First time's the sweetest! Cheverus girls win Eastern A title
PORTLAND—And on the fourth try, they kicked in the door.
After three previous losses in the regional final, including each of the past two years, the Cheverus girls' lacrosse team left no doubt that it was the premier squad in Eastern Class A Wednesday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, when it dominated Cony from start to finish.
The second-ranked Stags shook off some early nerves, then shot to a 6-0 lead midway through the first half, thanks to three goals and two assists from junior Elyse Caiazzo, who was just getting started.
After the fourth-ranked Rams got on the board, then added a second goal, Cheverus closed the half on a 6-1 run and took a 12-3 lead to the break as Caiazzo had half of her team's offensive output.
The second half was anticlimactic in a competitive sense but it proved to be one long Stags' coronation as past frustrations melted away and one of the finest performances in the program's nine-year history resulted in a 16-6 victory.
Caiazzo led all scorers with six goals, junior Alex Logan, arguably the state's finest do-everything talent, added three goals and won 16 draws and four other players tickled the twine as Cheverus improved to 12-3, ended Cony's spirited run at 11-4 and advanced to meet Western champion Massabesic (12-3) Saturday at 12:30 p.m., in the Class A state final, back at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
"It's so exciting," Caiazzo said. "All our hard work has paid off. It's just an amazing feeling to finally to go to states and show everyone what Cheverus is made of."
Cheverus became a varsity program in 2005 and Jamie Chamberlain took over as coach in 2006. By 2007, the Stags were in the Western B final after shocking Waynflete in the semifinals, but they couldn't get past Kennebunk (losing, 10-5). Two years ago, after winning just three times in the regular season, Cheverus sprung a couple of upsets to get to its first Eastern A Final, but was no match for Brunswick (falling, 14-3). Last spring, the Stags got another crack at the Dragons in the regional final and were much more competitive, but lost again, 13-8.
This year, with an abundance of talent returning, Cheverus knew its best chance had arrived.
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 (9-7, in OT), visiting Windham (15-6), host North Yarmouth Academy (17-6) and host Kennebunk (13-6) before finally suffering a loss, 5-3, at Thornton Academy. Cheverus got right back in the win column, holding off visiting Gorham, 14-12, but closed with an 11-5 home loss to powerhouse Waynflete to wind up 9-3 and second behind Messalonskee in the Eastern A Heals.
The Stags downed No. 7 Mt. Ararat, 15-2, in the quarterfinals and overcame a sluggish start to defeat No. 6 Windham, 15-8, in Saturday's semifinals, also played at Fitzpatrick Stadium. Cheverus then got a huge break as Messalonskee was handed its first loss, by Cony, allowing the Stags to host the regional final.
The Rams started with a rare win over visiting Brunswick, 13-9. Cony then lost one-goal decisions at Lewiston and Messalonskee, but won eight of its final nine, falling only to the Eagles. After a 9-3 campaign, the fourth-ranked Rams eliminated No. 5 Portland, 12-8, in the quarterfinals, then pulled a stunner at Messalonskee in the semis, 13-10.
Cheverus and Cony didn't play in the regular season. The Stags did upset the host Rams, 11-9, two years ago in the semifinals, in the only prior playoff meeting.
Due to rain and poor field conditions, Wednesday's game was moved from Cheverus to Fitzpatrick Stadium. There, the rain held off, while the Stags put forth a relentless 50 minute effort to finally scale the regional mountain.
While Cheverus showed some nerves its first couple possessions, it was clear right away the Stags' defense wasn't going to allow Cony many chances.
Cheverus went ahead to stay with 21:21 to play in the first half, when Caiazzo scored her first goal, going one-on-one with a defender, finding another gear and blowing past her before beating Rams junior goalie Isabelle Eames.
With 19:36 left, Logan got her first goal, finishing a feed from Caiazzo.
With 17:50 remaining, Caiazzo set up junior Meredith Willard and with 15:07 to go, Caiazzo buried a free position shot to make it 4-0 and force Cony coach Gretchen Livingston to call timeout.
It didn't help, as the Stags' onslaught continued.
A mere 14 seconds after the stoppage, after Logan won the draw and Caiazzo had an initial bid saved by Eames, Caiazzo got her own rebound and calmly finished for her third goal.
With 12:13 to play before halftime, in transition, Willard showed her dexterity by scoring with her left hand and just like that, Cheverus had a commanding 6-0 advantage.
"The kids came out focused and ready to go," said Chamberlain. "The experience of being in the game the last two years helped, they came out patient and let the game come to them. The poise was there from the beginning."
The Rams broke through with 9:41 remaining in the half, when junior Emily Quirion scored unassisted. Junior teammate Josie Lee scored unassisted 32 seconds later and it looked like Cony might make a run, but Logan won the draw, the ball came to Willard and Willard fed Caiazzo for a goal to end the Rams' momentum.
After Cheverus sophomore goalie Hope Correia made a save on a free position shot from Cony junior Haley Hanks, sophomore MaryKateWalsh threaded a pass to senior Staci Swallow, a field hockey standout, who dropped the pass, but smartly swatted the loose ball into the goal hockey-style for an 8-2 lead.
Caiazzo's fifth goal, unassisted, with 6:14 to play, pushed the lead to 9-2.
The Rams got a goal back with 4:34 to go, when junior Hayley Quirion set up Lee, but 34 seconds later, Hanks was sent to the sidelines for two minutes after receiving a yellow card and the Stags pounced, twice scoring man-up goals.
The first came with 3:05 showing, as Caiazzo, behind the goal, fed Logan for a score.
Then, 19 seconds later, Walsh set up Swallow again.
When Caiazzo scored unassisted with 1:09 left, she had six goals all by herself and the Cheverus lead was 12-3, an advantage the Stags would take into the locker room.
In the first 25 minutes, Logan won 10 of 16 draws, the Stags had a 28-13 advantage in ground balls and a 15-6 edge in shots.
In the second half, Cheverus was content being more deliberate on offense, as it sought to run down the clock, and Cony never made a run.
Just 1 minute, 55 seconds in, Logan finished a pass from sophomore Abby Biegel to make it 13-3 and induce a "mercy rule" running clock (which goes into effect when the spread is 10 goals or more).
The Rams showed their willingness to fight by getting back within nine, 13-4, when Hayley Quirion set up junior Bayleigh Logan with 20:18 remaining.
After setting up two goals, Walsh was the beneificiary of a Swallow assist and scored to make it 14-4 with 18:49 left.
Five minutes later, Hayley Quirion got a goal back, unassisted, but after Willard hit the post and Swallow had a free position shot saved, Walsh took a pass from Willard and finished to make it 15-5 with 3:29 to go.
Cony's final goal came with 2:13 remaining, when Emily Quirion scored unassisted, but 48 seconds later, Biegel set up new-to-varsity sophomore Natalie Waite for a goal which accounted for the final score.
When the final horn sounded at 5:21 p.m., Cheverus had a 16-6 victory and was regional champion at last.
"They say the third time's the charm," Logan said. "We wanted it more than ever this time. It feels so good to finally win this one after three years. It's a long time coming. We knew Cony would be tough and aggressive and very athletic. We didn't want to start like we did against Windham. We tried to play our game and put them away early. We worked on playing good team defense and working hard on the ride. We played solid defense. That helped us keep the momentum."
"This whole team's worked really hard," said sophomore Nicole Pineau, who made her presence felt at both ends of the field. "We pulled through and played a great game. Last year drove us a lot. We came out strong last year and this year we came out even stronger. It was really important to start strong. If you start strong, you play the whole game strong. We started 100 percent and kept playing 100 percent. Communication is really big. We had to go out and play our game and that's what we did."
"I told the team that just was just another game and we knew what we were doing," Caiazzo said. "It's amazing to see our team can come together and bring our all."
"We've been in Cony's position the past two years, so obviously, we can empathize with them," Chamberlain added. "It feels so much better to get over the hump. The kids have worked hard all season to get to this point. I told them to just play hard for 50 minutes. That's how we approached it all season. Play good defense and make good decisions on offense. If we play good defense and make good reads, things should take care of themselves. It's a different player each game."
Wednesday, that was player was Caiazzo, who had herself a game (all six of her goals actually came in the first half).
"I just kind of took what they gave me and looked for the nice cuts we were doing and do what I know," Caiazzo said. "I don't really think when I do. I know how to crease roll, which works well when they give me one-on-one. If they stop me, hopefully there's someone else cutting."
"Elyse was amazing," Logan said. "She's what put us over the edge."
"Today was Elyse's day, but once again, we had Alex on the draws and it seemed like we always had someone near the ball making a play," Chamberlain said. "We did a good job passing today. We had sharp cuts. What a defense will give us, we'll take. We don't force something that's not there."
Logan added three goals, Swallow, Walsh and Willard all scored twice and Waite also had a goal.
If six goals weren't enough, Caiazzo also had three assists. Biegel, Walsh and Willard all had two, while Swallow added one.
How's that for balance?
"It's really good we don't have one person who scores all the goals," Caiazzo said. "Whoever we put out there, we have faith in them that they can shoot and score. It's nice for me and Alex and Meredith to know that (the other team's) not always going to put the attention on us."
"Our balance is our strength," said Logan. "We've all improved so much. We can pass to anybody and be confident they'll maintain possession and control the game."
Correia only had to make three saves.
Statistically, the Stags sparkled.
Logan won 16 of 24 draws, Cheverus had a commanding 46-22 advantage in ground balls (Caiazzo, naturally, led the way with 11, while Logan and Willard both collected eight), the Stags had a 25-12 shots on goal advantage (24-9 on cage) and only turned the ball over 14 times.
Cony got two goals each from Lee and Emily Quirion. Logan and Hayley Quirion both had one goal. Haley Quirion finished with two assists. Eames made eight saves. Logan and Hayley Quirion led the Rams with six ground balls apiece. Cony committed 14 turnovers.
Fifty minutes from glory
After the win, Chamberlain, who steered this program from its toddler phase to its finest hour, stressed that many, many girls (not just the 2013 edition) played a role in getting the Stags to this point.
"There have been some great athletes," Chamberlain said. "Mallory (Pelkey), our assistant coach, was one of them. You have to have faith in your coaches ,your teammates and yourselves and buy into what we're doing. The kids have been great with it."
Cheverus now looks to win a first state title Saturday. The Stags lost at home to the Mustangs in a four OT marathon way back on April 23. The teams' lone prior playoff meeting resulted in a 10-9 Cheverus victory in the 2008 quarterfinals.
Saturday's showdown figures to be memorable, not just because it's the Stags' first appearance in the state final, but that it could result in one final celebration for a team which has enjoyed many this spring.
"We need to push ourselves even harder," Pineau said. "We need to win draws and keep playing as a team and be supportive of each other. We're not just friends on the field, we're friends off the field and I think that's a big aspect of the team."
"We just have to play our game," Caiazzo said. "Change is the last thing we need. We've really progressed from when we played (Massabesic). Then, we had new players who didn't really know what they were doing. I think we'll do fine. They'll come in wanting to beat us again, but we won't let it come easy. We're glad we played our past two playoff games here. We're familiar with the bouncing. It's a really nice advantage."
"I feel now like we're unstoppable," Logan said. "It feels great to be one of four teams in the state left practicing. We just have to play our game like we have all season. We have to come out strong and stay focused. We can't let down now. The next game is the most important one."
Chamberlain believes the April meeting doesn't much matter now.
"I think we're different teams than we were during the season," he said. "Massabesic's always there. We've taken it one game at a time. We'll do the same thing Saturday. We want to keep moving forward. It should be a good game. It's an exciting opportunity."