PORTLAND—One of these days, Cheverus’ field hockey team is going to win a game in 60 minutes.
But in the waning days of a memorable season, the Stags are bound and determined to take their followers on a roller coaster ride from the brink of defeat to exhilarating victory after exhilarating playoff victory.
Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field, in a fantastic Class A South semifinal round playoff game between two even teams, top-ranked Cheverus and No. 4 Sanford needed all 60 minutes of regulation, 16 more minutes of overtime and five rounds of penalty corners to finally determine which team would earn the right to play for a regional championship.
The Stags came out hungry, grabbing a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in when freshman sensation Sophia Pompeo set up senior Becca Archer for a goal off a penalty corner.
Cheverus tried to preserve that lead, but with 15:59 left in regulation, the Spartans drew even as senior Allison L’Heureux scored off a corner to tie the score, 1-1.
Neither team could win it in regulation and after Stags sophomore goalie Kat Kane and Sanford sophomore goalie Amber Singleton both came up big in overtime, the teams had to go to corners to determine a winner.
Cheverus, which beat Westbrook on corners just four days prior, stood tall again as first Kane made a highlight reel save and then, in the fifth round, Tuesday’s hero, senior Colleen Slattery, set up Archer for the long-awaited goal.
The Spartans had a chance to answer, but the Stags’ defense stood tall and senior Abby Ford’s clear unleashed a celebration two hours in the making as Cheverus survived and advanced, 2-1.
The Stags improved to 14-2, set up a regional showdown with No. 3 Thornton Academy (14-2) Tuesday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland at a time to be announced and in the process, ended Sanford’s strong season at 12-3-1.
“It was an all-out battle,” said Cheverus coach Amy Ashley. “I’m so excited to get back to the (regional final). We love being around each other and I think that’s why we do so well. We talked about performing and keeping our heads and we did. It was really special.”
Even though Cheverus earned the top seed for the first time after a strong regular season, the Stags knew nothing would come easily in the playoffs. Cheverus was almost ousted in the quarterfinals Tuesday, but Slattery’s goal on the second penalty corner after 76 minutes failed to produce a winner allowed it to survive, 2-1.
Sanford, which went 11-2-1 in the regular season (losing only to Cheverus and Thornton Academy and tying Marshwood), earned the No. 4 seed and held off fifth-ranked Massabesic, 1-0, in its quarterfinal.
The Stags won the regular season meeting, 1-0, at home Sept. 14 on Slattery’s second half goal. Cheverus won both prior postseason meetings, 2-0 in the 2008 quarterfinals and 3-0 in the 2009 quarterfinals.
Saturday, the Stags did it again, but did so neither quickly or easily.
Cheverus’ first scoring chance resulted in its lone goal in regulation.
After earning a penalty corner, the ball came to Pompeo, who fed Archer, who beat Singleton to make it 1-0 just 4 minutes, 56 seconds in.
The Stags knew the game was far from over and it wasn’t long until the Spartans pushed for the equalizer.
After Cheverus sophomore Hannah Abbott had a rush broken up by Sanford senior Katie Johnson, junior Morgan Champagne had a look in front, but Kane broke it up at the last second.
The Spartans’ first corner featured a shot from senior Elizabeth Helmreich, which Kane saved and a rebound bid was also denied by the goalie.
Sanford got a second corner, but that was broken up by Slattery.
Late in the half, Stags senior Emily Michaud shot just wide after Abbott set her up following a long rush and a scrum in front of the Cheverus goal was cleared by a defender.
“We wanted to come out strong,” Ashley said. “We hadn’t been, so that was our goal. I was hoping for a couple (goals) and we had great chances, but it seems like everything right now is going wide. We have to work on that.”
The Stags had a 1-0 lead at the break, but stats were close to even, as Cheverus had a 3-2 edge in shots and a 2-1 saves advantage, while the Spartans had two corners to the Stags’ one.
Sanford forced the action early in the second half, earning consecutive corners and on the second, senior Makayla Garvin shot wide. Kane then broke up a rush by Champagne.
After Archer shot just wide for the Stags, a blast from Garvin resulted in a Kane pad save which ricocheted just past the far post.
At the other end, Archer took a long pass from Pompeo and eluded a defender, but she couldn’t control the ball in time to fire a shot.
Back came the Spartans and they earned a corner that allowed them to pull even.
L’Heureux did the damage, one-timing home a feed from freshman Bridget Duckworth, and with 15:59 to play, the score was deadlocked, 1-1.
“Protecting that lead was hard,” Kane said. “I’m disappointed in myself that I let that one in.”
“I told the girls at halftime that the game wasn’t going to end 1-0 and we needed to get some (scoring) chances, but they dominated us coming out,” Ashley said.
Each team would have a chance to win it in regulation, but it wasn’t to be.
First, Cheverus junior defender Charlotte Noyes broke up a rush by Sanford junior Marissa Nance.
At the other end, an Abbott backhanded shot after a rush was turned aside by Singleton.
Out of a Stags’ timeout, Archer had a shot denied and Singleton robbed freshman Bella Booth on a rebound.
With a minute remaining, Pompeo sent a blast just wide and the game went to overtime.
The teams then went to the first of two possible “sudden victory” overtimes.
There, the Spartans had the better of play and earned two corners, only to see Helmreich robbed by a sliding Kane on the first and Slattery break up the second. The Stags had a couple chances of their own, but a Pompeo shot after a rush was saved by Singleton and a long shot from Noyes on a corner deflected wide.
Cheverus had several chances to end the game in the second OT, but couldn’t finish.
After Slattery broke up a Sanford corner, Ford had a shot deflect wide. Ford then shot wide again on a corner, as the shot barely eluded the outstretched stick of Slattery. After Michaud shot just wide, Pompeo had a cross cleared and a final Michaud rush was broken up.
“I thought we dominated in the second overtime especially, but we just weren’t finishing,” Ashley said.
With 16 extra minutes doing nothing to determine a winner, the teams had to take turns taking penalty corners to produce a victor.
And it would take awhile longer, as on four different occasions Cheverus’ season hung in the balance as it had to hold the Spartans at bay.
The Stags went first, but Pompeo’s shot was too high and was deemed a violation. The Spartans then had a chance to win it, but L’Heureux’s shot hit the side of the cage.
In the second round, Cheverus had a ball tipped out, allowing it to keep possession and after Slattery played it in from the side, a Slattery shot was saved and Archer was denied as well. Sanford’s chance ended with a ball hitting a foot.
In the third round, Slattery was denied by Singleton and Kane robbed freshman Maya Joy.
As darkness overtook the field, the intensity and pressure continued to ratchet upwards.
In the fourth round, Cheverus got three chances, but Pompeo was denied by Singleton and Archer’s rebound was blocked by a defender.
The Spartans then did everything but win it.
On a third chance, Helmreich, waiting at the far post, got the ball and sent a shot that appeared cage-bound, but out of nowhere, Kane got back to dive and knock the shot out of bounds.
“I love diving,” Kane said. “I didn’t know it was that good of a dive until everyone was cheering for me.”
“That was an unbelievable save no one will forget,” Ashley said. “No one knows she’s a first-year field hockey player. She’s such an athlete. She’s a big-time player. I have utmost confidence in (Kat and sophomore Dierdre Sanborn). It’s been so hard all season figuring out who’s playing and who’s not. Kat didn’t play last game.”
When the ball was re-inserted, Pompeo cleared it and the Stags remained alive.
Very much alive based on what happened next as in the fifth round, Cheverus would break through, but not easily.
The ball was inserted too hard and Michaud had to run it down to keep play alive. She played it to Ford, who sent the ball into the circle where Slattery poked it over to Archer, who banged it home for the long awaited goal.
“I couldn’t tell you how I scored either goal,” Archer said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. The ball was where it needed to be. My heart was racing.”
“We talked with (Becca) about being composed,” Ashley said. “She told me she could do it. That’s her 18th goal of the season. Good for her. She always seems to find a way to score.”
Before the Stags could celebrate, however, they had stop Sanford one final time.
The Spartans kept play alive until Ford managed to get a hold of the ball and in one fell swoop, she shot it out past the 25-yard-line and that did it.
“It was hard not being able to cross that line, but I had belief in my teammates and we have heart,” Archer said. “We believe in each other. I was confident in my team. I have 100 percent faith in them.”
“Abby was so composed,” Ashley said. “When she had the ball and looked up, I knew it was over. It was a great sight to see.”
At 6:10 p.m., after a riveting 2 hours and 8 minutes, Cheverus could finally exhale and celebrate its 2-1 win in five rounds of penalty corners.
“I was so nervous,” Kane said. “I’m just happy my team made it. I’m so proud of everyone. I knew we could do it. I was thinking that they could score, but that it would be amazing if they didn’t and when they didn’t, I was so happy. It’s just amazing.”
“Our team has a lot of great chemistry,” Archer said. “We’re just at the right place at the right time. We’ve done what we’ve had to do. I think we were prepared for the nerves, but you never really know how you’ll feel until you’re in the moment. We were nervous, but our willpower prevailed. We knew going in that it wouldn’t be a 1-0 game. Sanford’s an amazing team.”
“We played better today,” Ashley added. “Our passing sequences were so much better. I was hoping it wasn’t going to go into corners again, but the girls were calm going in. They calmed me down.”
The Stags outshot the Spartans, 20-9 (11-7 on cage). Sanford had a 12-8 advantage in corners and got nine saves from Singleton. Kane made six saves of her own to help Cheverus prevail and she got plenty of help from her defense, especially senior Elise Bourassa.
“Elise was so solid back there,” Ashley said. “She’s one of our most improved players by far. I just love every single player on the field and on the bench.”
Cheverus will meet Thornton Academy Tuesday, a team the Stags edged, 3-2, in overtime, Sept. 10, in Saco, on Pompeo’s goal. Cheverus won the lone prior playoff meeting between the schools, 1-0, in the 2007 preliminary round.
The Stags are now close enough to taste a second regional and perhaps a first state title.
“I’m beyond excited,” Kane said. “I don’t have any words. We have to keep the communication and great teamwork up and we can make it all the way.”
“It’s amazing we’re going to the regional final,” Archer said. “Thornton’s an amazing team. I’m so excited to play them. It’s all about heart and willpower. Our skills are there. We just have to have the right mindset.”
“It’s very special,” Ashley added. “It seems like it’s been awhile since we’ve been there. Coming in after last year’s ups and downs, we’re very excited about this as a program. We have players who haven’t been there before. They’re so excited and they deserve it. It’s going to be a battle. Our last game against Thornton was an overtime game. You have to play your best game in the (regional) final to deserve to win. We have a day to rest and a day to practice, then it’s game-on.”
Cheverus freshman Sophia Pompeo plays the ball as Sanford senior Shannon Lebel defends.
Cheverus sophomore goalie Kat Kane goes all out to deny Sanford junior Morgan Champagne.
Cheverus senior Becca Archer sends the ball on goal.
Cheverus sophomore Hannah Abbott runs past Sanford freshman Maya Joy.
Cheverus senior Abby Ford sends the ball up the field.
Cheverus sophomore goalie Kat Kane and her teammates celebrate Saturday’s 2-1 win over Sanford in five rounds of penalty corners in the Class A South semifinals. The Stags will meet Thornton Academy in Tuesday’s regional final.
Mike Strout photos.
Cheverus senior Colleen Slattery pokes at the ball and classmate Becca Archer prepares to knock it home during the fifth round of penalty corners. That goal proved to be the difference as the Stags survived and advanced.
2009 Western A quarterfinal
Cheverus 3 Sanford 0
2008 Western A quarterfinal
Cheverus 2 Sanford 0