Yarmouth girls outlast Cape, earn Class B coronation
PORTLAND—The Yarmouth Clippers, the state's best girls' lacrosse team, wound up where so many of us expected, the Class B pinnacle, but the Cinderella Capers of Cape Elizabeth certainly didn't make it easy.
Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium, on a glorious morning for lacrosse, the Clippers came out like champions, going ahead for good just 40 seconds in when junior Lane Simsarian scored and thanks to a spectacular effort from the state's singular talent, senior Grace O'Donnell, opened up a comfortable lead.
O'Donnell scored five first half goals, none more important than a free position with just 2 seconds showing, which sent Yarmouth to the break with a commanding 9-3 advantage.
O'Donnell's sixth and final goal, which tied a program record in a state game, came with 15:33 to play and gave the Clippers a 12-3 lead, seemingly icing the victory, but Cape Elizabeth, behind its senior standout, Abby McInerney, refused to go quietly.
The Capers, in the final act of a magical and unexpected playoff run, roared back, as McInerney won draw after draw, earned free position after free position, then scored goal after goal, a state game record eight of them total, to make the final moments most interesting.
When McInerney scored her final goal, with 52 seconds to go, Cape Elizabeth had cut a nine-goal deficit to three and faint hopes of the greatest comeback in state history lived, but Mary Kate Gunville, the Yarmouth freshman who was such a revelation in goal all spring, made one final save and junior Emma Torres, who was spectacular all morning, scooped up a ground ball to seal the deal and the Clippers held on for a 13-10 victory.
Yarmouth won its fourth Class B championship in nine seasons, the sixth crown in the storied program's history and capped a transcendent season at 13-2, ending the Cinderella Capers' unexpected run at 11-5.
"There are no words," said O'Donnell, who will take her talents to Trinity College next year. "I'm just so happy right now. It was a great state final game. We played so hard and worked so hard for this. Since we were freshmen watching from the sidelines (when Yarmouth last won the title), we wanted this so badly. Last year, we said to ourselves, 'We're going to win it this year' and we did."
While Yarmouth was pegged as the Eastern B favorite all season, few thought Cape Elizabeth would be representing Western B, especially with the Capers' longstanding inability to solve two-time defending state champion Waynflete and with the return to Class B of longtime power Kennebunk (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories).
Cape Elizabeth, which graduated a pair of Division I-bound players last summer (Talley Perkins to Boston University and Lauren Steidl to Princeton), featured a more balanced approach this spring, but was further hindered when senior standout Hannah Newhall suffered a midseason collarbone break and was sidelined for the rest of the year.
The Capers got off to a promising start with wins over Fryeburg and Falmouth, but a rough first half spelled a loss at Kennebunk. Wins over York and Gorham followed, before Cape Elizabeth fell by a goal at Waynflete, its 23rd straight loss to the Flyers. After losing at home to Yarmouth (and losing Newhall in the process), the Capers bounced back to win at Wells, Greely and Falmouth and at home over Marshwood before losing at home to Waynflete in the finale, its 24th straight setback to the Flyers.
As the No. 3 seed behind Kennebunk and Waynflete in Western B, Cape Elizabeth began its playoff run with a 13-6 victory over No. 6 Falmouth in the quarterfinals. Then, on their 25th try over 12 seasons, the Capers finally solved Waynflete, beating the Flyers in Portland, 9-8, on McInerney's goal with just 16 seconds to play. In Wednesday's regional final at Kennebunk, Cape Elizabeth surrendered the tying goal with 15 seconds left, but senior Liz Robinson's goal in the second three-minute overtime held up and the Capers advanced, 8-7.
If you took away Yarmouth's season opener and season finale, it would have been invincible, but the Clippers, while they were the state's best team on balance, did have a couple hiccups.
Yarmouth opened at Scarborough and couldn't dig out of an early hole and lost by two. The Clippers quickly turned things around, however, stunning visiting Waynflete in a state game rematch with relative ease. After digging out of a six-goal first half deficit to hold off visiting Greely, Yarmouth romped at Freeport (giving coach Dorothy Holt her 100th career victory), won at Gould with ease, held off host Kennebunk in a thriller and prevailed by one at Cape Elizabeth. The Clippers returned home to dominate North Yarmouth Academy and Falmouth, then won an overtime instant classic at Waynflete before handling visiting Brunswick. Yarmouth's Senior Night was ruined, however, when Kennebunk came to town and won, 8-6.
"I feel like we needed that loss to know what it felt like to lose and from that point on we pushed ourselves further than we thought we could," Yarmouth junior Shannon Fallon said.
The Clippers still earned the top seed in Eastern B and a bye into the semifinals, where No. 5 NYA was waiting. Yarmouth was on the ropes, trailing by two at halftime but in the second half, Fallon came to the rescue with five goals and the Clippers held on in the latest chapter of the state's most storied girls' lacrosse rivalry, 9-7. Wednesday, in the Eastern B Final, Yarmouth again started slowly, then rode O'Donnell's brilliance to an 11-6 win over No. 2 Freeport to punch its return ticket to the state final.
While the Clippers have made many state game appearances over the years (see sidebar, below), the Capers had no such visits, at least in the Maine Principals' Association-sanctioned era, which began in 1998. Back in 1997, Cape Elizabeth beat Back Bay, 11-8, to win the Division I championship.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, was 3-1 in Class B state finals (dating back to 2006). That year, Emily Johnson's six goals helped the Clippers shock then three-time defending state champion Waynflete, which was riding a state record 36-game win streak, 12-5. The next year, Yarmouth repeated with a 7-5 win over Kennebunk, thanks to two goals apiece from Tierney Minte and Abby Saucier. In 2011, a senior-laden Clippers squad had scratch and claw and overcome the loss of standout Becca Bell in the second half to escape Waynflete, 9-8, on Danielle Torres' late free position goal. Last year, Yarmouth nearly upset favored Waynflete as it did in 2006, but a strong effort felt short, 7-4.
The Clippers also won a one-class championship in 2002 (13-8 over Kennebunk) and the Division I crown in 1996 (5-4 over Waynflete).
In all, Yarmouth took a 5-6 state final record into Saturday's showdown.
Where it put on an absolute clinic to lead the way to title number six.
While the Clippers did not start strongly in their playoff wins over NYA and Freeport, they took advantage of the fact that they had played in this game before, while Cape Elizabeth had not, and used that experience to jump to a quick lead.
O'Donnell won the game's opening draw to senior Julia Primeau, Yarmouth set up on offense and Fallon hit a cutting Simsarian with a perfect pass and Simsarian finished to make it 1-0 Clippers only 40 seconds in.
McInerney won the ensuing draw, but the Capers couldn't keep the ball, as Torres first made her presence felt by forcing a turnover and winning a ground ball.
That allowed Yarmouth to set up again and senior Molly Maguire, who has made a habit of setting up her teammates with textbook passes all season, delivered a great feed to O'Donnell, who one-timed a shot past Cape Elizabeth junior goalie Kate Bosworth, making it 2-0 Clippers.
The Capers turned the ball over again after a McInerney draw victory, but Bosworth momentarily stemmed the tide by denying a back-handed flick from Simsarian and a pair of bids from Fallon. O'Donnell also hit the post, but eventually Yarmouth tickled the twine again.
With 19:06 to play in the first half, O'Donnell earned a free position and buried it, making it 3-0 and forcing Cape Elizabeth coach Jeff Perkins to call timeout.
It didn't work as O'Donnell won the ensuing draw, the ball came to Maguire and she again delivered a perfect pass to O'Donnell, who pump faked before shooting past Bosworth for a 4-0 advantage.
"This was definitely the best offensive start we've had all season," O'Donnell said. "We came out strong and finished. Emma did an amazing job off the draw. She was right there and had my back every time. That allowed us to set up our offense and gave us confidence."
"I've been working really hard on the draws," Torres said. "I've never really been too good at them. Today, everything came together today for all of us."
"Yesterday in practice, everything clicked," added Primeau. "It was an amazing practice. We carried that into today. We brought it in the first half and took advantage."
The Capers finally got their offense going as McInerney won the ensuing draw and on her team's first shot of the game, McInerney beat Gunville with 17:59 showing.
After Yarmouth committed its first turnover, eight minutes in, McInerney again scored unassisted to cut the deficit to 4-2 with 15:40 to go before halftime.
The Clippers didn't let Cape Elizabeth get any closer, however, as after a shot from freshman Eliza Lunt bounced high and a Simsarian bid was just wide, O'Donnell scored on a free position with 12:22 to go, her fourth goal in just over 10 minutes.
After Bosworth robbed Fallon at one end, the Capers again drew within two with 10:30 to play in the half, when Robinson set up sophomore Sophie Hewitt for a goal, making the score 5-3.
Yarmouth then finished the first half as it began, with a 4-0 run.
Torres got into the scoring column with 9:54 left, racing in for an unassisted goal.
"The past few weeks in practice, we've practiced playing really fast on offense," Torres said. "Coach has said we have to move faster off-ball. We've practiced that and we really executed that today really well."
A little over a minute later, Fallon, who had been frustrated to that point, got her first goal, scoring on a free position.
With 6:49 left, Fallon executed her patented spin move around a defender, went one-on-one with Bosworth and finished to make it 8-3.
"We really wanted it and stepped up and knew we had to get it done quickly," Fallon said. "I wasn't shooting very well at the beginning. I had the quick assist to Lane and others stepped up around me. We're not just a one-person offense."
Cape Elizabeth had ample chances down the stretch to get a little closer before halftime, but Gunville denied a shot by Robinson, a defender blocked a free position shot from junior Emma Landes and McInerney shot wide.
Primeau chased down the loose ball and the Clippers transitioned to offense for what would prove to be a huge tally in the waning seconds.
With just 2 seconds to go, O'Donnell earned a free position and she wouldn't be denied, scoring for the fifth time and giving Yarmouth all the momentum, as well as a 9-3 lead at the break.
"That goal gave us even more confidence, but the seniors walked in at halftime and said the score was 0-0," Holt said.
O'Donnell won eight of 13 first half draws, the Clippers had a 19-12 edge in ground balls, a 16-7 advantage in shots (14-4 on frame) and most impressively, only committed four turnovers in what was as close to as perfect a half a team can have in such a setting.
"I have to say that my girls came out strong, with a fire in their bellies," Holt said. "The past couple days in practice, we worked on coming out strong and it paid off. They were focused. I've never in my coaching career seen a team take control as a team like my team did in the first half. I told the girls, 'We need to score the first goal. We have to come out strong against Cape Elizabeth because they're so good.' I can't stress enough I how proud I am. Everything was a team effort."
The Capers, meanwhile, had dug a steep hole.
"Unfortunately, we didn't play our game," said McInerney. "We were tight and couldn't make passes. Everyone was really nervous."
"Our nerves were on offense," Perkins said. "What (Yarmouth) did on their offensive side didn't shock me. I know that's how they play. They're phenomenal. They're quick, they're fast, they can throw the ball around and get up and down the field. Offensively, we were a little tight. We made a few bad passes and didn't take some shots. Our game isn't playing from behind and that's what happened. It's tough being down six."
Knowing what was at stake, Yarmouth wasn't about to start slowly in the second half and the Clippers managed to build on their lead, with goals that loomed enormous by game's end.
After Simsarian shot wide, Gunville made a key save on a rush from Capers freshman Mariah Deschino. O'Donnell made a bid for her sixth goal, but Bosworth made the save. Cape Elizabeth got the ball back, but Torres forced a turnover and got the ground ball and that set the stage for goal number 10, which came with 19:27 remaining, when junior Caitlin Teare, who was been so steady in a supporting role all season, finished a feed from Maguire.
"We put eight up in the second half at Kennebunk, so we knew we could (come back), but their first goal of the second half was the one that really hurt us, because it took away a little of the wind we were hoping for," Perkins said.
With 18:02 remaining, Fallon went back to her basketball roots with a spin move that left a Capers defender in her dust and finished for an 11-3 lead.
Fallon almost scored on an identical play 40 seconds later, but Bosworth made a nice save.
After Cape Elizabeth sophomore Maureen Lavallee received a yellow card, O'Donnell scored her final goal man-up.
And it was the quintessential O'Donnell goal.
Taking a pass from Maguire, O'Donnell finished with a gorgeous one-timer, tying Emily Johnson from 2006 for a program record of goals scored in a state final, and with 15:33 to play, Yarmouth was up, 12-3, and was on the brink of inducing a "mercy rule" running clock.
Instead, the game would get very, very interesting.
After Gunville made a save on a McInerney free position, junior Kirsten Rudberg, who has come up big-time in the playoffs, scored unassisted with 12:13 remaining.
The goal not only cut the deficit to 12-4, but snapped a 23 minute, 17 second drought and a 7-0 Clippers' run.
The score remained 12-4 until the clock went under seven minutes, when the Capers, in a microcosm of their season, saved their best for last.
With 6:51 to go, McInerney scored a seemingly harmless unassisted goal.
Yarmouth senior Abby Belisle-Haley then was given a yellow card and with 4:46 remaining, McInerney scored unassisted, making the score 12-6.
Holt called timeout, but Cape Elizabeth and its standout wouldn't be denied.
McInerney scored on a free position with 3:51 left, then after having a shot blocked, got the ball back and was awarded another free position with 2:29 showing, a shot she buried to make the score 12-8.
Holt called another timeout and this time the Clippers responded, as Primeau forced a turnover and won the ground ball.
Yarmouth didn't try to run out the clock, however, and with 1:23 to play, the Clippers' last goal of the game mirrored the first, as Fallon set up Simsarian for the apparent back-breaker, pushing the lead back to five, 13-8.
After Belisle-Haley got a second yellow 10 seconds later, McInerney continued her assault, scoring free position goals with 1:08 left, then again 16 seconds later to pull the Capers within three, 13-10.
"We just decided that we probably couldn't win, but we wanted to give our all and prove we deserved to be here," said McInerney. "We weren't proud of how we played for three-fourths of the game. We wanted to show it wasn't a fluke that we got here.
"Liz did a great job getting the draws. Mariah did a great job with her speed getting the ball down their quickly and that really helped us. The goalie came out really far. She's very aggressive on the crease roll. Sometimes she even came out of the crease. I knew if I could get around her, I'd have a wide open shot."
"That spurt at the end was fun to see," Perkins said. "We all know that (Yarmouth) came out and put it to us in the first half and played a beautiful game. They were taking time off in the second half. Who knows what the real score would have been. I took a timeout with 15 minutes left and said, 'Look, you're probably not going to win this game, but you need to play for each other and remember that this is the last time you're together as a team and a family and let's go out with our heads held high.' What a difference. I think it struck them and they finished as best they could and wow, am I proud of how they finished."
When McInerney won the ensuing draw, her eighth draw win in succession, Cape Elizabeth still had hope, but with 15.2 seconds showing, Gunville capped her memorable freshman campaign by robbing Rudberg and seconds later, Torres pounced on a loose ball to ice it.
"They made it interesting, but that's alright, we still won by three," Holt said. "It's hard in the regular season to stay focused with a big lead like that, but it's especially tough in a state game. We knew how good Cape is. The girls' conditioning paid off. They were running up and down in the heat and not one of them asked to come off. That showed how hard they worked."
With the clock showing 11:48 a.m., after a 100-minute back-and-forth struggle, the Yarmouth Clippers had found their way back to the mountain-top with a 13-10 victory.
"This is everyone's dream," Primeau said. "This is the last thing I'll do as a Clipper and I couldn't ask for anything better. I'm so happy. It was so much fun. It was unreal. Playing here, there's absolutely nothing like it. It brings out the best in everyone. It was nervewracking. Having a nine-goal lead in the middle of the second half, it's really easy to get ahead of yourself. It took every single member of our team to hold on and ride out the clock."
"We had a good lead, luckily," Fallon said. "(Cape) really wanted it at the end and you could tell. It was impressive they stayed with it until the end. Our captains have been talking since we walked off the field here last year that the goal was just to get back here and get a win this time."
"On the bus last year, the captains said, 'You guys better win this game next year' and from that point on, we were so determined to win it," Torres said. "We're so glad to do it. I hope they see this and are proud."
The win might have had a little more resonance for Torres and Simsarian, whose older sisters, Danielle and Devin, were key players on the 2011 title team.
""I just remember Danielle and Devin and Becca and Natalie (Salmon) all celebrating (in 2011), Emma Torres said. "They were up in the stands today cheering us on. It was such a great feeling."
There have been a lot of Yarmouth greats over the years and O'Donnell belongs on that list, if not right at the top. She capped her career with six goals and left an indelible mark on the program.
"Grace really exemplifies what an unselfish, team player is all about," Holt said. "I've been lucky enough to have many great players. Grace brings a sense of calm I've never seen before. If she gets flustered, it's with herself. She's the most dedicated student-athlete. She can calm each individual player. It takes a special person to realize they need that kind of attention from her. She relies on Abby, Julia, Molly, all the seniors around her, to help. She carries herself in a way that you can't coach. It was pretty cool to watch."
One thing O'Donnell isn't capable of is drawing attention to herself and in the postgame, she made a point of deflecting praise to her teammates.
"I have great people on attack and defense," O'Donnell said. "Molly was an assisting machine. We have so many threats that people found out about during the season. It's pretty hard to stop our attack."
As has been the case all spring, while O'Donnell led the way on offense, she got plenty of help.
Fallon might be the next Yarmouth superstar if she continues to play as she did as a junior. She finished the day with three goals and two assists. Simsarian scored twice, while Teare and Torres both had one goal. Maguire had four big assists.
"My name players like name players and the supporting cast came in and took over," Holt said. "We worked all week on moving the ball on attack, because we felt like they might focus on Grace and Shannon. We told it was Emma and Lane it was their time."
Gunville made six saves in what was likely the first of multiple appearances on the big stage.
"Mary Kate made huge, key saves," Holt said. "Big ones in the second half."
The Clippers outshot the Capers, 23-21 (20-16 on frame), and also did the little things that win games, like winning the ground ball battle, 30-24 (Torres had a game-high nine, while Primeau collected eight) and only committing eight turnovers, a mindbogglingly low number considering the setting and the stakes.
Yarmouth wore the bulls-eye from the start of the season and wore it very, very well.
"We didn't talk about it," Holt said. "We talked about going game by game. We talked about our losses and we watched tape, but our goal was to get here. Once we got here, we knew what we had to get done.
"I know I always say it, but all these teams are special. This one is special because Julia and Grace won as freshmen. I've watched this group play since they were little in the youth group."
What a ride
While Cape Elizabeth fell short of the ultimate prize, it's hard to describe the past couple weeks as anything short of magical.
"At the end, we realized we achieved two of three goals," McInerney said. "We beat Waynflete, which plagued us for a very long time. We got past the Western Maine Finals. Just to be here is a huge accomplishment. There are no tears after this game. We're so proud of ourselves for coming back and giving our all at the end."
"Taking out Waynflete was a huge step for us," Perkins said. "Getting over that Western Maine Finals hump was big for us. This is the first time we've played on the big stage. I told the girls to enjoy it because not many teams get here often. They played until the end and that's what they'll remember."
McInerney, who will join O'Donnell at Trinity next year, rewrote the record books with her dazzling eight-goal performance (six of which came in a six-minute span late). She also won 13 of 24 draws.
"Abby is a fantastic player," O'Donnell said. "I have so much respect for her. She did a great job on the draw and their people on the circle did a great job."
"Abby's a phenomenal player," Holt said. "She was a one-man band.
"We've asked Abby to do that most of the year," Perkins added. "She can carry the team on her back. She did a great job at the end, really wanting it. She was going to go down swinging. I'm proud of Abby for putting up eight goals in a state game. Win or lose, that's a phenomenal number."
Hewitt and Rudberg also scored for the Capers, while Robinson had an assist. Deschino and Landes shared team-high ground ball honors with four each. Bosworth stopped seven shots. Cape Elizabeth only turned the ball over 10 times.
The Capers lose McInerney, Newhall, Robinson and defender Sarah Flaherty, but return everyone else.
This won't be the last time they reach the final game and a first state title can't be too far in the future.
"We have a bunch coming back and we have a big junior class," Perkins said. "It should be fun to see what happens."
One more in store?
While Yarmouth doesn't graduate many, the quality of the players departing will be impossible to replace. O'Donnell's role has been well documented. Maguire was a huge part of the offense and Belisle-Haley and Primeau (who will play at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania next year) anchored the defense (Brianna Jelly-Webber and Grace Mallett also depart).
Life goes on, however, and life could be very good for the Clippers again in 2015.
Fallon will be back and along with Simsarian and Torres, figures to pace the offense. Look for Lunt, Teare, her junior twin, Ellie Teare, and juniors-to-be Sophia Harrison and Lilly Watson to also play bigger roles.
Defense will need some tweaking, but players like seniors-to-be Mary Coyne and Sarah Myers and rising junior Lauren Bartlett will help hold the fort in front of Gunville, who will have a championship year under her belt.
"We do have a lot coming back, but every year is different," Holt said. "We had a lot of freshmen on the bench to watch today and get a fire in their bellies. This gives everyone excitement."
It's a long way off, but Yarmouth, which has only won repeat titles once in program history (2006 and 2007), could very well be celebrating on the new-and-improved Fitzpatrick Stadium turf next June.
"I'm definitely ready to do it again," Fallon said. "We'll miss the seniors. They're all incredible athletes and incredible people. We'll have big shoes to fill, but hopefully we can do it."
"We just have to have the leadership we had this year," Torres said. "We were so lucky with it. We have to push ourselves to our furthest potential."
At least one former Clipper will be keeping close tabs.
"The juniors really stepped up this year and I have no doubt they can come back and win next year," O'Donnell said. "They have the hustle, the heart and the desire."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Western B quarterfinal
Cape Elizabeth 13 Falmouth 6
Western B semifinal
Cape Elizabeth 9 Waynflete 8
Western B Final
Cape Elizabeth 8 Kennebunk 7
Eastern B semifinal
Yarmouth 9 NYA 7
Previous state games
Cape Elizabeth 11 Back Bay 8
Yarmouth 13 Kennebunk 8
Waynflete 5 Yarmouth 3
Waynflete 13 Yarmouth 8
Yarmouth 5 Waynflete 4
Waynflete 6 Yarmouth 5
Waynflete 7 Yarmouth 6
Gould 11 Yarmouth 8