Stags win a shocker, eliminate defending champs

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SCARBOROUGH—A fortnight and a day after their most lopsided loss of the season, on the very same Mitchell Athletic Complex turf field, the Cheverus Stags banded together to exact revenge and knock off top-seeded Scarborough in Saturday’s Western Maine Class A semifinal field hockey contest.

On Oct. 8, it was all Red Storm in a 6-1 home victory over Cheverus. The Stags actually led 1-0 before Scarborough reeled off six unanswered goals. Saturday, No. 4 Cheverus again jumped on top early, but this time didn’t fold. Scarborough rallied to tie the score, but the Stags scored the game winner with 3:33 left to pull off the 2-1 upset.

In the 15 days between that humbling defeat and the semifinal rematch (also a rematch of last year’s regional final, which Scarborough won, 3-2), Cheverus did not go back to the schematic drawing board. It wasn’t about Xs and Os, nor was it about talent. Stags coach Amy McMullin believed her team had the tools to compete with anyone – if the players wanted it bad enough.

“We just worked on ourselves,” McMullin said. “We completely stopped touching a field hockey stick and worked on becoming a team, worked on getting that passion for field hockey back. Those kids played their hearts out today. It was the same team, just with a lot more heart today.”

Cheverus (12-4) advances to Tuesday’s regional final — back on the Scarborough High turf at 7:30 p.m. — against No. 7 Bonny Eagle (11-5). The Scots upset No. 2 Westbrook and No. 3 Thornton Academy to reach the title game. The Stags and Scots did not meet during the regular season and have no playoff history.

Scarborough, the defending state champion and two-time defending regional champion, wrapped up its season at 14-2.

“Cheverus came to play today,” said Scarborough coach Kerry Mariello. “We can’t hang our heads. We played hard. I asked the girls when I went over to the huddle, ‘Did everybody play their hardest today?’ And they answered yes, and that’s all that matters.”

With Scarborough controlling possession in the early going, Cheverus called timeout with 14 minutes remaining in the first half. Immediately after the timeout, the Stags got on the board.

Sophomore Gabi Cardona pushed the ball ahead to senior Emily Sawchuck, who one-timed a hard shot from the left side that eluded Scarborough sophomore goalie Shannon Hicks and rattled the cage to give the Stags a 1-0 advantage with 13:50 left in the half.

Sawchuck nearly gave the visitors a two-goal cushion with 4:45 left in the half, but had her breakaway bid stonewalled as Hicks went into a split to make the pad save.

The Red Storm opened the second half with a strong push for the equalizer, and got it four minutes in. Sophomore Karli-An Gilbert converted a pass from sophomore Grace Whelan to make it 1-1 following a flurry of goalmouth activity.

With just under 15 minutes to go, Scarborough senior Kristen Felt unleashed a blast off a penalty corner, but Cheverus sophomore netminder Cindy Clark was there for the save. Eight minutes later, the Red Storm again threatened as senior Sarah Bunting had good position on the left side, but couldn’t redirect a crossing pass on goal and the ball went wide.

Then, with 3:33 to play, sophomore Brooke Flaherty knocked in Cheverus’ biggest goal of the season and possibly in program history. Senior Taylor Witham sent the ball into the circle from the left side, with it eventually bouncing to Flaherty, who was positioned in front of the goalie.

“The ball just bounced over someone’s stick and I just tried to place it where I could and luckily it went in,” Flaherty said. “I was in front of the goalie playing pads — you move in front of the goalie so they can’t see, and when they can’t see the ball it makes the shot a lot more dangerous.”

Flaherty was where she was supposed to be, and didn’t let the opportunity to be the hero pass her by.

“We focused on carrying the ball on the side so much that our forwards were away from the middle and she just stepped up and made her shot,” McMullin said.

Scarborough nearly tied the score again with 1:30 to play, as Felt sent a shot toward the goal following a penalty corner. Clark — who was tested often in the second half — dove to poke a rebound wide just before Bunting was able to get her stick on it with a backhand effort.

The final horn set off a wild Stags celebration.

“Last game we really beat ourselves,” Flaherty said. “We weren’t talking or playing as a team. We knew we had to come out and play with heart and try our hardest, and we did. It’s amazing. This is the first time our team has ever beaten Scarborough. Going back to the (regional) finals is going to be the most amazing thing ever, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Mariello said the Stags played much better than they did when the teams met in the regular season, but she was expecting them to.

“It’s the playoffs,” Mariello said. “Nobody’s the same. It doesn’t matter who it is. It doesn’t matter what the regular season results were. It’s about who shows up, and who does the right things at the right times. And they did.”

Scarborough graduated 13 seniors from last year’s team that dethroned then eight-time defending state champion Skowhegan 2-1 in overtime for the Class A crown, but soon established itself as the team to beat once again this season. The Red Storm’s only regular-season loss came on the road to South Portland, 2-1. The team bounced back to win its final five games heading into the playoffs, then dispatched No. 8 Massabesic, 3-1, in the quarterfinals.

Mariello said she’s very pleased with how her young team handled the pressure this season, and with only three senior starters and 17 underclassmen on the roster, expects to be back in the hunt in 2011.

“For them to not have a whole lot of varsity experience and to come and have to play with the composure you’re supposed to play with at that level, they did a fantastic job,” Mariello said. “We just have that much more experience rolling into next year. We’ll see what happens then. We’ll be right back in it. I’ve got a lot coming back.”

Cheverus, which beat No. 5 Kennebunk 3-2 in the quarterfinals, relished the underdog role against the Red Storm, but will wear its home whites as the higher seed against the upstart Scots.

“We haven’t played them yet, but we’ll take anybody right now,” McMullin said. “The way these girls are playing with heart, I’m not afraid.”

Scarborough junior Dominique Burnham and Cheverus senior Emily Sawchuck collide as they go for the ball.

Cheverus sophomore goalie Cindy Clark dives to knock the ball away from Scarborough senior Sarah Bunting, who was looking to tie the game up late during Cheverus’ 2-1 upset victory over the defending state champion Red Storm in Saturday’s regional semifinal game.

Cheverus sophomore Gabi Cardona tries to advance the ball as Scarborough sophomore Stephanie Felt gets her stick low to defend.

Scarborough senior Kristen Felt works to control the ball as Cheverus junior Sarah LaQuerre gives chase.

Cheverus junior Sarah LaQuerre (22) and senior Emily Sawchuk (14) rush over to mob sophomore Brooke Flaherty after she scored the go-ahead goal with 3:33 left in Saturday’s regional semifinal against Scarborough, which lifted the Stags to a 2-1 win.

The Cheverus field hockey team exults after the victory. The Stags meet Bonny Eagle in the Western A Final Tuesday night.

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Cheverus sophomore Gabi Cardona (4) and junior Catie Walsh (6) lead the charge to greet the Stags’ fans following Saturday’s 2-1 upset win over top-ranked Scarborough in the regional semifinals.

More photos below.