Wheeling, dealing and winning: Scarborough downs Yarmouth for first time
YARMOUTH—For all of its excellence in recent seasons, most notably five Class A state titles since 2006, including each of the past three, Scarborough's boys' lacrosse team hasn't been considered to be at the level of Class B powerhouses like two-time defending state champion Falmouth or longtime standard bearers Cape Elizabeth, North Yarmouth Academy or Yarmouth.
Saturday afternoon, the Red Storm took a big bite out of that misconception.
Facing the Clippers, a team Scarborough had never beaten, on Yarmouth's home turf, the Red Storm, perhaps buoyed by a prodigious pregame team breakfast, shot to a quick 3-1 lead after one period and never trailed.
The Clippers did manage to tie the score three times, but on each occasion, Scarborough quickly answered.
Senior All-American John Wheeler was the game's brightest star and with 4:17 to play in the third quarter, just 22 seconds after Yarmouth tied the game for the last time, Wheeler scored to put the determined Red Storm on top for good.
Wheeler added his fifth and sixth goals in the fourth quarter, while senior goalie Davey Pearson did everything in his power to protect the lead, making 20 saves in all, many of them spectacular, and the Red Storm went on to a historic 10-7 victory.
The win was Scarborough's fifth in succession, lifted the Red Storm's record to 9-1 and dropped the Clippers to 8-2.
"We felt like we needed to prove ourselves, not only as a school, but also as a conference and as a class that we could play with anybody in the state," Wheeler said. "It's a very good win. I sure hope it makes a statement."
Changing of the guard
Since 2004, Scarborough and Yarmouth have combined to win nine state titles (four for the Clippers in Class B and five for the Red Storm in Class A), but they've only played three times since the start of the century, a 19-6 win for Yarmouth at Scarborough in Red Storm coach Joe Hezlep's first game back in 2008, a 13-6 home win for the Clippers in 2009 and last year's 7-6 Yarmouth triumph at Scarborough, on then-junior Ethan Cyr's man-up goal with 44 seconds to play.
This spring, both teams have passed just about every test.
The Red Storm opened with easy home wins over Westbrook (17-3) and Bonny Eagle (16-0), before romping at Biddeford (15-1). Scarborough then almost let a 6-0 lead slip away before edging visiting South Portland, 9-8. After an 8-5 home loss to NYA, Scarborough handled host Deering (16-3), visiting Portland (15-2), host Gorham (14-3) and visiting Kennebunk (5-4).
The Clippers opened with a 7-6 victory at NYA, then edged Falmouth in an overtime thriller, 10-9. After a 15-4 victory at South Portland, Yarmouth was finally bested, 7-5, at Cape Elizabeth, but bounced back to defeat host Freeport (15-2), visiting Lake Region (12-0), host Portland (17-5), visiting Fryeburg (21-2) and visiting NYA (11-6), in an impressive effort Wednesday night.
"We spotted them a few goals early in the game, but by the end of the game I'd forgotten we trailed," said Yarmouth coach David Pearl, of Wednesday's win. "We cleared beautifully and rode ferociously and got second and third opportunities to score. We shared the ball better. Eight different players scored our 11 goals."
Saturday, the Red Storm played as if it had something to prove and did it ever make a statement.
It only took 1 minute, 35 seconds for Scarborough to get the jump as junior Chris Cyr scored unassisted.
While the Clippers were having trouble hanging on to the ball, the Red Storm protected the lead, then doubled it with 6:18 remaining in the first quarter as Wheeler set up senior Jurien Garrison for a goal.
Yarmouth finally got its offense going with 2:24 left when sophomore Brendan Dioli took a pass from junior Isaac Dearden before beating Pearson to cut the deficit in half.
That momentum didn't even last a minute as Clippers sophomore Joe Oliva was sent to the sidelines for a minute for tripping and with 1:11 showing, Wheeler scored his first goal, taking a pass from junior Cam Loiselle before zipping a shot past Yarmouth senior goalie Sam Landry to make it 3-1 after one quarter.
"We had a good week of practice and had a good team breakfast," Wheeler said. "It was good being with the team all day. We were ready and we came out strong."
The hosts played much better in the second period and pulled even behind unassisted goals from Cyr and Oliva, but less than two minutes after Yarmouth tied the score, Wheeler put Scarborough back on top, 4-3, when he fired a low rocket past Landry with 5:29 left before halftime.
With 1:25 to go in the half, junior Christian Neelon set up junior Austin Doody for a goal and the Red Storm had a 5-3 advantage at the half.
The Clippers, thanks to senior Will Porter's acumen, won eight of nine first half faceoffs, but they turned the ball over 15 times and were stymied by Pearson (seven saves).
"We were on our heels right from the beginning," Pearl said. "That's kind of become a theme for us this year. I think we've trailed in many, many games. They came out hard on us and we couldn't dig out of it."
Both goalies were at the top of their games at the start of the second half as Landry robbed Scarborough senior Dalton Finley in front and Pearson hinted at a transcendent half to come when he made a save on a Dearden shot in close.
With 8:06 to play in the third period, Dioli scored unassisted and after senior Nick Ronan hit the post, Yarmouth tied the score, 5-5, when Oliva found senior Ian Edgecomb (who already has game-winning goals against NYA and Cape Elizabeth this spring) for the equalizer with 5:49 to go.
This time, the Red Storm needed only 37 seconds to retake the lead as Doody won the faceoff, snapping a drought of nine consecutive losses, and Wheeler took a pass from Neelon and fired a shot past Landry to make it 6-5.
"I personally love to get right back and score to stop momentum," Wheeler said. "That was definitely big for confidence. All week, we worked on offense and finding the right looks. The way we passed today was the best we had all year. We had great opportunities."
The Clippers tied the game for the third and final time with 4:39 remaining, as Dioli scored unassisted, but just 22 seconds later, Wheeler took a pass from junior Eric Grantz and beat Landry to give Scarborough the lead for good, 7-6, an advantage the Red Storm carried into the fourth quarter.
There, Pearson took centerstage before the Red Storm put it away.
Just 1:15 in, Yarmouth junior Brady Neujahr unleashed a shot through traffic which Pearson somehow managed to see and stop.
At the other end, Cyr scored his second unassisted goal and Scarborough had some breathing room, up, 8-6.
After Dearden had a shot saved by Pearson, Ronan was sent to the sidelines for a minute after an unnecessary roughness penalty and Wheeler took a pass from Loiselle and scored with 7:50 to go for a 9-6 advantage.
Wheeler then made a a superb individual play before finishing unassisted with 6:34 to play for a 10-6 lead.
With 4:38 remaining, Red Storm junior Brendon Smith received an unnecessary roughness penalty and Yarmouth made a last offensive push.
With 3:52 left, Edgecomb was robbed point blank by Pearson. Seventeen seconds later, Pearson denied a Ronan shot.
"It was save after save after save," Pearl lamented. "We had a man-up and we had three or four shots. He saved at least three goals in this game with his leg and it wasn't a mistake. He threw his leg out to make the save. He had an incredible game. He also creates transition. It was really difficult for us. We hadn't seen transition like that all season."
The Clippers finally solved Pearson as time expired, when Edgecomb scored on a rebound, snapping a 16 minute, 39 second drought, but it was too little, too late and Scarborough had a landmark win, 10-7.
"Last year, we lost with 40 seconds left on a man-down goal," Pearson said. "Coming back this year, we knew we wanted to beat them. This win is definitely big for us."
"They run a little different offense than we're used to," Finley said. "We struggled at the beginning of the game with it. We talked about it at halftime and did better in the second half. We were a little iffy on defense at the beginning."
"I'm really happy right now," Hezlep added. "A game like this shows us the level we can play at when we compete. The boys deserve a lot of credit. We've really put it on them in practice the past week-and-a-half about taking care of the ball, being in the right spot, giving yourself a chance to finish. We came out and executed pretty well. We've tried to improve on finishing. Today, we capitalized on more opportunities than we had."
The Bentley College-bound Wheeler proved unstoppable, scoring six times.
"John's a heck of a player," Hezlep said. "When he's getting his shots off that he wants, he has a knack for finishing."
"If you give a player like Wheeler second and third chances, he's going to score," Pearl said. "We had a young defense out there, sophomore, sophomore, junior, but he can really finish. He has three legitimately really beautiful moves. He made great cuts. He's a great player. He's the hardest matchup I've seen this year. He's probably the best player in the state."
Cyr scored twice and Doody and Garrison each had one goal. Loiselle and Neelon both had two assists, while Grantz and Wheeler each had one.
"Everyone made something good happen today," Hezlep said.
Pearson finished with 20 saves.
"The defense gave me shots I could see," Pearson said. "Talking was big at the beginning. We didn't know where they were going. We had to find ourselves in their system. When we figured it out, the defense played great in front of me. I always love our defense."
Pearson certainly turned heads.
"I know I can leave my guy outside and (Davey) will make a save and he looks for me upfield and we push the fastbreak," Finley said. "I have a lot of confidence in him."
"Davey's always strong in goal," Wheeler said. "(Yarmouth) had great rotations and the defense matched them. It's probably the best I've seen them."
"I've been saying for a couple years that he's the best goalie," Hezlep added. "Yarmouth created a ton of opportunities and he bailed us out time and time again. They changed their sets a few times and we didn't adjust well and they got a good look right away. We adjusted well after, but those were point blank looks and he made point blank saves."
Finley had six ground balls, helping key a defensive effort which kept Yarmouth off balance all day.
Scarborough was able to overcome 20 turnovers.
The Clippers' offense got three goals from Dioli, two from Edgecomb and one apiece from Cyr and Oliva. Dearden and Oliva had one assist each. Landry stopped eight shots.
Yarmouth (behind Porter) won 14 of 18 faceoffs and had a 43-36 ground ball advantage (junior Thomas Lord had a game-high seven, while Neujahr and senior Christian Henry both collected a half dozen). The Clippers outsthot the Red Storm, 39-31 (27-18 on cage), but Pearson's acumen and 21 turnovers helped spell defeat.
"Scarborough's a very good team and they put a lot of pressure on us," Pearl said. "We had a lot of trouble clearing the ball. They have the same ride Cape Elizabeth does. We struggled against Cape Elizabeth and we struggled against this deep ride as well. We got the hang of it, but it was too late. It was a good lesson for us.
"It was a bit of a slow start. We were very nicked up coming out of the NYA game, but that's not the story. The story is (Scarborough) came to play and win and make a statement. We've had close games against them, including last year. They got a nice win here. We fought to the end. That's who we are. That's what will carry forward.
"This is what we love. I'd rather lose to a team like Scarborough than beat a team soundly. You learn more about who you are by how you respond to losing than easy victories. We've had see-saws of emotion. We had a great feeling of accomplishment of playing very well against NYA. I don't think we played as well as we could have today. We dropped the ball uncontested a lot and didn't clear at all. You can't give teams second and third chances at possessions and leave your defense on the field. I also think our guys can carry the ball and run better under pressure."
Heal Points jockeying
Both teams are hoping to finish first in their respective regions.
Yarmouth (third in the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings, behind Gardiner and NYA) has two daunting tests to close the year. The Clippers go to Falmouth Friday and host Cape Elizabeth in the finale May 30.
"We're going to start right back with the fundamentals Monday," Pearl said. "Job one is clearing the ball. We had the dropsies today. This game breaks down to execution, passing and catching."
Scarborough (now in its accustomed spot of first place in Western A) is back in action Wednesday, down at Marshwood, then closes May 28 at Thornton Academy. The Red Storm, if there was any doubt, now has all the confidence in the world as it goes for title number four in a row, but it knows it can still get better.
"It's just fundamentals," Pearson said. "We have to work on fastbreaks. We can score more on transition."
"We end the season with four great teams," Finley said. "It's great for us going into the playoffs."
"The end of the year is the toughest part of the schedule," said Wheeler. "t's nice to get these wins and build on them. It speaks to what we'll be able to do in the playoffs."
"We have to play faster," Hezlep added. "We're slowing down, not speeding up. It's a cause for concern that we don't play like his all the time. We came out today and we played 100 miles an hour. We caught the ball, we slid well, we did all the little stuff I'm looking for. The question is, why isn't it happening all the time?"
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Recent Scarborough-Yarmouth meetings
@ Yarmouth 13 Scarborough 6
Yarmouth 19 @ Scarborough 6