CAPE ELIZABETH—With the sting of last year’s painful playoff ouster front and center in its memory, the Cheverus field hockey team passed its first 2012 playoff test Tuesday evening.
But not without some anxious moments.
The second-ranked Stags “hosted” No. 7 Gorham in a game moved to Hannaford Field due to poor field conditions at Cheverus and grabbed a quick lead when junior Elyse Caiazzo scored in the ninth minute. The Stags had chances to go up even further before halftime, but couldn’t convert.
When, on a penalty corner, Caiazzo set up senior Katie Roy for a goal with 19:53 remaining, it looked like Cheverus was home free, but the Rams didn’t wilt and cut the deficit in half with 14:17 to play.
The Stags had a chance to slam the door when they earned a penalty stroke two minutes later, but senior Staci Swallow was denied by Gorham senior goalie Patty Smith, keeping hope alive for the Rams.
Cheverus wasn’t about to go out early of the postseason again, however, and its defense slammed the door on a 2-1 victory which lifted the Stags’ record to 14-1, ended Gorham’s season at 9-7 and sent Cheverus to the Western A semifinals either Friday or Saturday against third-ranked Marshwood, the reigning regional champion.
“It feels great,” said Roy, who addition to scoring, helped lead the defensive charge. “We all came together as one and worked together as hard as we could. With 11 seniors, we didn’t want today to be the last game.”
Cheverus took a 12-2 record and the No. 3 seed into last year’s playoffs, but after 76 scoreless minutes and three futile rounds of penalty corners, was ousted by Westbrook, 1-0.
This fall, the Stags were nearly perfect. Cheverus opened with a 4-0 home victory over Thornton Academy. Shutout wins over visiting Deering (5-0), host Windham (2-0), visiting Biddeford (3-0) and visiting Bonny Eagle (4-0) followed. The Stags finally gave up a goal in wins at Massabesic (3-1) and Portland (7-1), but returned to their shutout ways at Marshwood, 2-0. Cheverus then met its match, falling, 4-0, to visiting Scarborough. The Stags bounced back with a 6-0 home triumph over South Portland, then closed with wins at Gorham (2-1), at home over Kennebunk (3-0) and at McAuley (5-0) and Sanford (4-1) to earn the No. 2 seed.
Gorham dropped its first three games this fall, then began to come together, winning five straight, before losing to Scarborough and Cheverus. Down the stretch, the Rams beat Biddeford, lost to Thornton Academy, then downed Windham and Deering to earn the No. 7 seed. Saturday, Gorham blanked No. 10 Deering, 3-0, in the preliminary round.
The teams had met twice previously in the playoffs: a 5-0 Rams’ win in the 2007 quarterfinals and a 1-0 Stags’ triumph in the 2009 semifinals.
Tuesday, Cheverus started fast and held on for dear life.
Just two minutes in, Swallow threatened to give the Stags the lead, but her shot was saved by Smith.
The first goal came with 21:42 to go before halftime when Cheverus senior Emily Rodrigue played the ball up the middle, then fed Caiazzo on the wing. Caiazzo eluded a defender, then shot the ball, which deflected into the top of the goal for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s great to start off with a goal to get the momentum of the team up,” Caiazzo said. “I just kind of do what I can to get around the (defensive) players and hope that (the shot) goes in.”
“We wanted to come out and take charge,” said Stags coach Amy McMullin. “Elyse has great stick skills. It’s hard to believe she only picked up a stick a year ago. That was an unbelievable goal. Top shelf. I can’t ask for better than that.”
Later in the half, Cheverus junior Laura Bither was denied by Smith and Swallow shot just wide.
Gorham’s lone scoring opportunity of the first half came with 2:42 remaining when Stags senior Annie DiLisio calmly made a defensive save to allow Cheverus to take a 1-0 lead into the break.
“I don’t know what it is, it seems like we settle down after that first (goal),” McMullin said. “We need to work on continuing to push and get the second one as fast as we can afterwards. One goal’s not enough. Sometimes two isn’t enough, especially in the playoffs when you’re playing for your season. We have some time to work on it before we play Marshwood.”
In the first 30 minutes, Cheverus had a 5-1 edge in shots and a 4-0 advantage on penalty corners.
Action picked up in the second half.
With 21:33 to play, Caiazzo fed junior Meredith Willard with a long pass, but Willard shot just wide.
Then, with 19:53 remaining, the Stags got an insurance goal.
On a penalty corner, a shot by junior Mary Kate Slattery was saved by Smith, but the ball stayed in play and Caiazzo sent a pass to Roy, who finished, making it 2-0.
“I was being patient, staying on my toes, like Coach Mac tells me to,” said Roy. “(The ball) just came to me and I hit it in. It felt great.”
“Katie had a big goal,” McMullin said. “She’s been injured and hasn’t been able to practice. We just wanted to get her some minutes. We like her near the goal because she knows how to score.”
Just when it appeared Cheverus had the game in hand, however, Gorham roared back.
With 14:17 to play in regulation, in transition, senior Evelyn Viernes passed to senior Jaime Hansen, who one-timed a shot past Stags junior goalie Libby DesRuisseaux to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Cheverus then got a break with 12:30 to go, when Smith trapped the ball under her body during a scrum. The Stags were awarded a penalty stroke, but Swallow wasn’t able to get much on the low shot and Smith kicked it aside.
Then, the Stags had to hold on for dear life.
With 6:40 to go, the Rams earned their first penalty corner of the game and 30 seconds later, earned a second, which was broken up by Caiazzo.
With 3:31 remaining, Cheverus senior Brooke Flaherty, who was superb in the midfield, forced a Gorham turnover. Seconds later, Bither stole the ball.
The Rams got a last chance, but turned the ball over with 1:24 to play.
From there, the Stags kept the ball in their offensive end and when the final horn sounded, a celebration in the making since last October spilled onto the field.
“This feels absolutely amazing,” Caiazzo said. “We worked so hard to get here and now it’s paying off. It was a little nervewracking, but we knew to get together as a team and talk. We play as a team, we work as a team, we hustle as a team. We give 150 percent.”
“Gorham played their hearts out,” McMullin said. “Much better than the first time. Give them credit. We mentioned last year a lot. We talked about getting our season stolen away. We focused on living in the moment.”
The Cheverus defense was the difference down the stretch.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Roy said. “(Gorham) had good runs. When they scored, we picked ourselves up. We’ve been in that situation before. Our defense is great. Libby’s doing well in net. Annie is doing fantastic, getting the defensive saves. I feel like no one sees them, but she does a great job back there. (Senior Laura) Peabody (Harrington) is great too. They all coordinate with me and tell me who to pick up. We’ve clicked together as a team. We get along.”
“(In a late timeout) I just said, we don’t need to score to win, just play defense and play smart,” McMullin said. “Laura Peabody-Harrington is great. She saved us. I think she was a huge factor. I can’t be more proud of her.”
Cheverus will face Marshwood (now 13-2 after Tuesday’s quarterfinal round win over No. 6 Sanford) either Friday or Saturday in the semifinals. In the regular season, Cheverus won, 2-0, at the Hawks on Sept. 17. Cheverus has no playoff history against Marshwood.
The Stags are fired up to keep their run going.
“I’m excited,” Caiazzo said. “Bring them on. It should be an interesting game.”
“I think we’ll go in like we did today, give it all we’ve got, leave it all on the field,” Roy said.
“Now we can move forward,” McMullin added. “It should be a battle. They played us tough. Libby had an unbelievable game last time. We need to be sure we take the pressure off her and put the pressure on their goalie a little bit more this time.”
Cheverus junior Mary Kate Slattery plays the ball away from Gorham senior Jaime Hansen.
Cheverus junior Laura Bither defends Gorham junior April Cummings.
Cheverus junior Elyse Caiazzo pushes the ball past Gorham sophomore Delaney Shiers. Caiazzo scored the game’s first goal and assisted on the second.
Cheverus senior Staci Swallow attempts a second half penalty stroke. The shot was saved.
Cheverus junior Meredith Willard holds her ground against Gorham senior Caitlin Shaw.
Cheverus senior Emily Rodrigue plays the ball while Gorham senior Gabrielle Martell gives chase.
Cheverus senior Katie Roy celebrates after scoring for a 2-0 lead in the second half.
The Cheverus field hockey team exults after winning its Western Class A quarterfinal Tuesday night, 2-1, over Gorham.
More photos below.