(For the full version of this game story, with additional photos and a box score, visit theforecaster.net)
YARMOUTH — For three seasons, the North Yarmouth Academy Panthers had an answer for crosstown rival Yarmouth in the Eastern B Final.
In this spring’s regional final, the defending Class B champion Panthers almost ruined the Clippers’ season again.
Last Wednesday, NYA took an early 3-0 lead, but lost momentum after a turnover just before halftime. Yarmouth rallied to take the lead, 4-3 and 5-4, but each time, the Panthers tied the score. Then, with just under two minutes to go, the Clippers went ahead to stay and NYA couldn’t answer as it went down to a 6-5 defeat.
“It was absolutely awesome,” said NYA coach Julia Sterling. “I’m so proud of them. I knew 3-1 going to the second half, (Yarmouth would) resettle and we had to stay up. We were the underdog, but we gave them the best competition.”
Yarmouth went on to beat Waynflete in an instant classic state final, 9-8 (see story).
Over the past decade, the Clippers held an 11-6 advantage over the Panthers in the regular season, but in the playoffs, NYA held sway, winning five of the prior seven meetings dating to 2004.
Last spring, the Clippers won the two regular season meetings, but in the regional final, the Panthers shut Yarmouth out in the second half and advanced, 9-5.
This season, the Clippers were the favorite and they dominated, winning 12 of 13 games coming in.
NYA, meanwhile, knew a repeat would be difficult after some key graduation losses and the Panthers dropped eight of 12 regular season contests, the final three after seven key players were suspended for a school code violation. NYA beat Gardiner in the semifinals, then gave Yarmouth all it could handle in the regional final.
NYA went up just 1 minute, 51 seconds into the 25-minute first half when sophomore Molly Strabley scored unassisted. Then, the Clippers had chances to draw even, but Panthes senior goalie Frances Leslie stood tall to retain the lead.
Finally, with 7:56 left in the half, NYA senior standout Lilly Wellenbach scored for a 2-0 lead. With 2:05 to go, junior Katie Cawley beat Clippers senior goalie Stephanie Moulton (on a pass from Wellenbach) for a 3-0 advantage.
The Clippers were on the ropes and when senior Devin Simsarian was denied by Leslie on a free position with 27.5 seconds to go, it appeared as if Yarmouth would be shut out for the second straight regional final half.
But then, the Clippers pounced on a mistake and turned the tide.
Leslie’s ensuing clear went awry and Yarmouth senior Danielle Torres took advantage. She raced in on goal and beat the helpless Leslie to score and give Yarmouth life with just 15.9 seconds left on the first half clock.
After scoring its first regional final goal in 51 minutes, 41 seconds, the sleeping giant had been awakened and would be a much different team in the second half.
Senior Becca Bell won the opening draw, fed Torres and Torres found senior Natalie Salmon, who beat Leslie just 13 seconds into the new half to make it a 3-2 game.
With 20:10 to go in regulation, Simsarian gained possession, broke free on Leslie and scored to deadlock the game, 3-3.
Yarmouth kept the pressure on and went ahead for the first time when sophomore Olivia Conrad scored on a rebound with 16:48 left to make it 4-3 Clippers.
NYA tied the score at 4-4 with 14:51 to play as Wellenbach cut through several defenders and beat a helpless Moulton.
With 7:26 left, senior Lindsey Purpura scored on a free position and the Clippers had a 5-4 advantage.
It didn’t last as Wellenbach beat Moulton on a free position shot with 5:57 remaining and NYA had pulled even, 5-5.
After an NYA turnover, Yarmouth set up and Purpura was in the right place at the right time, corralling a rebound of a missed shot before finishing to put the Clippers up, 6-5, with just 1:43 to go.
There was still plenty of time left for the Panthers to rally, but Bell won the draw. Yarmouth was able to run the clock down to 35.8 seconds before turning the ball over. On the dead ball situation, Wellenbach took possession and all on hand knew she was primed to race down the field and tie the score, but she never got there.
The Clippers forced a turnover and Purpura was there to grab the loose ball. Yarmouth then ran out the remaining seconds and advanced, 6-5.
Five different Clippers scored as Purpura had two goals, Conrad, Salmon, Simsarian and Torres one. Torres had Yarmouth’s lone assist on the day. Bell had a team-high six ground balls. Moulton made five saves.
For NYA, Wellenbach closed her standout career with three goals and an assist. Cawley and Strabley also tickled the twine. Junior Megan Fortier, who was all over the field from the get-go, had a game-high nine ground balls. Leslie sparkled with 14 saves.
“Frances was the best player on the field,” Sterling said. “She really wanted it. We shot tennis balls at her for a half-hour before we came to the field here. It’s all eye-hand.”
The Panthers wound up a misleading 5-9, but certainly gave Yarmouth a mighty scare.
“It was a great statement today,” Sterling said. “We had nothing to lose. There were ups and downs and obstacles. We’re ranging from freshmen to sophomores to a couple juniors and some excellent seniors to a goalie who hasn’t played before. It was a long, hard season weather-wise. We also had the weariness of the ups and downs of the team and the different ages. Really inexperienced kids popped into places we never thought they would in the tournament.”
NYA senior goalie Frances Leslie prepares to rob Yarmouth senior Becca Bell for one of her 14 saves in last week’s regional final. Leslie kept the Panthers in the game the whole way, but the defending champs were dethroned by the new top team in Class B, 6-5.