Clippers win Class B again!; Yarmouth makes it four titles in seven years with 5-0 win over Ellsworth
FALMOUTH—The 2010 Yarmouth boys' soccer team was simply perfect.
Make that the 2010 Class B state champion Yarmouth boys' soccer team, which capped arguably the finest season in the program's storied history Saturday morning with an emphatic 5-0 victory over Ellsworth in the state final at Falmouth High School.
The Clippers saved their finest hour for last, scoring three times in the first half and twice more in the second, dominating for 80 minutes as they finished 17-0-1, winning their fourth state title in seven years, ironically, on the field of their fiercest rival.
Showing its balance, Yarmouth got goals from four different players (seniors Campbell Belisle-Haley and Luke Pierce and juniors Eamon Costello and Sam Torres), smothered Ellsworth's attack with its midfield and defense and cruised to a championship celebration.
"I couldn't be more proud of a team," said Clippers coach Mike Hagerty, who won his fifth championship in 14 years in Yarmouth. "They're a tremendous group of individuals. Just an unselfish, hard working group. We got stronger as the game went on and put them on their heels."
Yarmouth has one of the state's most storied traditions, winning state titles as far back as 1973 (the only other previous time the Clippers went through a season without a loss), but this is unquestionably the program's Golden Age as Hagerty and assistants, Dale Wing, Jim Merrill, Joe Burdick, Doug Hoehle and Jon Vigue have created a powerhouse year after year.
The Clippers, winners of a Class C crown in 1982 (2-1 over Piscataquis), co-Class B champs with Ellsworth in 1989 and outright Class B champions in 1997 (2-1 over MCI), won Class B in 2004, 2005 (3-0 against Presque Isle) and again two years ago (1-0 over Presque Isle, on Matt Morrill's late goal).
This fall, Yarmouth got off to a hot start by virtue of its first-ever home turf win over rival Falmouth, the defending champion, then rolled through a brutal slate, winning 13 of 14 contests. The lone blemish was a 1-1 tie at Cape Elizabeth, which could have wound up the win column as well, but that one ended when the lights went out unexpectedly.
The Clippers earned the top seed in Western B and held off No. 8 Oak Hill, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, edged No. 4 York, 1-0, in the semis (on a late Pierce goal), then outlasted Falmouth in an instant classic regional final Wednesday, 1-0, on senior Cotter Jackson's overtime tally.
Ellsworth, coached by the legendary Brian Higgins, won all 14 regular season games and downed No. 9 Hermon, No. 5 Old Town and No. 2 Camden Hills to win its 16th regional championship. The Eagles have captured three outright Class B titles (1985, 1988 and 1993), tying Yarmouth in 1989.
That, of course, suggests that the teams had a history prior to Saturday.
In 1989, they played to a 2-2 tie in the state game. In 2004, the Clippers got a late goal from Justin Morrill and beat the Eagles, 1-0, in the final.
Ellsworth made it to the state game a year ago, but lost to Falmouth, 3-0.
Saturday, the Eagles fell short again as Yarmouth put an ideal punctuation mark on its spectacular season.
The tone was set in the third minute when the Clippers, not showing a hint of nerves, came close to scoring when Torres (who was bequeathed the same shirt that each Morrill brother wore when they played state game hero) crossed to junior Ryan Maguire, who shot just wide.
At the 10 minute mark, Pierce crossed to Torres and the junior sent a shot just off the mark.
Yarmouth would get the only goal it needed with 26:30 to play in the 40-minute first half.
Off a corner kick (and no team in the state is as deadly on set pieces as this one), Maguire floated a perfect ball right in front of the goal where Belisle-Haley soared and headed it past Eagles' senior goalkeeper Jordan Carter, who was knocked out of the play.
"All season, it's been Luke, who's an amazing player, crashing back post and me going to the middle of the goal," said Belisle-Haley. "I was right where I needed to be that time and it was a one-yard header."
"Credit to Campbell," Pierce said. "Getting the first goal was huge."
While Yarmouth would soon break the game open, Ellsworth did have a golden opportunity to draw even midway through the half when senior Andrew Austin's throw-in from the side landed and sat dangerously in front of the goal for a split second before Pierce calmly kicked it away.
The Clippers then turned up their attack, but were initially frustrated as Maguire shot just high with his left foot after a Torres cross, then Maguire's shot forced Carter to make a sprawling save.
With 8:49 left before halftime, Pierce's free kick was bobbled by the goalie. The ball came out to Torres who had an open net, but his shot hit the post and the game remained 1-0.
"Luke took a quick shot, I followed it in, but couldn't get it in," said Torres. "It's happened to me a few times. I didn't want to think about it too much and let it go. I kept playing. That's the most important thing, to work hard. That's what we've done all season."
A lesser team might have hung its head and lost momentum, but the Clippers kept working and were rewarded by scoring an improbable two goals in 37 seconds.
With 3:56 left before halftime, Belisle-Haley fired a blast at Carter, who again bobbled the shot and this time, it cost the Eagles as Costello raced in and fired it home for a 2-0 lead.
It was Costello's first goal of the season.
"Eamon's first goal of the year came in the state game," said Pierce. "Perfect timing."
"Campbell got the ball and we made eye connection," Costello said. "He put it on goal and I followed. The ball is wet and we had to take chances. Our depth is amazing. We have so many guys coming off the bench. There's no doubt that everyone can get it done."
"The first one was beautiful, but the second one opened things up for us," Hagerty added. "(Sam hitting the post) could have been a downer, but the kids, as they have all year, responded the right way."
If that wasn't enough, Yarmouth assumed total control with 3:19 remaining when Belisle-Haley passed to Maguire, whose shot led to another rebound that Pierce easily steered home to make it 3-0 at the break.
"Ryan had a nice cross and the goalie rebounded it right to me," Pierce said.
"We knew we needed to play with our feet," said Torres. "We knew Ellsworth would be a tough team and we needed to play it wide. We got the job done. We just followed the shots. We knew the ground was wet. That was key for us."
"We rested up this week and were giving all our energy in the games," said Belisle-Haley. "We focused on what we needed to do tactically. That made a difference. We were high energy today. We emphasized that we couldn't let up on intensity or energy. We really put our foot on the gas pedal to get those couple goals."
While the Clippers had a commanding lead at halftime (and their fans reveled in the lead and got fired up even further thanks to the cheerleading of Wing during the break), they weren't about to let up.
Just 38 seconds in to the second half, Torres' high shot was saved by Carter. Five minutes later, junior Josh Britten's cross intended for Torres was punched away by the goalie. With 32:04 to play, Belisle-Haley bulled his way past a defender and shot high. Two minutes later, Maguire made a series of pretty moves to elude three defenders before his shot resulted in a fingertip save by Carter.
Then, as it had in the first half, Yarmouth was rewarded with back-to back goals.
With 29:28 to play, Pierce scored his 18th goal of the season (leaving him one shy of the program record shared by former standouts Greg Abbot and Eoin Lynch) and the final goal of his Clippers' career in fitting fashion, with his head. Off a corner, Jackson fed the ball toward the goal and Pierce had no trouble finishing it off to make it 4-0.
"We maintained that 0-0 mentality the rest of the game," said Pierce. "We made sure Cotter went back post. It was perfect. He put it right where my run went. It was simple. I put it in."
Less than three minutes later, with 26:57 left to play, Torres earned a measure of vindication by heading in a pass from Belisle-Haley to make it 5-0, erasing the memory of his close call in the first half.
"It was nice to get that goal," said Torres. "Campbell came down here and played a perfect ball right to my head. It felt great."
From there, Yarmouth protected its lead before Hagerty began substituting liberally, getting every active player on the roster into the game. The clock wound down and the Clippers were state champions once again.
"It feels incredible," Belisle-Haley said. "It's the greatest feeling in the world. I'm so proud of these guys. We worked so hard all season long. We weren't quite sure coming into the season. To not lose a game is more than I ever could have asked for. I love these guys. They're my brothers. I don't have brothers. We've bonded as a unit and I think that was the difference this year."
"It was such a great team win," said Pierce. "I'm so proud of everybody. At the end of the game, having all the seniors out there, I'll keep that with me for the rest of my life. I'm so happy for everybody. Things couldn't have gone any better."
"We didn't expect to score five," Hagerty added. "We knew Ellsworth was a stingy defense. They had a dozen shutouts and a very athletic, good goalie. We knew it would be tough to score. We knew (Ellsworth) wouldn't quit. Led by Campbell today, who I think had one of his best games, and (senior back and free kick specialist) Kyle Groves, we weren't going to bend. I thought the effort was just tremendous for 80 minutes. Everybody got in. When the freshmen got in, we still played well."
Pride of three continents
Two of the happiest Clippers Saturday were freshman Chandler Smith, who recently moved to Yarmouth from Australia, and junior Spanish exchange student Pau Carnero Melero, a midfielder who brought his unique zest to the pitch, winning over the hearts of the fans (especially the females, who always shrieked loudest when the ball was in on his foot) with his play.
"I didn't come here to be a runner-up," said Melero, who frequently brandished a Spanish flag during the postseason. "We have a great team. It's the best team in the state. We're teammates and friends. I thought on the plane (coming to America) that we wouldn't even make the playoffs. The first day, everyone was so understanding with me and so friendly and made my life easier. This is my family. I'll never forget this year."
Either will anyone else in Clippers Nation.
"We were really unified and cohesive as a team,' Pierce said. "Everyone played for each other. We have four freshmen on varsity. It's sad that it's over, but if there's a way to end it, this is it. The coaching was unbelievable. It's been the best four years of my life."
"We didn't think we'd have this good a team, to be honest," said Torres.
"We didn't expect this," added Hagerty, who was given a celebratory ice water bath after the win. "We hoped for the top four. The difference has been their work ethic, every day, every practice. That's attributable to our captains. Three of the best captains we've ever had. Campbell, Luke and Kyle. They work every day. They don't want days off. The three of them down the middle were hard and physical all year. As much as you'd like to think a team is a reflection of their coaches, this team was a reflection of the captains."
Yarmouth's eight seniors will be missed, but anyone expecting the Clippers to come back to the pack in 2011 will be disappointed. With the likes of current juniors Britten, Costello, Maguire, Torres and goalkeeper Chris Knaub leading the charge and the freshmen seeking more playing time, Yarmouth figures to be a championship contender anew.
"Next year will be a great year," Costello said. "We have a lot of people coming back."
"We'll be ready to go next season," said Torres. "We'll have good leadership. Chris Knaub's coming back. He's a great goalie. We have great defense. We'll work hard in the midfield. We have a bunch of other young players coming in strong too."
"We have a really good group coming back," Hagerty said. "I have to figure out a way to get Pau married, maybe to coach Wing's daughter and get him to stay! We have a terrific freshman class who will be ready and hungry, especially after seeing this. It was a great ending. I'm very happy."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com