Falmouth girls blank Morse, ready to defend crown
BATH—The Falmouth girls' soccer team has done a lot of winning over the years, but one thing the program hasn't yet accomplished is winning state championships in three consecutive seasons.
Saturday, the Yachtsmen will get their chance.
That's because No. 2 Falmouth came away with a 2-0 win at top-ranked Morse at McMann Field in Wednesday's Western Class B Final.
Playing on a field that featured plenty of sand and mud to go along with grass, the Yachtsmen dodged an early bullet when a Morse shot went off the crossbar and with 27:13 left in the first half, on its fifth corner kick opportunity, senior Alex Bernier finished classmate Caitlin Bucksbaum's serve with a header to put Falmouth ahead to stay.
The two-time reigning champions then got a huge boost of momentum with just 3.3 seconds to go before halftime when junior Mary Catherine Kowalsky's shot deflected off a Shipbuilders defender and into the goal to make it 2-0.
Falmouth's defense did the rest, stifling Morse sophomore standout Miracle Trimble, with one late exception, but senior goalkeeper Caroline Lucas got the ball first and ensured the Yachtsmen woundn't be scored upon.
Falmouth went on to a 2-0 victory, improved to 13-2-2, ended the Shipbuilders' year at 14-2-1 and advanced to Saturday's Class B state final, 5:30 p.m. at Scarborough High School, versus Hermon.
"It's exciting," said Bernier. "It never gets old. I'd love to win three in a row. It would mean the world to me. I'm honored we've made it three times to the state championships."
Becoming a habit
Falmouth and Morse had no soccer history until last fall when the visiting Yachtsmen rallied for a 2-1 victory in the Western B Final. Falmouth went on to down Presque Isle, 1-0, to win the championship for the second year in a row and 10th time overall.
This autumn, the Yachtsmen started fast, hit a rough patch, but returned to form in time for the playoffs. After holding off host Cape Elizabeth, 2-1, in the opener, Falmouth blanked visiting Poland (2-0) and host Greely (1-0), won at Gray-New Gloucester (3-1), then shut out visiting Freeport (3-0). After settling for a scoreless tie at Yarmouth, the Yachtsmen had their way with visiting Wells (7-0), Yarmouth (3-1) and York (1-0). Falmouth fell from the unbeaten ranks Oct. 9, courtesy visiting Cape Elizabeth (3-1), then was stunned at Poland, 1-0. A 1-1 home tie against Greely righted the ship and the Yachtsmen closed the regular year with a 1-0 victory at York to wind up 10-2-2 and second to Morse in the Western B Heal Points standings. Falmouth was challenged in its first two playoff games, but outlasted No. 7 Yarmouth in the quarterfinals (2-0) and sixth-ranked Gray-New Gloucester in the semifinals (2-1).
Morse, meanwhile, produced another superb regular season, winning every game but two, a 3-2 home loss to Camden Hills in the opener and a 0-0 tie at Maranacook the following game. The Shipbuilders closed the regular season on a 12-game win streak, outscoring the opposition, 48-7, to earn the top seed in the region. Morse battled back from an early 2-0 deficit to No. 8 Freeport in the quarterfinals to win, 4-2. In the semifinals, versus fourth-ranked Poland, the Shipbuilders came from behind again to prevail, 4-1.
Wednesday's game was played on field conditions that were far from ideal and quite different from the conditions Falmouth is used to, but the Yachtsmen's skill and poise translates to any surface and Falmouth managed to capture a regional title for the 12th time, despite a bit of a rocky start.
Less than three minutes in, Morse got a golden opportunity as sophomore Brianna Williams slipped behind the Yachtsmen defense and went one-on-one with Lucas. Williams launched a shot over Lucas that appeared goal-bound, but it kept rising and hit the crossbar with a thud, bouncing back and out of harm's way.
"I thought we had the pressure, then they had the counterattack," said Falmouth coach Wally LeBlanc. "That was a nervous thing to see. Usually those goals get buried and it changes the whole complexion of the game."
The Shipbuilders kept the pressure on and got two more looks, but Trimble shot wide and junior Paige Martin sent a shot on goal, only to have Lucas make the save.
The Yachtsmen then pressured and earned four corner kicks in the first 10 minutes, but senior Angie Mallis headed a Bucksbaum serve wide on the one shot Falmouth managed.
With 32:23 to play in the first half, Falmouth got a golden opportunity of its own as Bucksbaum took a long pass from Bernier and while several players stopped, expecting an offsides call, Bucksbaum raced in behind the defense to go one-on-one with Morse senior goalkeeper Sadia Crosby. Bucksbaum wasn't able to get much on her shot, however, and Crosby made the stop.
Then, with 27:13 left before halftime, the Yachtsmen broke through.
The goal came on their fifth corner kick as Bucksbaum lofted a shot right in front and Bernier was there to head the ball past Crosby for a 1-0 lead.
"We work on set pieces in practice," said Bernier, who's earned a reputation as a clutch scorer. "I was in the right spot at the right time and was able to get it in. We came in wanting to score an early goal. It picked up our momentum. You could see the game change after that and it definitely helped us out."
"It was nice to score first," said LeBlanc. "It's always a relief. We work on corners really, really hard. We want corner kicks. We want Caitlin crossing the ball. I think she's the most underrated player on the team because she does her job well and we can take it for granted. She has been consistent and strong all year long."
After Kowalsky and Williams both missed opportunities, a Bucksbaum cross skittered across the goal mouth untouched and twice senior Cassie Darrow was denied by Crosby, the second on a great leaping tip which sent the ball off the crossbar, the Yachtsmen closed the first half with a flourish and seized complete control.
As time wound down, the Shipbuilders weren't able to clear the zone and Kowalsky ran down a loose ball at the far right end of the box. She turned to shoot and the ball bounced off a defender, changed course and sailed past Crosby into the net.
Just 3.3 seconds remained and Falmouth had pushed its advantage to 2-0.
"We've been working all week on our crosses and headers," said Kowalsky. "We looked for the open net. Caitlin had a great cross into the middle. I had a late run, but I got there. I went for the far side and the girl tipped it in."
Despite less than ideal conditions, the Yachtsmen had put themselves in position for victory.
"The conditions were awful," Bernier said. "The first half, we called it 'beach soccer,' because in (the far) corner, it was all sand. We came out knowing it would be like that. We had to push through it. They were playing in the same conditions, so we had no excuse. We needed to come out hard."
Falmouth, mindful of what the Shipbuilders did against Freeport, guarded against a possible rally as it returned to the field for the second half.
For most of the final 40 minutes, the Yachtsmen flustered the Morse attack and the visitors looked to score a third goal to end all doubt.
There were a few close calls as Bucksbaum fed Kowalsky, who headed a shot just high, Bucksbaum shot wide and junior Maggie Bohrman was wide with a shot on a corner kick (Falmouth had an 11-0 advantage for the game).
The Shipbuilders did give the Yachtsmen a few scares.
With 29:10 to play, junior Megan Miller, who was Trimble's shadow all afternoon, fought off the rush of Morse sophomore Ruth Nadeau. Moments later, sophomore Alesha Aucoin tried to head the ball to Trimble, but Lucas got to the ball first.
With 15:15 left, Trimble lined up a 25-yard free kick, but the Falmouth wall blocked it.
With 8:56 remaining, Falmouth senior Bri DiPhillippo denied a rush from Aucoin.
The closest call came with 5:14 to play when Trimble finally broke free from her defensive shackles and appeared to have a one-on-one opportunity with Lucas lined up, but Trimble took an extra touch, played the ball too far forward and Lucas pounced to deny the bid.
"What I like is (Caroline) has tremendous focus to make the big saves," LeBlanc said. "I don't know how many times this year she's come up with big saves to keep us in a game."
The Yachtsmen controlled play from there and ran out the clock on their 2-0 win.
"(Morse) has had a few comebacks, so we didn't let up at halftime," Kowalsky said. "If anything, we came out harder and kept the pressure on. I think we dominated the second half."
"I knew it would be a tough game," DiPhillippo said. "We had to come out as hard as we could with a lot of focus. We did a great job. (Morse) played a great game. They shouldn't be upset. We play really well together. Coming on to this field was difficult because it was muddy, but we adjusted well. "
"It's really exciting," Miller said. "We knew (Morse is) a good team and that they'd come out hard. We had to match their intensity and I think we did that. The past two years we've won, we weren't the No. 1 seed. We don't look at it as a problem, we just come in and play hard. "
"We appreciate every win we get," LeBlanc added. "We're not last year's team or the team from two years ago. This year's team has responded to the pressure."
In addition to the goals, the biggest buzz in the aftermath of the victory was the job Miller (with help) did in neutralizing Trimble.
"I was man-marking her the whole game," Miller said. "She's a really good player. She has speed and footwork. I had to keep my composure and make sure she didn't beat me. The whole team helped out. We all worked together."
"Defensively, we tried to contain and pinch in a lot," DiPhillippo said. "We knew Miracle was a really tough player and as really good at shooting, so we tried to mark her as best as we could."
"It's a hardworking Morse group," LeBlanc added. "We knew they could get behind our backs and score goals. They play extremely intense soccer. Miracle's the real deal. Megan Miller is our defensive mark. We wanted to keep pressure on Miracle before she got the ball, because when she has the ball she's dangerous.
Three-peat after me
In 2001-02 and 2005-06, the Yachtsmen went back-to-back, but couldn't produce a championship the following season (losing to Yarmouth in the 2003 semifinals and to York in the 2007 regional final). Saturday, they have a chance to make it three in a row when they take on a Hermon squad they've never faced.
Hermon beat reigning regional champion Presque Isle in overtime of the Eastern B Final Wednesday to improve to 15-2
Falmouth will head to Scarborough Saturday looking to continue to do its thing and cap the season with yet another Gold Ball raised to the heavens.
"We'll practice hard and get a good night's sleep on Friday and hopefully get a three-peat," Kowalsky said.
"Hopefully we'll pull out the win," said DiPhillippo. "We'll focus a lot and will just play our game."
"I think it's more exciting every year," Miller said. "It would be incredible to win it a third year in a row. We need to keep playing our game and come out hard."
"It's really nice," LeBlanc added. "Credit to the girls for playing on the last day of the year. I'm proud of their hard work."