Three soccer teams reach regional finals
(Ed. Note: For the complete Falmouth-Portland, NYA-Waynflete and Yarmouth-Cape Elizabeth boys' and Freeport-Cape Elizabeth girls' game stories, with additional photos, please visit theforecaster.net)
No one produces great soccer like teams from Forecaster Country and once again, local squads have turned heads in the playoffs.
To the point where three squads found themselves a win away from the state final at press time.
Yarmouth's powerhouse boys' team crushed Fryeburg and rival Cape Elizabeth in the Western B quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, to set up a compelling regional final showdown against Greely, which advanced by virtue of a quarterfinal round victory over Gray-New Gloucester and a semifinal round win over York. The teams took the pitch Wednesday having not met in a playoff game for almost four decades.
Falmouth and North Yarmouth Academy weren't as fortunate, as the Yachtsmen were ousted in the Western A quarterfinals and the Panthers, after a dramatic overtime win over rival Waynflete in the Western C quarterfinals, lost at Maranacook in the semifinals.
The girls' story saw Greely the last team standing. The Rangers handled Leavitt in the Western B quarterfinals, then edged York in the semifinals and went to top-ranked Cape Elizabeth for the regional final Wednesday.
The Capers eliminated Freeport in the semifinals, one round after the Falcons shocked Yarmouth. Falmouth's three-year championship reign came to a close as well, as its first foray into the Class A playoffs ended with an overtime loss to Thornton Academy in the semifinals.
Greely and Yarmouth's boys' teams entered the 2013 season touted as two of the best in the state regardless of class and both have lived up to billing.
The Clippers earned the top seed in Western B after an 11-0-3 regular season and made quick work of No. 8 Fryeburg in the quarterfinals last Wednesday, 7-0, as Wyatt Jackson and Adam LaBrie both scored twice and Travis Hamre, Nick Kamra and David Murphy tickled the twine once.
Saturday, Yarmouth hosted fourth-ranked Cape Elizabeth (a team which gave the Clippers fits in the regular season) for a semifinal which was almost as one-sided. LaBrie broke the ice just over two minutes in, senior David Clemmer added a goal on a rebound and LaBrie made it 3-0 with a gorgeous individual effort. A header off a corner kick from Chandler Smith put Yarmouth up, 4-0, at halftime and a second half penalty kick by Max Watson gave the Clippers a shockingly easy 5-0 win.
"It was good to get momentum right off the bat and keep it all game," LaBrie said.
"I think (our success) starts with the hard work we did in the preseason," Clemmer said. "The chemistry we have matters in the long run."
"You never expect this in a playoff game or in a game against Cape, especially after the first two games we played," said longtime Clippers coach Mike Hagerty, who earned his 199th victory in his 17th season with the program. "The kids were zoned in. That was maybe the best first half we've played all year."
Greely meanwhile, wound up second after a 10-2-2 campaign. In the quarterfinals, the Rangers beat No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester, 3-0, behind two goals from Miles Shields and another from Aidan Black. In Saturday's semifinal round, Greely edged visiting No. 3 York, 1-0, on a late goal from Jacob Nason.
"Gray was tough and we struggled offensively against York," said Rangers coach Mike Andreasen.
Wednesday's regional final (see theforecaster.net for game story) was the third meeting this fall between the neighbors and new playoff rivals (Greely moved to Class B this fall). The Rangers led a 2-0 lead slip away in the first encounter and Yarmouth rallied to force a 2-2 tie. The Clippers then romped at home, 4-1.
The teams last met in the playoffs in the 1975 Western B semifinals (a 3-0 Greely win). The Rangers also beat Yarmouth, 1-0, the year before in the regional final.
While the Clippers are sizzling, they certainly respect Greely.
"Greely's very good," Hagerty added. "They're fast on this turf. We'll review our first two games and see where we want to attack and where we have our best matchups. It should be fun."
The Rangers, meanwhile, know they'll have their hands full.
"It will be a challenge," Andreasen said. "Right now Yarmouth is clicking on all cylinders. They're peaking. They're the best team and they're playing the best, but we only have to beat them once. If you let them in your defensive third, they'll get you. If we can win the battles in the midfield and limit their chances, we'll have a chance.
The Greely-Yarmouth winner will face either Camden Hills (15-0-1) or Ellsworth (15-0-1) in the Class B Final Saturday at 5:30 p.m., at Hampden Academy.
In Western A, Falmouth, the two-time Class B champion which moved up due to increased enrollment for this season, earned the No. 6 seed after an 8-4-2 season and had no trouble with No. 11 Bonny Eagle, 5-0, in the preliminary round, but Wednesday, at No. 3 Portland, the Yachtsmen couldn't score, gave up an "own goal" along with two other traditional tallies and fell, 3-0, to the Bulldogs, as their season ended at 9-5-2.
"We paid our dues," Falmouth coach Dave Halligan said. "We knew coming in we didn't have a lot of experience. We played the toughest schedule we could get. We got into the tournament. I would have been disappointed if we didn't make the tournament, because I wanted these guys to experience this. We have players who will be bigger, stronger and better players next year. I'm disappointed with the loss, but pleased with our effort."
In Western C, NYA had the best regular season in the storied program's annals, going 14-0, which was good for the No. 3 seed in the region. Last Wednesday, the Panthers met rival Waynflete, the sixth seed, and an "own goal" put the Flyers ahead, 1-0. NYA pushed for the equalizer in the second half and finally drew even with 26 minutes to go, when Forrest Chicoine scored. Then, late in the first overtime, an unlikely hero, Michael McIntosh scored on a rush and the Panthers advanced, 2-1.
"It was incredible," said McIntosh. "I can't even explain what was going through my mind. Everything went so fast. I was just there at the right time. What an amazing feeling. I'm not a soccer guy. I'm a track guy. I scored once at the beginning of the season, but I'll never forget this."
"It's just a resilient bunch," said NYA coach Martyn Keen. "A great group. I'm glad it didn't end on this field today. I've been around this game a long time. It was nervewracking."
The Panthers then had the daunting task of going to undefeated second seed Maranacook, a longtime Western B contender, which moved down this year. The Black Bears took a 2-0 lead, but NYA rallied to tie on goals from McIntosh and D.J. Nicholas. Maranacook ultimately got the winner, however, and ended the Panthers' season at 15-1 with a 3-2 decision.
"Sadly, the season is all done, a week early in my opinion," said Keen. "However, the boys bowed out with their heads held high after playing a thrilling game against a well prepared and motivated opponent. It was an amazing group of kids, amazing senior leaders and quite probably the very best high school player I have ever coached in Jackson Cohan-Smith.
"The season began with few expectations, but once the final squad was assembled and we began to train and scrimmage, it looked as though we could be a decent group. Decent would prove to be the understatement of all time."
NYA is losing some special players, but will try again in 2014.
"The program is in good shape," Keen said. "That is in spite of graduating a huge amount of talent. D.J. will be back and while it is a long shot, he has a chance of setting a new state goal scoring record. So all is far from lost."
On the girls' side, Greely went 9-4-1 in coach Josh Muscadin's first season and wound up second in the standings its first season in Western B. In the quarterfinals, the Rangers handled No. 7 Leavitt, 6-0, behind three goals from Jocelyn Mitiguy and one apiece from Allie Morrill, Anja Russell and Kristina Volta.
In Saturday's semifinal versus No. 3 York, Greely got a goal from Mitiguy and held on for a 1-0 victory to get to the regional final for the first time since 2007.
"We played well in the first game and we played in the second game too, but we just had trouble scoring," said Muscadin. "We're jelling. Everyone's healthy."
Wednesday, Greely to No. 1 Cape Elizabeth (13-2-1) for the Western B Final (see theforecaster.net for game story). The teams split in the regular season, with the Capers winning, 2-1, in Cumberland and the Rangers returning the favor, 3-2, in Cape Elizabeth. The teams are longtime postseason rivals, having met 16 previous times, dating to 1985. Last fall, Cape Elizabeth beat the Rangers, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, to drop Greely's all-time advantage to 10-6.
"We know them really well and they know us really well," said Muscadin. "The team who comes to play will come out. We're capable of beating Cape. The kids need to believe that. You can't get behind in the playoffs. One goal can do you in."
If the Rangers were able to win Wednesday, they'll face either Hermon (16-0) or Waterville (15-1) in the Class B state final Saturday at 3 p.m., at Hampden Academy. Greely hasn't won the championship since 2002, nor played for it since 2004 (when it lost in penalty kicks to Brunswick).
The biggest news in Western B came last Tuesday, when Freeport earned its first ever quarterfinal round win in that class and its first in any since 1990. The Falcons, ranked fifth after a 9-5 regular season, got a goal from Ashley Richardson and 13 saves from Livvy Dimick and held on to upset No. 4 Yarmouth, 1-0, ending the Clippers' season at 8-4-3.
"We had to break into that top group," said Freeport coach Elayna Girardin. "We finally caught that win. This year was a year of firsts. A first time beating Yarmouth at Yarmouth and it happened to be in a quarterfinal game."
The Clippers were as hot as anyone going into the playoffs, but a season-long bugaboo of struggling to finish ultimately did them in.
"We played a solid game against Freeport," said longtime Yarmouth coach Rich Smith. "We had quite a few chances and corners, but could not break through. Freeport played excellent defense and the goalie was tough all night.
Indeed, even after graduating senior captains Abby Belisle-Haley and Julia Primeau, the Clippers will be viewed by many as a team to beat in 2014.
"We're very young with over half of our team being underclassmen," Smith said. "Emma Torres will return as captain of a team that will have more depth and more hunger. The future is quite bright."
Freeport then went to Cape Elizabeth for a first-ever playoff meeting with the Capers, who started red-hot, scoring three times before halftime. The Falcons got a second half goal from Julia Smith, but fell short, 3-1, and finished 10-6.
"We were very intimidated going into the start of the game," said Freeport coach Elayna Girardin. "The semis are a new place for us. The girls knew they weren't expected to win and knew that whatever happened happened, but then we got here. They saw the fans. Cape came out hard. Other teams have underestimated us. Cape didn't. They played us like they knew we could win. That took us aback."
It didn't take long, however, for the Falcons to appreciate just how much they accomplished.
"It's been a journey for a couple years now," Girardin said. "Other players got it going, but this group of seniors had the desire to take it further. This season has been great. The girls, every game, have done what I asked. They've played hard and played with heart. It's been a great journey."
Freeport loses seven seniors, but the bar for contention has been established and the 2014 Falcons will look to continue to keep the program at the top level.
"It will be tough to lose these seniors," Girardin said. "They've set the bar high. I think going forward, we'll be strong. The challenge is finding the leadership these seniors had. We'll build on this."
Falmouth's first season in Class A was very successful. The Yachtsmen went 11-2-1 in the regular season and earned the No. 2 seed. In the quarterfinals, Falmouth blanked No. 7 Biddeford, 1-0, behind a goal from Megan Miller. In Saturday's semifinals, however, the Yachtsmen couldn't score and third-ranked Thornton Academy broke through in the second overtime to win, 1-0, and end Falmouth's year at 12-3-1.
"The girls played their hearts out," said first-year Yachtsmen coach Andrew Pelletier. "We did a good job keeping possession in the second half and overtimes and created a number good scoring chances. We had chances to get a lot of numbers forward and we dealt with their counter-attack fairly well. The girls deserved a better result, but that's how it goes sometimes."
Falmouth will be back in the thick of it in 2014.
"We will return 16 varsity players and bring in a strong freshman class," Pelletier said. "We had a strong JV team with a number of girls that will help us progress immediately. We will miss the seniors that are graduating, but they taught our underclassmen many great values that will translate to next season. Ending our season that way left a bitter taste for our girls that will keep them motivated and determined for 2014."