Perfect Storm off to state final
(Ed. Note: For the full version of this story, with additional photos, please see the Web version at theforecaster.net)
The Perfect Storm rolls on.
Next stop, Orono.
The 2012 Scarborough field hockey team has erased the heartache of recent early playoff departures by producing a level of dominance this fall so dazzling it is bordering on the historic.
After a 14-0 regular season which featured a jawdropping defensive feat of not a single goal allowed, the Red Storm earned the No. 1 seed and made quick work of No. 8 Thornton Academy (4-0) in the quarterfinals and fourth-ranked Westbrook (3-0, behind goals from Emily Bunting, Elly Walker and Grace Whelan) in the semis to set up a 1 versus 2 showdown against Cheverus Tuesday evening in the Western Class A Final.
Scarborough entered the game having beaten Cheverus in 10 of 11 all-time meetings, including a 4-0 romp at the Stags on Sept. 21. The teams had split two prior playoff meetings.
Tuesday, just 3 minutes, 5 seconds in, Scarborough got the only goal it would need when Bunting scored unassisted.
"An early lead was huge," said Red Storm senior goalie Shannon Hicks. "We were ready to play and it showed by that goal. We kept playing harder and harder and that made Cheverus have to come back."
"You never know how the girls will respond to the crowd, but they came out firing yet again," said Scarborough coach Kerry Mariello. "(Scoring early) is (Emily's) niche. That's her thing now. She's a hard worker."
Considering the Red Storm hadn't given up a single goal all season, even a 1-0 lead was daunting, but when Ali Pelczar converted a penalty stroke 10 minutes later, the lead was insurmountable.
"I haven't taken strokes much," Pelczar said. "I wasn't thinking about it. It was like practice or warming up before a game and I just shot. Karli-An Gilbert and I are the two people who take them. This is the first stroke we've had all year. I wasn't nervous. I always thought I would be, but I didn't think about it. I just took the shot."
To its credit, Cheverus didn't wilt and instead put a lot of pressure on the Scarborough defense, but despite some good looks, couldn't break through.
Then, with 13:11 left in the game, Abby Walker delivered the coup de grace on a rebound and Scarborough went on to a 3-0 victory.
The Red Storm improved to 17-0 on the season, extended its shutout streak to 17 games (further broken down into 1,020 minutes of impenetrable defense), ended the Stags' fine season at 15-2 and set up a delicious Class A state final showdown Saturday versus undefeated, two-time champion Skowhegan at the University of Maine in Orono (6 p.m. start time).
"It feels great," said Pelczar. "I've been wanting this for a couple years since I was a freshman and watched (the 2009) team win (a championship). I wanted to be the one on the field doing it and it feels so awesome."
"We knew Cheverus was going to be a great battle," said Mariello. "They're a great team. We'll take it any way we can. All the girls are hungry. They'll take advantage and execute. We didn't want to have the sting we had in the past."
It didn't come easily, but another shutout was in the books and the Red Storm is now one shutout from tying the 1998 Winslow Black Raiders from right here in Maine for the all-time national record for successive whitewashings in one season.
"I had seven shots against Sanford, but this was a really intense game," said Hicks. "Sometimes I get a little bored, but tonight was a good feeling. A lot of other teams have a couple really, really strong players. We have 11 players at a time who are amazing. No one is better than the other. That's how we've done it."
"The girls maintain a level of stability with their heads," Mariello said. "We expected to get some shots fired at us. We were bound to get some (pressure). We were ready. These girls have challenged themselves. We take it as a compliment to take a challenge and overcome. It's incredible. You can't fathom the fact (the shutout streak has) happened or as a coach think it would. They work double the amount in practice to get to this level. It's a tribute to them."
The stuff of legend
Scarborough now has a chance to not only win a second state championship in its third title game appearance, but to do so by not surrendering a single goal.
Its opponent Saturday won't make it easy, as Skowhegan has outscored its 17 foes this fall by a composite margin of 144-2, including 27-1 in the postseason.
Scarborough played Skowhegan in each of its prior two championship appearances, dropping an agonizing 2-1 overtime decision in the 2008 game and returning the favor by the same score the following year, thanks to Ellie Morin's game winner in OT.
The Red Storm is eager to get back to the pinnacle and to leave its mark as arguably the finest team the state has ever seen.
"We played really, really hard tonight, but that just means we have to play that much harder Saturday," Hicks said. "We're very confident. We have to do what we've been doing, play with our heads, our hearts and our sticks. I know we can do it."
"We have far more depth and balance (than the 2008 and 2009 teams)," Mariello said. "The unity is unexplainable. We'll prepare the girls mentally for Saturday as much as a possible. (Skowhegan puts) their shoes and clothes on the same as our girls. It will be a hell of a game. We'll give them a fight."