one goal, 5-4.
"I (got) slashed across the forehead and I was a little dizzy and had to go through the concussion test, but this was too close of a game against too good of an opponent to stay out," Cleaves said.
"It was great to see Hank come back in," said Ratner. "Being one of our best players, we were a little scared (when he got hurt)."
Waynflete's partisan crowd came to life and when Cleaves won the ensuing faceoff, a tie appeared imminent, but Cleaves' bid was saved by Hoehle.
Cleaves got the ball again and just missed with 1:33 to play.
The Flyers kept possession, but turned the ball over, giving the Clippers a chance to close out the win, but they couldn't keep the ball in the box and with 50 seconds remaining, Waynflete got a final chance.
After a timeout, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Cleaves got the ball and tried to drive to the goal for the tying tally.
Instead, he was stopped cold by Woodbury and as he tried to figure out which way to go, Lord slid over and managed to knock the ball loose.
"To be honest, I kind of ran out of moves," Cleaves said. "I had four or five dodges in the last two minutes. I tried something different every time. At the end, I was too fatigued. I looked for my teammates, but everyone was ball-watching, so there wasn't much I could do."
"(Henry's our) go-to guy," said Waynflete coach Dan Thomsen. "He can make things happen. A lot of other guys can contribute as well, but we felt like that was the way go."
Everything worked out for the Clippers.
"(Cleaves) is an incredible player," said Woodbury. "He's really strong with his left hand and he knows how to work his right. I tried to force him right. I knew he'd switch left and go to the goal. I knew we'd have to double him early. Luckily, it worked and he lost the ball and we ran the time down and it worked for us, but it was nervewracking."
"We put Woodbury on (Cleaves)," said Neujahr. "We've been able to trust him all year. Lord made a nice slide and the ball came loose. It was a nice play by Lord."
"Cleaves is a strong, strong player," Pearl added. "He's a tough mark. We knew we needed to slide to his left side. The last time we did it, he scored with his right hand. We knew we needed to slide hard and cover him. Luckily, it worked out for us. Even when you hit him and make contact, the ball doesn't come out of his stick and he continues to move toward the goal. We're not a very large, physical team.
"I think Matt Woodbury has played wonderful all season. We ask so much of him every single game. His motor is unbelievable. We feed off of his emotions. He does everything. If you can count on anybody in a game, you can count on Matt Woodbury. If you can count on anybody in practice, it's Matt Woodbury. His intensity and cheerfulness are a joy to coach."
Yarmouth then won possession and Lord heaved the ball down the field as the clock ticked down to zero and the Clippers held on for a 5-4 victory.
"(Waynflete) played with a lot of intensity," said Woodbury. "This was not an easy win."
"A win's a win, but I really don't think we played to our potential," Neujahr said. "They did a good job getting in the passing lanes on us. We've struggled with execution on offense all year."
Yarmouth didn't score in the game's final 18:24, but produced just enough offense to hold on.
Beatty, Dearden, Jacobs, Neujahr and Watson all scored. Neujahr had the Clippers' lone assist.
"We really struggled putting the ball in the net," Pearl said. "The balls were sticking in kids' sticks. We didn't pass well. We had unforced turnovers and a lot of really poor shots. I don't think we really tested the goalie the way we should. To his credit, he played a great game, but a lot of the shots weren't off a pass, they were off a dodge and he had a chance to set his feet.
"I am concerned (about our offense). Believe it or not, we work on offense every day. The guys want to get better. They work hard and we still have a lot of work ahead of us. It turned into a transition game today, back and forth and back and forth. We kept pulling (the ball) out. I think it was a very sloppy game. A lot of play between the boxes. Not a lot of settled possessions. When we had settled possessions, we didn't have great shots."
Hoehle made 10 saves.
"Connor played well," said Woodbury. "I was impressed with how he played."
"Connor was really down after the Falmouth game, even though it wasn't all his fault," Neujahr said. "Our defense didn't play well and Falmouth's a really good team. He puts a lot of time into his craft. He works on his angles. He came out and played better today."
Yarmouth sophomore Walter Conrad won seven of 12 faceoffs and the Clippers held a 42-36 edge in ground balls (Conrad had a game-high seven, while Lord collected five).
Yarmouth committed 27 turnovers, but forced 27 as well. The Clippers had a 38-23 advantage in shots (19-14 on frame).
The Flyers weren't exactly devastated by the defeat.
"I feel like we won, in my mind," Ratner said. "We were calm and confident. I think we played the best lacrosse we played all season and in the past couple years. We should be as happy as if we did win. I feel like we played our hearts out. I feel like every day we improve. When we go into games like this with a positive attitude, we can come out on top. If we had a few more seconds, we might have had a different outcome."
"It was a long time coming," said Cleaves. "We just came up a little short. I thought we might win. Our defense and goalie were playing so well. In the end, it just wasn't meant to be. It's not the end of the world. The important thing is to keep the momentum going. I think it's a step in the right direction."
"We feel pretty good about how we played," added Thomsen. "Everyone went hard and left everything on the field. We're comfortable having a result like that against a great team like Yarmouth. Hopefully, this gives us a little bit of confidence going into our last few games."
Cleaves scored twice, while Baker-Connick and Chap both had one goal. Bollinger finished with two assists, while Burdick added one. Baker-Connick and Cleaves shared team-high honors with six ground balls. Ratner impressed with 14 saves.
"There were a lot of shots today, but they were all from the outside, which was great," Ratner said. "They were pretty easy for me to save. The defense kept them outside. We had great slides. Everybody did their jobs. I couldn't have done it without everybody working as hard as they could and firing on all cylinders. If it weren't for the whole team going as hard as they could, we would have seen a different outcome."
"(Graham) had a great game," said Thomsen. "He was helped out a lot by the defense. He's played well lately. He's keeps getting better. I'm proud of him."
Waynflete looks as if it will be the No. 5 seed for the playoffs, which means no home games, but the Flyers still hope to finish strong and with a little luck, move up. Waynflete is at Wells Wednesday, goes to York Friday of next week and closes at home versus Freeport June 5.
"(Today) says a lot for us," said Cleaves. "This really shows that if we're 100 percent, we can play with most teams in the state. It's a confidence-builder going into playoffs."
"We want to play our best lacrosse this time of year," said Thomsen. "Today was one of our best games. Our goal is to get a little better each day. Today, for sure, we did. We're getting confidence at the right time. We look forward to playing Freeport again. We'd love to have a home game for playoffs."
Yarmouth moved up to first in the Eastern B Heals, but to stay there, the Clippers will need to finish strong against a very tough schedule. After welcoming Kennebunk Wednesday, Yarmouth goes to nemesis Cape Elizabeth Friday of next week before closing at home versus NYA June 6.
To achieve June success, the Clippers clearly need to find a way to more consistently produce offense. This team is still a work in progress, but its upside is clear.
"I still don't think we've peaked," Neujahr said. "It's all about consistency. We have so much talent. All of our midfield and attack is talented. It's about being selfless and passing the ball."
"We can't overlook Kennebunk, they're a great team this year, but our real goal is to beat Cape," said Woodbury. "That's what we're working towards."
"We want those types of games," Pearl added. "Beating Kennebunk and Cape would certainly help us. We still hope to put 50 minutes together.""