YARMOUTH—The up-and-coming Falmouth girls’ lacrosse team proved it was legitimate Tuesday afternoon, but the Yachtsmen didn’t quite have enough to earn what would have been the biggest victory in program history.
Falmouth held the lead much of way before host North Yarmouth Academy, coming off a big victory over Waynflete, closed the game on a 6-2 run to survive, 13-10, improving to 3-1, while dropping the Yachtsmen to 3-1 in the process.
The explosive Panthers got a combined 10 goals from senior Courtney Dumont, junior Lily Wellenbach and sophomore Kathryn Millett and won the final six draws of the contest with the game in the balance.
“(Falmouth’s) very tough,” said NYA coach Julia Sterling. “They’re one of the best teams we’ve played. I’m not surprised. They’ve got several very good girls.”
New power on the block
Class B girls’ lacrosse has long been the domain of NYA, Yarmouth and Waynflete, but Falmouth feels it’s ready to join the club this spring and knows it needs a victory over one of the traditional powers to erase all doubt that it belongs. The Yachtsmen entered Tuesday’s game having won their first three games for the first time ever, downing Wells (17-7), Cape Elizabeth (11-8, in overtime) and Fryeburg (24-3).
The Panthers, meanwhile, opened with an 11-4 win at Freeport, lost, 12-8, at Yarmouth, then avenged losses in the past two state games with a 7-6 home victory over Waynflete Friday.
Since Robin Haley took over the Falmouth program in 2003, the Yachtsmen had lost all five meetings with NYA, but have closed the gap. In 2003 and 2004, Falmouth didn’t score a goal against the Panthers, losing by a combined 34-0 margin. The closest the Yachtsmen came was a 10-8 loss in 2006. Last year, NYA won, 15-10.
This one would be close throughout and Falmouth had ample opportunities to make history.
The teams traded goals early on as the Yachtsmen dominated in the draw circle, but turned the ball over too much to build a healthy lead.
Just 1 minute, 14 seconds in, Millett scored unassisted to give the Panthers a quick 1-0 advantage. Thirty-seconds later, Falmouth drew even when promising freshman Alex Bernier fed junior standout Laura Fay for a goal.
With 21:44 left in the 25-minute first half, Bernier converted a free position for the Yachtsmen’s first lead, but with 18:16 to go, seconds after Wellenbach hit the post, Millett set up sophomore Kylie Dalbec for a goal which made it 2-2. Ten seconds after that, after winning the draw, Wellenbach raced in and set up Dumont for a strike and a 3-2 advantage.
Falmouth tied the game with 15:48 remaining in the half when Fay raced into the offense zone and passed to Bernier, who set up senior Emma Sipperly for a shot which eluded NYA senior goalie Ashley Salerno. Fifty-seven seconds later, Bernier set up junior Jess DiPhillippo for a goal and the Yachtsmen went back on top, 4-3.
Salerno made several stops in the next seven minutes, keeping the Panthers within one. With 7:27 left in the half, Wellenbach tied the game with an unassisted goal, but Falmouth would score three in a row to seemingly take control.
With 6:10 to go, sophomore Megan Fortier assisted senior Jill Alvarez to make it 5-4 Yachtsmen. At the 2:43 mark, Bernier scored unassisted for the first two-goal lead of the game. Seconds after Fortier was stopped by Salerno on a free position, Bernier grabbed the loose ball and passed to DiPhillippo, who scored again to make it 7-4 with 1:40 remaining in the half.
If the half had ended there, the Yachtsmen might have been in great shape. However, befitting its status as a seasoned contender, NYA turned momentum back in its direction with two goals in 39 seconds.
First, Millett scored on a free position. Then, with just 6.3 seconds left, Dumont set up Wellenbach for a shot that Falmouth junior goalie Jen Greene caught, but couldn’t hold on to. The ball dropped into the cage and the Panthers (despite winning just four of 14 draws and turning the ball over 14 times in the first 25 minutes) were within one, 7-6.
“Those were big goals for us,” Millett said. “We wanted something to go into the half with to feel good about.”
“It changed the tide,” Haley said. “We were a little nervous when we were three goals up. We’re still struggling with the believability piece. They’re starting to believe it. It’s a work in progress for us.”
Heading into the second half, NYA’s focus was on the little things.
“At halftime, (senior defensive standout) Hayley Bright said we had to beat them to the ball,” Sterling said. “It basically came down to who was going to win the draw and who was going to get the ball off the ground.”
The Panthers tied the game at 7-7 when Wellenbach assisted sophomore Katie Cawley for a goal with 23:18 left in regulation. Falmouth answered at the 20:35 mark and took its final lead when Fay set up Bernier for a score, but with 18 minutes to go, Dumont scored on a free position and 48 seconds later, Wellenbach did the same, giving the hosts a 9-8 advantage, their first since 3-2.
The Yachtsmen didn’t buckle, however, tying the game on a DiPhillippo free position with 15:02 to play, but with just under 14 minutes remaining, NYA scored back-to-back goals (Dalbec from Wellenbach and Millett, unassisted) to take the lead for good.
Falmouth had ample opportunities to rally, but Fay was stopped on a free position and Salerno came up big on two successive shots to keep it an 11-9 contest.
“Our goalie’s amazing,” said Millett. “We’re so lucky to have her. She’s such a dedicated player.”
“(Ashley) played outstanding,” Sterling added. “When she made those three saves in a row, I knew we’d win.”
The Panthers got some breathing room with 7:15 left when Dumont scored an unassisted goal, but three minutes later, Bernier scored unassisted and it was a two-goal game (12-10) once again.
If the Yachtsmen had been able to get the ball back they might have made things very interesting, but they wouldn’t possess it again. First, Wellenbach won the draw (NYA’s sixth in a row), then the Panthers showed their poise and experience by passing the ball flawlessly and running around, milking the clock until Wellenbach raced in and fired home a cosmetic goal as time expired, accounting for the 13-10 final score.
“We knew Falmouth would be good, but beating Waynflete gave us confidence,” Millett said. “We expected Falmouth to be an athletic team. We know how much they wanted it, but we want to be known as a strong team. We played our hardest. We’re just now connecting. We love playing together. It’s a good group. We’re excited.”
“I don’t think we played that well in the first half,” Sterling added. “They beat us to the ball, but we took matter into our hands in the second half and were able to execute and put the ball in when it was necessary. I think they got a little tired and I think we picked up.”
Wellenbach’s buzzer-beater gave her a team-high four goals. She added three assists. Dumont and Millett both finished with three goals and one assist. Dalbec scored twice, while Cawley added one goal. Salerno saved 11 shots. NYA had a 47-40 edge in ground balls. Millett and Wellenbach grabbed eight apiece, while Bright finished with seven.
Falmouth was led by four goals and four assists by Bernier. DiPhillippo finished with three goals, while Alvarez, Fay and Sipperly each had one. Fay and Fortier added assists. Greene made four saves. Alvarez and senior Sarah Girouard led the Yachtsmen in ground balls with six. Falmouth finished with a 13-11 edge in draws, but that was skewed by its early success. The Yachtsmen had 24 turnovers, while forcing 22. Both teams finished with 24 shots.
“I’m really pleased with the way we played,” Haley said. “I’m disappointed for the girls that we lost. Every team wants to win, but we wanted to keep it close and that’s certainly what we did today. We’re getting it together and this just proved it.
“We had about seven minutes of lapse between the first and second halves and that cost us. You can’t have that and beat a top team in the state. They identified some of the things we have to work on. We will. It’s a long season. We hope to make it to have an opportunity to play in the playoffs. We’re better now as a result of playing NYA.”
Falmouth plays host to Massabesic Saturday. Next week, the Yachtsmen get a series of tests as they welcome Greely and Waynflete and go to two-time defending Class A champion Brunswick.
The Panthers go to Greely Thursday, then host Brunswick Saturday morning.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com