Cheverus girls avoid skid, squeak past Gorham
PORTLAND—Coming off a rare loss and playing without one of its offensive standouts, the Cheverus girls' lacrosse team faced a mighty test Thursday afternoon at Boulos Stadium and as they've done on almost every occasion this spring, the Stags found a way to pass.
In this case, just barely.
Hosting Gorham in what proved to be a high-scoring affair, the teams produced seven ties and five lead changes in an action-packed first half, but after falling behind on four separate occasions, Cheverus closed the half on a high note, going up for good, 9-8, when junior standouts Meredith Willard and Alex Logan combined for a goal just before the horn.
The Stags (persevering without junior scoring machine Elyse Caiazzo, who was away on a school trip) then scored the first four goals of the second half to apparently take control, but this group loves to draw out the drama and in the matter of less than five minutes, the Rams roared back within one.
Cheverus wasn't about to let the win slip away, however, and slammed the door defensively before Willard scored one final time to clinch the 14-12 victory.
Willard led the way with seven goals, Logan added four and the Stags improved to 9-2, locked up the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Class A standings and dropped dangerous Gorham to 4-7 in the process.
"(Gorham's) a great team," Willard said. "They came out 100 percent. They're very tough. They don't give up. That made for a really good game. I'm proud of my teammates for sticking through it. I think it was our heart. We all had the motivation to hang in there. We really wanted it. We had faith in each other."
The Stags dropped a marathon 7-6 (four overtime) decision to visiting Massabesic to start the year, then put it all together for a program-best eight game win streak, downing host McAuley (18-5), host Portland (9-7), visiting Deering (14-1), visiting Marshwood (13-10), host Scarborough (a 9-7 overtime epic), visiting Windham (15-6), host North Yarmouth Academy (17-6) and host Kennebunk (13-6) before finally suffering a loss Tuesday, 5-3, at Thornton Academy.
Gorham won three of its first four, lost two straight, then earned an impressive 12-8 victory at perennial Class B powerhouse Yarmouth, before falling to Marshwood, Scarborough and Kennebunk.
Prior to Thursday, Cheverus had won seven of the nine all-time meetings between the programs (please see sidebar, below), including a Western B quarterfinal back in 2007 (18-12). Wins over the Rams the past two seasons springboarded Stags' postseason runs which didn't end until regional final losses to Brunswick.
Cheverus is hoping that Thursday's result will do the same, as it found a way to beat Gorham again.
The hosts were sluggish at the start and the Rams led for much of the first half.
In the fifth minute, Gorham got the jump when junior Katie Tucker's pass to senior Abby Hodgkins deflected off Hodgkins' stick and past Stags sophomore goalie Hope Correia.
With 18:25 to go before halftime, Cheverus got on the board as Willard scored her first goal, unassisted.
The Rams retook the lead, scoring twice even though senior Shannon Folan was on the sidelines for two minutes after receiving a yellow card.
Gorham senior standout Kali St. Germain scored unassisted, then set up sophomore Aliza Jordan to make it 3-1, a spread which proved to be the Rams' biggest of the day.
The Stags battled right back to tie as sophomore Nicole Pineau scored on a free position and sophomore MaryKate Walsh converted unassisted to make it 3-3.
Willard had a chance to put Cheverus ahead, but was denied by Gorham junior Madeline Hamblen and the Rams went back on top, 4-3, when St. Germain set up Tucker for a goal with 9:56 left in the half.
Just 20 seconds later, Willard went top shelf to tie it and with 9:18 remaining, Willard scored again (set up by sophomore Abby Biegel) to give the Stags their first lead, 5-4.
"I look for space," Willard said. "My teammates move up and they put a lot of faith in me."
It didn't last, as Folan tied the score with 8:53 left in the half and 33 seconds later, St. Germain set up junior Meghan Cushing for a goal and a 6-5 advantage.
Logan scored her first goal (unassisted) with 7:29 to go before halftime and 51 seconds later, Willard scored on a free position, but St. Germain set up junior Haley Perkins to tie it and with 4:54 remaining in the half, St. Germain scored unassisted to give Gorham its final lead, 8-7.
After Pineau hit the post on a free position, senior Staci Swallow got a free position opportunity and finished with 1:43 to go before halftime to make it 8-8.
It looked like the game would go to the break deadlocked, but Cheverus closed strong and went on top to stay as Willard found Logan in front and just before the clock hit zero, Logan fired past Hamblen into the net and the Stags took a 9-8 lead to the half.
"Meredith set me up with a perfect pass," Logan said. "Just like we do in practice. I just had to get it in before the buzzer went off. Those goals can crush the momentum of the other team. We struggle with slow starts. We know we have to come out and play hard from the beginning. Once we started fighting for draws and getting balls on the ground, it went our way."
"We looked for the right play," said Stags coach Jamie Chamberlain. "Fortunately, today we made some good reads. We have veteran players who made the most of their opportunities. (Gorham's) veteran attack players did as well. They took advantage of holes in our defense and converted. Hats off to them."
Not surprisingly, the scoring slowed somewhat in the second half, as Cheverus opened up a seemingly healthy lead, but Gorham made things very interesting down the stretch.
Once again, the Stags started a half slowly, committing several turnovers, but the defense kept the Rams off the board and with 18:57 left in regulation, Willard scored her fifth goal (unassisted) to make it 10-8.
Just 49 seconds later, Logan scored for the second time (set up by Walsh).
Logan scored again with 15:06 remaining (assisted by Willard) and with 12:40 to go, Willard had a shot saved, but pounced on the rebound, then shot past Hamblen to make it 13-8.
Twenty-one seconds later, Logan almost scored again, but her shot hit the crossbar.
Gorham then got its offense going again as St. Germain scored unassisted with 8:26 to play, ending Cheverus' 6-0 run and a 21 minute, 28 second drought.
Two minutes later, sophomore MacKenzie Collins set up Jordan for a goal and it was 13-10, forcing Chamberlain to call timeout.
It didn't pay immediate dividends as with 6 minutes left, Jordan took a pass from Perkins and finished to make it 13-11.
The Rams won the ensuing draw but turned the ball over. The Stags gave it right back, however, and with 3:49 to play, Tucker took a pass from Perkins and beat Correia to suddenly make it a one-goal contest, 13-12.
Cheverus was on the ropes, but refused to buckle.
After Perkins missed a shot just wide with 2:55 to play, the Stags got possession, took their time and with 1:53 to go, Willard got a pass from junior Mary Kate Slattery and finished to give the Stags a little breathing room and a 14-12 advantage.
On the ensuing draw, Logan earned the win, Slattery collected the ground ball and Cheverus was able to run out the clock on its 14-12 win.
"It was very intense, but our defense was very strong," Willard said. "I'm proud of them. They demonstrated their talents. We work very hard. We strive for excellence. We love the sport. We love each other. Even if it's a tough game and we get tired, we give it our all."
"We just had to play our game and calm down, not be so frantic," Logan said. "We had to remember we were ahead. We didn't need to play like we were down. We had to keep our cool. It was a battle. We have to remember to play our game. Gorham's good, but there were a lot of turnovers. We know we have to minimize that. If you can come off a loss and want to win that much more, that says a lot about your character as a team. It shows we wanted it and that we were going to fight."
"It's life in the SMAA," Chamberlain added. "It seems every game is a dogfight. (Gorham) has some good attack players, they handled the ball well in the midfield, their defense gave us some pressure, their ride was very good and they took advantage of our turnovers. We were very generous today.
"This season, we haven't played from behind a whole lot. It was back-and-forth in the first half, but we never had the sense we were in trouble. We just had to have the defense step it up. We made some minor adjustments and took care of the ball. (Late in the game) I told them to play smart, make good plays and to keep hustling. (Gorham) had momentum, but we had to hang in there. We needed the defense to step up and make a play. We had to maintain possession. We did a nice job late in the game maintaining possession and taking pressure off the defense.
"We know each game won't be easy. We don't take anyone for granted. This is the most goals our defense has given up in awhile. It wasn't anything we weren't expecting. We seem to be versatile. The other day we didn't convert late. Today we did."
The Stags were paced by their standouts, Willard (seven goals) and Logan (four). Pineau, Swallow and Walsh all scored once. Willard also had two assists, while Biegel, Slattery and Walsh had one apiece.
Despite the prolific scoring and the triumph, Caiazzo's absence was felt.
"It was difficult without Elyse," Willard said. "She makes a lot of plays and makes great passes. I got a taste of her position today. It's difficult. She's a big part of our team."
"Elyse is a great player," Logan said. "She's really good at feeding the ball. We had to do other things and be patient without Elyse there."
Logan won 15 of 27 draws, while Correia made five saves, but every one of them was crucial.
"Hope's great," Logan said. "(Freshman Emily) Duff was a great goalie, but there's a level of comfort with Hope there. She made really great saves. I'm so happy she's back. I think we all are."
"It's great having (Hope) back," Chamberlain said. "For a freshman to step in and do what Emily did was just phenomenal, but having Hope's veteran presence, even though she's only a sophomore, is exciting."
Cheverus had a 44-41 edge in ground balls, as Biegel collected nine, Willard had eight and Logan and Slattery each grabbed five.
The Stags finished with 20 turnovers and had a slim 22-20 advantage in shots (19-17 on cage).
Gorham got three goals each from Jordan and St. Germain, two from Tucker and one each from Cushing, Folan, Hodgkins and Perkins. St. Germain also had three assists, while Perkins had a pair and Collins and Tucker finished with one each. St. Germain also led the Rams in ground balls with nine. Hamblen made five saves. Gorham turned the ball over 19 times.
Final test (and it's a doozy)
Gorham (now sixth in the Western A Heals) closes at Portland Wednesday.
Cheverus (second to Messalonskee in Eastern A), meanwhile, has a mighty challenge ahead of it, as the Stags host defending Class B champion, undefeated and apparently unstoppable Waynflete in their finale Tuesday afternoon.
"I think we're very excited to play Waynflete," Willard said. "They're a great team."
"Waynflete's amazing" said Logan. "Cathie (Connors is) a great coach. I think it will be a good match. We'll try to give them a run for their money."
Cheverus is ready to embark on what it hopes is a title run, but knows it can still get better.
"Our transition, if we get that down, we'll be a lot better," Willard said. "It's good right now, but we can still improve."
"I think we can always get better," Logan said. "Once Elyse comes back, she'll get back in the groove and we just have to keep playing like we have all season. We want homefield. It's an advantage."
"We're at the point where we just want to be sharp in all three phases, defense, attack and midfield," Chamberlain added. "Certainly, we talk about defense and turnovers are key. We have to work on limiting our turnovers and playing good, steady defense. We've been making some improvements. We want to make even more going forward."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Cheverus 15 @ Gorham 7
@ Cheverus 15 Gorham 14
@ Gorham 16 Cheverus 14
@ Cheverus 11 Gorham 7
Cheverus 16 @ Gorham 11
Western B quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 18 Gorham 12
Cheverus 15 @ Gorham 8
Gorham 8 @ Cheverus 7
@ Cheverus 12 Gorham 9