Three boys' lax teams reach regional finals: Yarmouth-NYA meet in annual showdown; Falmouth advances for first time
Any doubt that the top-ranked Yarmouth boys' lacrosse team would prove even remotely mortal after a 12-0 regular season was dispelled with a vengeance Saturday when the Clippers began what they hope is another championship run with a 26-1 trouncing of St. Dom's in the Eastern B semifinals.
Yarmouth earned its fifth straight regional final date against No. 3 North Yarmouth Academy, which advanced by virtue of a 16-3 quarterfinal victory over No. 6 Gardiner and a 14-9 semifinal round win over No. 7 Freeport, whose season ended at 6-8.
The Clippers hosted the Panthers Wednesday night (too late for print, see Web site for more).
In Western B, Falmouth and Greely met for the third year in a row, but this time the Yachtsmen (who lost in overtime in each of their previous two games against the Rangers) had the answers, breaking open a tight game to win 17-5 and set up a regional final date at perennial powerhouse Cape Elizabeth (also played too late for print Wednesday night, see Web site for more).
Rite of spring
The Yarmouth and NYA boys' programs have enjoyed plenty of glory over the years and both teams have enjoyed some of their biggest wins at the expense of the other.
The Clippers eliminated the Panthers six times in the past seven postseasons, with five of the meetings coming in the regional final. NYA got a measure of revenge with a victory in the 2007 regional final and also eliminated Yarmouth in the 1998, 2000 and 2001 semifinals.
This time around, the Clippers, the defending Class B champions, have lived up to and even exceeded preseason expectations, dominating all year long. Yarmouth got close calls against visiting Cape Elizabeth (8-6) and Portland (11-9), but rolled over everyone else, except NYA, which kept things close most of the way before going down to a 12-4 defeat in the regular season finale, June 1, at the Clippers.
The Panthers wound up 7-5 and third in the region and had no trouble eliminating No. 6 Gardiner 14-6 in last Thursday's quarterfinals, thanks to four goals apiece from juniors Cam Smith and Gus Wellin and three more from junior Phillip Champoux.
Saturday, NYA hosted No. 7 Freeport, which had won its final four regular season games to qualify for the playoffs, then upset previously unbeaten No. 2 Mt. Blue 14-9 as senior Alex Thompson erupted for eight goals. The Falcons would make things very interesting for the Panthers and were much more competitive than they were in a season-opening 12-2 loss at NYA, but ultimately the hosts had too much and held on to win 14-9. The Panthers got six goals from Wellin and answered every Freeport surge.
"Freeport's come a long way," said Panthers first-year coach Chris Carpentier, who spent the prior three seasons leading the Falcons. "They definitely put some things together. I was expecting a tight game. My guys came out clicking. I hadn't seen that yet this year. I was very impressed with our first half. This shows me what we have to work on for Yarmouth."
The Falcons wound up 6-8, but once again made the absolute most of their roster.
"We thought we were competitive," said Freeport first-year coach Geoff Arris. "We're a different team now than in the first game. Our first few games were NYA, Yarmouth, Cape. We were running 13 guys at that time. We played well today, but got a little tired. We never gave up. The seniors were amazing. We made it much further than anyone thought we could. It's exciting. It was nice to be the underdog. The kids handled it well. Hopefully it will be easier next year."
Back to the Clippers, they hosted No. 4 St. Dom's in the semifinals Saturday and dominated from the opening whistle, opening up a 14-0 lead at halftime en route to a 26-1 rout. Mike McCormack and Colby Shields led the way with four goals apiece. Jake Gallagher added three goals.
"We tried to set a tone and let our kids play a half of lacrosse," said Yarmouth coach Craig Curry. "It wasn't pretty in the first quarter. I wasn't pleased. We were beating ourselves. The first team played the whole second quarter to get their heads in it. It's the playoffs."
The regional final will be the nightcap in a unique lacrosse doubleheader in the only town in the state that features a powerhouse public and private program less than a mile apart.
"It'll be a tough one," Carpentier said. "We have to stop their midfielders. It'll be a good game, I think. I was happy last time we played over there. We were in it for three quarters. Hopefully, we can do it for four. It'll be exciting."
"Both teams are playing better than we did the first time," Curry said. "They're moving the ball well. We need to control transition. We need to come out and assert ourselves on ground balls. It's a 50-50 game in my mind. We need to play our best to ensure we come out on top. We'll have a big crowd. There's nothing quite like it."
Falmouth has been the feel-good story of the 2009 season, just like Greely was a year ago.
The Yachtsmen won eight of 12 games and enjoyed big wins over Kennebunk, Bonny Eagle, NYA and Greely (9-0) to wind up second in Western B. The Rangers finished 6-6 and earned the No. 3 spot. In each of the past two years, the Rangers eliminated the Yachtsmen with overtime victories in the playoffs.
This time would be different.
The game was tied 1-1 after one period and Greely was within a goal, 3-2, at the half. Falmouth then opened the floodgates in the third period, erupting for nine goals to lead 12-5. The Yachtsmen got five more in the fourth and cruised to the 17-5 decision behind four goals apiece from Mike Kane and Jack Cooleen, as well as three from Mitchell Tapley.
"I knew we always perform our best in the second half," said Falmouth coach Mike LeBel. "I knew we'd pick it up and pull away a little bit, not as much as the scoreboard showed. We continued to pressure throughout the game and it finally allowed us to get some transition opportunities. We had a lot of shots in the first half, they just weren't falling. That scared me more than anything."
Greely, which got three goals from Paul Witte, finished 6-7.
"We had a rough season, a lot of challenging games," said Rangers coach Casey Abbott. "It was a big growth year. We had some guys step up today. Our goalie had a lot of nice saves. I was very pleased with Sam this year. It was a great year. A lot of good kids. I liked their attitudes. They just liked to play. I'm really looking forward to next year. We'll be young, but with a lot of experience."
Falmouth improved to 9-4 and advanced to its first regional final, at a Cape Elizabeth squad that it put a scare into back on May 6 in a 6-3 road loss. The Yachtsmen have never met the mighty Capers in the postseason.
"It's one step farther than we've been and it's just baby steps for us," LeBel said. "One more each year. We'll eventually get there. Who knows what can happen Wednesday? I'd have to say Cape's the favorites. They're at home, they're the higher ranked seed. We'll play the best we can and see what happens. Either way, it'll be a great experience for the kids."
The state final is Saturday at 3 p.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com