Cape boys finish perfect after state game win over Yarmouth
PORTLAND—Order has been restored.
The Cape Elizabeth boys' lacrosse program, long the most decorated in the state of Maine, has returned to the place where it rules supreme.
And it isn't even close.
Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Capers managed to repeat as state champion for the first time in 11 seasons and culminated a perfect regular season for the first time in a dozen years.
Facing underdog, upset-minded Yarmouth in the Class B Final, Cape Elizabeth fell behind early, then took nearly 10 minutes to hit its offensive stride, but the Capers would produce just enough scoring, thanks to a balanced attack, to open up a 4-1 lead at halftime.
While Cape Elizabeth's sensational defense was holding the Clippers scoreless for more than 39 minutes, the Capers tacked on second half goals from a pair of unexpected sources, senior captain Danny Brett and junior Jack Drinan, to go ahead, 6-1.
Yarmouth would finally get its offense going late and scored a couple goals to make things interesting, but Cape Elizabeth wouldn't be denied and went on to a 6-3 victory to capture yet another title.
The Capers repeated as the best of the best in Class B, getting goals from five different players, paced by a pair from junior Griffin Thoreck, rode a great defensive effort and finished the year 15-0, ended the Clippers' campaign at 10-6 and made it 17 titles in the history of a storied program.
"It's more relief than anything since there's definitely a lot of pressure being undefeated," said longtime Cape Elizabeth coach (and one-time Capers player) Ben Raymond. "I think the kids felt it a little bit at the beginning of the game, but it worked out well. We had a great season. We knew they'd be better than they were last time we played them. They've improved tremendously all year long."
Numbers 1 and 1a
When it comes to boys' lacrosse in the state of Maine, it's long been Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth.
While the Capers are the most storied program, the Clippers have excelled as well and for a short stint last decade, even momentarily eclipsed Cape Elizabeth, but the Capers have clearly returned to the pinnacle.
Entering Saturday's showdown, the longtime rivals had played eight previous times for the big trophy, with the Capers prevailing on five occasions (see sidebar, below).
The first came in 1996 in Division I (the Maine Principals' Association didn't start sanctioning lacrosse until two years later) and it went overtime, but the Capers prevailed, 11-10.
It took seven years for the powers to meet again in the final and again, after a late Clippers' rally, the game went to OT, where Cape Elizabeth escaped, 9-8, on Alex Weaver's goal. The next year, Yarmouth finally broke through, 11-6, but in 2005, the Capers returned the favor with a mild upset (7-6). After a two-year hiatus, the Clippers beat Cape Elizabeth in the 2008 finale (9-4) and again in 2009 (12-9), but in a game eerily similar to 2005, the Capers sprung a 7-6 upset in 2010. Last spring, Yarmouth hung tough for 48 minutes, but Cape Elizabeth got to celebrate a title after a 7-4 victory.
Yarmouth came into Saturday's game 4-5 all-time in state finals, with its last crown coming in 2009.
Cape Elizabeth had won 16 of 22 prior state games and last went back-to-back in 2002-03.
The fact that the teams met again at states this spring didn't exactly register as a surprise, but each did surprise with their play during the regular season, as the Capers were even better than anyone could have imagined, while the Clippers had to bounce back from a rare rough stretch to reach the big stage (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories).
Cape Elizabeth had to completely replace what had been a dominant defense and had to plug several holes with new and young players, but this group rose to meet every challenge.
The Capers opened with an easy home win over Waynflete, then made their first statement with a victory at Yarmouth. After handling visiting Kennebunk, Cape Elizabeth won at Wells, then took a battle of defending champions at Scarborough. Impressive home victories over Falmouth and Eastern A champion Brunswick followed. After doubling up host Greely, the Capers rolled at York, held off visiting North Yarmouth Academy and Yarmouth, then closed with a win at Falmouth to go undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 2002.
As the top seed, Cape Elizabeth earned a bye into the Western B semifinals, where it decimated No. 4 Greely, 19-1. Wednesday, in the regional final, the Capers raced to a 7-1 lead after one quarter, then held off a rally by No. 2 Falmouth, 11-8, to return to the state game.
Yarmouth was expected to be right there with Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth this year, but the Clippers had trouble with consistency against top foes.
Yarmouth opened with an easy win at York, then lost at home to Cape Elizabeth. After beating Greely (in a close game), Lake Region (in a romp), Brunswick (by a goal) and NYA (pitching a shutout in the process), the Clippers fell at home to both South Portland and Falmouth. After barely winning at Waynflete, Yarmouth lost at home to Kennebunk and at Cape Elizabeth. The Clippers got back on track with a home win over NYA to close, but at 7-5, only earned the No. 4 seed in Eastern B.
Then, Yarmouth put it all together.
The Clippers ousted No. 5 Gardiner in the quarterfinals (16-4), won at top-ranked Maranacook/Winthrop in the semifinals (10-6), then dominated second-ranked Freeport from start to finish in the regional final Wednesday, 16-3.
"I think the whole team rallied around us having a chance," said Yarmouth senior captain Max Watson. "We had to step things up. Guys rallied behind the senior leaders and we had a good rest of the year."
Cape Elizabeth entered the state game having beaten Yarmouth on 11 straight occasions, dating back to the 2010 season. The Clippers hadn't beaten the Capers since May 3, 2010 (8-4 at home).
Saturday, Yarmouth hoped to keep its momentum going, but the Capers weren't about to be denied and went out and won their 19th game in a row over two seasons and their 17th championship.
After Conner Pearl, the son of Yarmouth coach David Pearl, did a great job with the national anthem, the Clippers got the ball first, as sophomore Walter Conrad won the faceoff, but they turned it over. After forcing a Cape Elizabeth turnover, Yarmouth got the jump, as junior Brendan Dioli scored with 10:59 to play in the first half.
And that proved to be the Clippers' highwater mark, as they wouldn't tickle the twine again until the fourth quarter.
While the Capers' defense was holding Yarmouth at bay, it took the offense a long time to get going, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
After Dioli's goal, junior standout Griffin Thoreck had a pair of good looks, but shot high. Junior Noah Haversat then had a bid, but Clippers junior goalie Connor Hoehle hinted at a big day to come by making a save.
Yarmouth transitioned back to offense and threatened to double its lead, but senior Isaak Dearden shot wide, Watson was just wide and Dearden just missed the mark again.
After Cape Elizabeth senior Caelan Houle was sent to the sidelines for 30 seconds for a pushing transgression, the Clippers couldn't capitalize on the man-up, as senior Thomas Lord shot just high, a Watson shot was denied by Capers sophomore goalie Alex Narvaez, Dioli shot wide and Watson did the same.
"Their defense is obviously very good, but we could have converted on some chances we didn't and it could have been a different game,' Watson lamented.
"We've been trying to get offensive looks all season," Pearl said. "Today wasn't for a lack of offensive looks. It's a game of inches and we had our chances."
Then, with 2:02 to go in the first, Cape Elizabeth drew even, when freshman Owen Thoreck scored unassisted.
After Yarmouth junior Joe Oliva hit the post, Capers senior defender Trevor Gale raced into the offensive end before shooting just wide and Griffin Thoreck shot wide to keep the score 1-1 after 12 minutes.
The Capers then got some separation in the second period.
First, the Clippers went back on the man-up, but a shot from senior Brady Neujahr was saved by Narvaez.
After Cape Elizabeth senior captain Danny Brett was robbed on the doorstep by Hoehle, Griffin Thoreck had a shot saved, but with 8:01 to go before halftime, Thoreck got another chance and after turning the corner on a defender, buried his shot to make it 2-1.
After Hoehle denied bids from junior Ben Shea and Griffin Thoreck, Thoreck scored another unassisted goal with 4:20 remaining for a 3-1 lead.
"I think their defensemen did a good job getting out on my hands," Thoreck said. "I had to bury the chances I had when I got separation. I get a lot of shots, but all that matters are the ones I can finish."
"We've had a couple games this year where we fell behind early, but once guys get in their rhythm, they'll start scoring," Brett said. "Once Griffin started scoring, I knew we'd take charge and keep going."
A little over a minute later, Haversat scored unassisted and the Capers suddenly had some breathing room, 4-1.
Late in the half, Watson tried to rally Yarmouth, but he shot wide, then had a shot blocked.
Then, in the waning seconds, Griffin Thoreck almost extended Cape Elizabeth's lead, but twice Hoehle made saves (his sixth and seventh of the half) to keep the score 4-1 at halftime.
While the Capers enjoyed a 27-14 shots advantage in the first half (11-5 on frame), inaccuracy and Hoehle's strong play kept the game within reach for the Clippers, even tough they went the final 22:59 of the half without scoring.
Yarmouth's frustration would continue in the third period, but Cape Elizabeth couldn't muster enough offense of its own to put it away.
After Hoehle turned back shots from Griffin Thoreck, Haversat and Owen Thoreck, Haversat took a slashing penalty, but the Clippers only managed one shot man-up and Watson's bid was saved by Narvaez.
Then, with 7:45 remaining in the third, still playing man-down, the Capers got a huge break, when Brett got the ball, raced into the offensive zone and he refused to be denied, rushing all the way in before shooting past Hoehle to make it 5-1 with a pivotal man-down tally.
"My coach was yelling, 'No, no, no,' but I saw the lane and just took it," Brett said. "Their defensemen know I'm not normally a goal scorer, so they stayed on Ben and I just was able to put it in the back of the net. There's no better feeling than scoring in a state game. Especially man down. We've saved some plays for the playoffs, especially shutting off the other team's key player man-down. If you lock off the other team's playmaker, it really hinders their man-up."
"Danny scored short-handed and we were sitting on the sidelines saying, 'Oh no, just touch it in,' but he split the double team and went right to the cage," Raymond said. "That was great."
Cape Elizabeth hoped to add to its lead, but junior Andrew Kelly hit the post and Shea had a shot saved.
Yarmouth had chances as well, but Watson, Oliva and Neujahr were all off the mark and as time wound down, Narvaez made a save on an Oliva shot.
The fourth period was a formality, but the Clippers played hard until the end.
With 9:50 to play, the Capers scored their final goal, as an unexpected source got in on the fun.
Junior Jack Drinan backed his way in on a defender, then got just enough room to turn and shoot past Hoehle to make it 6-1.
"Jack had a great goal late," said Raymond. "He's another guy you don't expect to run the offense. He's a dodger and a big, strong kid and he found the goal."
With 7:40 left in the game, Yarmouth finally got off the schneid, as Dearden set up Watson to end a 39:19 drought, cutting the deficit to 6-2.
After going man-up, Oliva finished a feed from Watson for the final goal of the game.
At 2:27 p.m., after a 92-minute duel, Cape Elizabeth had itself another state title, in perfect fashion, 6-3.
"It's a gratifying win," Griffin Thoreck said. "It's great to go 15-0 and win a state championship. I'm excited for all the guys. It is a little surprising. We battled adversity going into the season, but we proved that Cape lacrosse can be just as good as any other year. I'm proud. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to do it with."
"It's an unexplainable feeling," Brett said. "We came in this year with a big chip on our shoulder after hearing we couldn't win a title after losing so many guys. To go undefeated and win it all, it's been fantastic. To have it be my senior year, it just adds to it. We knew if we go undefeated, then lose in the state final, the season doesn't mean anything. Coach did a great job telling us that just because we beat Falmouth, it didn't mean anything coming into this game. We wanted to come out hot and not have to come back."
"It feels really, really good," Gale said. "If you don't win as a senior, you go out on a bad note. When you're a more important figure on the team and have to put in extra work and help younger guys, it makes it means more to you. It's hard to top last year, but we managed to go undefeated and do it. It's great to go undefeated and win states any year, but it's nice that we can continue the tradition of Cape lacrosse being the best."
While the Capers had their lowest offensive output of the season, it scored enough. Griffin Thoreck was the only multiple scorer, with two, while Brett, Drinan, Haversat and Owen Thoreck each had one goal.
Narvaez made five saves.
"Narv is great," Griffin Thoreck said. "Just a great person to be around. He's a good leader. Someone you can build a team around. He really stepped up to the plate and handled pressure well. He's very talented."
Cape Elizabeth had a 7-6 edge on faceoffs, as senior James Monroe-Chausse capped a strong season in the circle in style.
The Capers finished with 35 ground balls (to 20 for Yarmouth), as Gale and Owen Thoreck led the way with six apiece.
Cape Elizabeth outshot the Clippers, 38-22 (22-8 on cage) and only committed 12 turnovers.
The defense, a serious question mark back in March, closed in splendid fashion.
"At the beginning of the season, a lot of us thought (defense) would be sketchy," Gale said. "We moved (Senior All-American Tom) Feenstra to pole, which was a great move, he's been incredible. (Junior) Noah Wolfinger really stepped up this year. He's an amazing athlete. He shut off their best player today and shut off Falmouth's best player the other night. Caelan's incredible. He's an enforcer. No one wants to mess with him."
"We made some adjustments," Raymond said. "Noah again was able to shut off Dioli. that was the difference in the game. The man-down defense was great."
A proud effort
Yarmouth wasn't given much of a chance by many "experts" heading into the state game, but comported itself well, hanging tough with a powerhouse team throughout.
"We dug ourselves a hole with uncharacteristic turnovers," Watson said. "We came back at the end, but congratulations to Cape on a great year. It was a good game. We did accomplish a lot."
"I'm more proud of this team than any team I've coached," Pearl said. "I'm so proud that we've gotten better every day. We came together at the right time. We've been wearing the blue (road) uniforms for a long time now. The senior leadership was terrific and the underclassmen stepped up. This team grew and matured and leaned on each other. I'm very happy. We accomplished a lot. We won the sportsmanship award and that doesn't just happen. We talk about the measure of a man is how he deals with adversity. Winning is easy. We've lost some close games this year. The way the guys bounced back and their resiliency is what makes me proud."
Dioli, Oliva and Watson all had one goal, while Dearden and Watson added assists. Conrad had a team-high six ground balls and Hoehle dazzled with 16 saves.
"He was great on the ground," Griffin Thoreck said. "He made a lot of kick saves. It could have been a bigger gap, but he kept them in it."
"Connor's been great all year," Watson asid. "Kudos to him. He stood in there for us and made a lot of saves."
"Connor played an unbelievable game," Pearl added.
Yarmouth's defense was terrific as well.
"Every time you play Cape, you have to be careful on defense because they have weapons," Watson said. "For the majority of the year, our defense has been our rock. They've stopped countless skilled players. Today, they played great."
"We played great defense this year," said Pearl. "I'm proud of holding them to six goals when you look at time of offensive possession. They had four and five opportunities to score."
The Clippers committed 17 turnovers, a respectable number in a big game.
Yarmouth loses captains Lord, Neujahr, Watson and Matt Woodbury, along with six other seniors.
"We're fortunate to live in a town where you can be a multi-sport athlete," Pearl said. "I'm very proud of Brady and Thomas and Max and Matt Woodbury. The senior leaders showed incredible guts today."
Plenty of talent will be back next spring, so the Clippers have to be viewed as the Eastern B favorites again heading into 2015.
"It's a bittersweet ending, but the guys are pumped up and I'm sure the underclassmen can get back here next year," Watson said.
"We'll be here next year and I hope we get another crack at Cape Elizabeth," Pearl said. "I know they're a very young team. They're a classy program. We've seen them a lot of times (at states). I'd like to make this a habit."
Cape Elizabeth last won three consecutive championships when it was in the midst of its 11 in a row between 1990 and 2000.
While some key seniors depart, the Capers will have a great team in 2015 and will be the favorite from day one.
"We're only losing the D poles," Gale said. "We pulled it together this year. We have great coaches who know what they're doing and a lot of great athletes who can fill those holes."
"I'm looking forward to next year," said Griffin Thoreck. "On offense, we'll be great. We'll have some holes to fill on defense, but we'll have Narvaez again."
"We have a lot of kids coming back and that's what's most enjoyable," Raymond said. "Our defense is mostly seniors, who were great leaders all year long. Next year, we have a lot of great kids and we're excited to have some new freshmen as well."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous game stories
Western B Final
Cape Elizabeth 11 Falmouth 8
Previous state games
Cape Elizabeth 9 Yarmouth 8 (OT)
Cape Elizabeth 15 Brunswick 7
NYA 13 Cape Elizabeth 10
Cape Elizabeth 10 NYA 8
Cape Elizabeth 11 Waynflete 3
Cape Elizabeth 16 NYA 9
Cape Elizabeth 16 Mt. Blue 9
Cape Elizabeth 11 Yarmouth 10 (OT)
Cape Elizabeth 20 Back Bay 15
Cape Elizabeth 16 Hyde 9
Cape Elizabeth 13 NYA 7
Cape Elizabeth 9 NYA 6
Cape Elizabeth 8 NYA 6
Cape Elizabeth 11 Hebron 7
Hyde 11 Cape Elizabeth 10
NYA 9 Cape Elizabeth 8
Cape Elizabeth 9 Yarmouth 8 (OT)
Cape Elizabeth 11 Yarmouth 10 (OT)