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Cheverus field hockey wins epic to stay unbeaten

Sports

Cheverus field hockey wins epic to stay unbeaten

PORTLAND—A special season produced its most magical moment yet Monday afternoon.

In a game that featured postseason intensity and thrills galore, the Cheverus field hockey team stayed undefeated, barely, edging previously unbeaten Gorham 3-2 on sophomore Sarah LaQuerre's breakaway goal with 24 seconds left in overtime.

The Rams had dominated the extra session, but standout goalkeeping from senior Audrey Grinnell kept the Stags alive before LaQuerre broke free and blasted a shot past Gorham senior goalie Emily Southard to end the 75 minute, 36 second passion play.

"It feels really good," said LaQuerre. "This has to be our biggest win. Gorham's an amazing team. We knew if we played our best we could play
at their level. It's a boost."

Ascendence

Cheverus had a couple things working against it Monday.

The Stags had never before beaten Gorham (going 0-4-1 in the previous five meetings, including a quarterfinal round playoff match in 2007, getting outscored 15-4 in the process). Last year's final was 3-1.

A year ago, Cheverus went to overtime on three occasions and dropped all three games. Overall, the Stags had lost four straight in overtime.

What the Stags did have in their favor was a lot of talent and plenty of confidence thanks to a 9-0 start.

Gorham, meanwhile, was also 9-0, meaning something had to give.

It took most of the afternoon for that to happen.

The fun began in the first minute. Just 58 seconds in, Cheverus junior Emily Sawchuck centered a pass that LaQuerre hammered past Southard to the lower right corner of the cage for a 1-0 lead.

If the Stags thought they were going to cruise, they had another thing coming as the Rams began to control play.

With 22 minutes to go in the first half, Gorham junior Chelsea Black's high shot off a cross was batted away by Grinnell's glove. With 9:08 left in the first, the Rams appeared to draw even, but senior Kathryn Whitehead's shot was ruled dangerous and the goal was waved off.

With 3:37 remaining before halftime, the hosts doubled their lead when on a penalty corner, senior Alyssa Audet set up classmate Maggie Grindatti for a rocket that rattled home to make it 2-0.

But before the Stags could take that lead into the half, Gorham answered in the final minute when on a penalty corner (their ninth), the Rams had senior Kayleigh Ballantyne set the ball for senior Hannah Prince, who beat Grinnell with a hard shot.

After 30 minutes, Cheverus led, 2-1.

Play was more even in the second half.

The Rams tied the contest with 22:13 to go when Ballantyne set up Prince for a similar goal off a corner.

Both teams had chances down the stretch, but couldn't convert. With 8:42 to play, Prince's shot on a corner was kicked aside by Grinnell. With 7:25 left, a long shot off the stick of Gorham junior Alyssa Clark was saved. Less than a minute later, at the other end, Cheverus senior Julie Smith was denied point blank by Southard, leading to a penalty corner. On the corner, Grindatti had a shot, but it was saved and it was on to overtime.

In high school field hockey, teams play two eight-minute "sudden victory" sessions. In the second minute, the hosts had a great chance to end it, but on a breakaway, LaQuerre was stymied by Southard.

In the second OT session, the Rams peppered Grinnell, but she stood tall time and again.

Just 23 seconds in, Ballantyne had a shot that was saved. Whitehead got to the rebound, but couldn't get her stick on the ball. With 4:13 left, Prince's blast was kicked aside by Grinnell. Thirty-five seconds later, it was Ballantyne's turn again, but her shot was turned aside. With 3:07 to go, Prince had a shot that was saved. Then, with 1:35 left, Prince's blast on a corner was denied.

"This is my first year of field hockey so I was really nervous," said Grinnell. "The two
goals they did score came on drives, so those corners were stressful. I just tried to do everything I can. The two
that went in went right by me. I just tried to keep my focus."

"Audrey made some big saves," added Cheverus coach Amy McMullin. "For a first-year goalie, it's incredible."

The end came with 24 seconds to go when LaQuerre took a long pass from Audet and maneuvered around a defender who fell down. That left LaQuerre to race in alone on Southard and this time the sophomore wasn't about to let the goalie get the better of her, ripping a shot into the cage to give Cheverus the stirring 3-2 victory.

"I was nervous, but I knew my team backed me up and was cheering me
on," LaQuerre said. "I couldn't see the net and all I could see was the post on the top
so I was aiming for the corner."

The Stags and their cheering section then poured on to the field to celebrate the landmark victory.

"It was so exciting," Grinnell said. "We managed to pull it out. We'll take this and
build on it. It's our biggest win. We have a lot of heart and fight in
us. We're working to be the best."

"It's the first time we beat Gorham," McMullin added. "We stayed strong. We had some girls step up. Sarah played a great game. It's a huge win. It was intense. Gorham played great. Their goalie made some big saves. It's exciting to see we can finally win an overtime game. It's completely different from just another game. We've made so many strides."

Cheverus (first in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) hosts McAuley Friday, goes to Marshwood Saturday and Portland next Tuesday, then finally gets to host defending regional champion and juggernaut Scarborough in a much anticipated regular season finale Oct. 8.

"We had two teams we've never beaten and we knocked down one," McMullin said. "We have Scarborough to go. People see we can hang with the big teams and beat them."

"We have keep working hard," LaQuerre added. "We don't want any letdowns like last year. We hope to go further this year."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net