Tougher than expected, but Yarmouth earns its four-peat

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After surviving Winslow, 2-1, in Saturday’s Class B boys’ soccer state final, Yarmouth takes part in a familiar, celebratory, victorious pig-pile. The Clippers won their fourth straight championship thanks to a late goal from junior Jack Jones.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—It was much tougher than anticipated, but in truth, it was never in doubt.

That’s because when the Yarmouth boys’ soccer team takes the pitch, only one thing is certain.

Victory.

Saturday afternoon at Deering High School’s Memorial Field, the perfect Clippers battled Winslow in the Class B state final, a rematch of a decisive 5-2 Yarmouth victory a year ago, but this time around, the Black Raiders refused to go quietly and it took all 80 minutes for the Clippers to capture the Gold Ball.

Again.

And in historic fashion.

Yarmouth was frustrated early, as many golden opportunities that usually lead to goals were stymied, but in the game’s 28th minute, junior scoring machine Eric LaBrie got the Clippers on the board and seemingly sent them on their way.

But Winslow answered with 9:10 to play in the first half, as senior Michael Wildes perfectly struck a 30-yard free kick to tie the score.

Despite more good chances, Yarmouth would remain tied deep into the second half, but with their quest for perfection, longing for gold and legacy on the line, the Clippers delivered.

With 14:10 remaining in regulation, LaBrie raced into the box, was taken down, but somehow dished the ball off to junior Jack Jones and Jones, an unheralded hero, who already scored multiple clutch goals this fall, buried the shot to give Yarmouth the lead.

The Clippers defense, along with senior goalkeeper Cal Owen, did the rest and Yarmouth was able to close out its 2-1 victory.

The win not only gave the Clippers a record-tying four straight championships in large school divisions and capped the program’s first-ever 18-0 campaign, it also gave Yarmouth 12 titles all-time, the most in the state, as the Clippers ended Winslow’s campaign at 15-4 in the process.

“Thank God, Yarmouth is a soccer town and thank God, I landed there,” said longtime Clippers coach Mike Hagerty, who won his ninth title with the program. “I’m proud of the kids. We’ve had a lot of blowouts, but we had five other one-goal games this year. These kids know how to play in a tight game.”

Rarefied air

Entering play Saturday, Yarmouth had played in 12 previous state games, winning 10 outright, losing another and playing Ellsworth to a 1-1 draw in 1989, when both teams were credited with a championship (see sidebar, below, for previous state game results).

Winslow’s prior state game appearances ended with losses to Falmouth in 2002 and 2003 and last year to Yarmouth.

This fall, the Clippers were unstoppable, winning all 14 regular season games (by a composite 69-8 margin). As the top seed in Class B South, Yarmouth blanked No. 8 Freeport, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, then dominated No. 4 Lincoln Academy, 8-0 in the semifinal round, before holding off second-seeded York, 2-1, in a regional final thriller Wednesday (see sidebar, below, for previous game stories).

The Black Raiders went 11-3 in the regular season, losing only to Brewer, Bangor and Class C champion Maranacook by one goal apiece. As the No. 4 seed in Class B North, Winslow advanced by eliminating No. 13 Mt. Desert Island (7-1) in the preliminary round, 12th-ranked Caribou (6-0) in the quarterfinals, eighth-seeded Erskine Academy (1-0) in the semifinals and second-ranked Washington Academy (3-1) in Thursday’s regional final.

In last year’s final, in the only prior playoff meeting between the programs, then-junior Luke Groothoff had two goals, LaBrie and then-junior Tahj Garvey had one each, and Matt Dostie tickled the twine as well.

Saturday, on a comfortable 52-degree afternoon, with virtually no wind, Yarmouth wasn’t able to produce goals with ease, but more impressively, the Clippers showed they could dig deep and prevail in a battle of wills.

Yarmouth’s first chance came just two minutes in, when it earned a corner kick, but Groothoff’s header went wide.

After LaBrie missed wide with his left foot, Groothoff had a promising shot from the side that Black Raiders senior goalkeeper Jake Lapierre had to tip over the bar for a corner kick.

Owen faced his first shot in the 14th minute, but he managed to save a deflected bid from Winslow senior Alex Swiercz.

The Clippers then had difficulty putting shots on frame, as senior Bennett Wheaton, LaBrie, freshman Ian LaBrie and Groothoff all missed.

With 21:24 to play in the first half, Lapierre leaped to deny Eric LaBrie.

Two minutes later, Garvey nearly broke the ice, but after taking a pass from Groothoff, he was robbed on a rush.

Finally, with 12:31 to go before halftime, Yarmouth got the game’s first goal.

The goal was set up by a nice rush from Groothoff, who got the ball to Eric LaBrie and after LaBrie’s initial shot was blocked, he got the ball back and with his left foot, poked it past Lapierre and into the goal for a 1-0 lead,

“We wanted to get that first goal out of the way,” LaBrie said. “It deflected off one of their defenders and came right back to me.”

Instead of being deflated, Winslow fought right back.

After a header from senior Jack Morneault hit the outside of the goal frame, Morneault sent a header wide on a corner kick.

Then, with 9:10 remaining, after Clippers senior Eric Loomis received a yellow card, Wildes took a free kick from 30-yards out and placed it perfectly into the net, just past Owen, who dove in vain to his right, to stunningly tie the score.

“It was huge,” Winslow coach Aaron Wolfe said. “We’ve been working on those progressively more as the season went on. Similar areas around the field and in that particular area was one of the spots. (Michael has) been doing a great job there, so I knew that when we got that foul that he’s going to give us a good chance to put a ball in the net.”

“They did a nice job on the free kick, credit to them,” Hagerty said.

Yarmouth looked to retake the lead before the break, but Groothoff had one shot blocked, was wide with another, had a free kick saved, then served a free kick to Eric LaBrie, who was denied as well.

In the first 40 minutes, the Clippers had a commanding 9-2 edge in shots on frame, but corner kicks were even, 4-4, and the Black Raiders got eight clutch saves from Lapierre.

The field would be similarly tilted in the second half, but it took a long time for Yarmouth to go back on top.

Just nine seconds in, after Groothoff served the ball in, it came right to Eric LaBrie in front, but he was denied by a sprawling Lapierre in an exciting start to the half.

After Groothoff shot high, LaBrie had the ball taken away in the box and secret weapon, sophomore Liam Ireland, was denied on the doorstep by Lapierre.

After senior Ben Norton had a shot saved by Lapierre, Ireland tried again, but again, his shot was saved.

“Shout out to Liam Ireland, who didn’t play in the first half,” Hagerty said. “He calmed the game down for us. He made positive plays. He plays simple and clean and that’s what we needed to get back to. He helped us turn momentum.”

After Winslow had a corner kick which didn’t result in a shot, the Clippers had a great look to retake the lead, as they earned a free kick just outside the box, LaBrie took it before the Black Raiders’ defense got set and the ball deflected to senior Max Coury, who beat Lapierre, only to see Winslow sophomore back Max Spaulding clear the ball off the line.

“We had the same thing last year,” LaBrie said. “The goalie wasn’t ready, so I tried to get it and shoot it, but one of their players blocked it.”

“Max Coury has played striker most of the second half of the season, but we asked him to drop to the midfield and in the second half (today), we asked him to play outside-midfield, which he hasn’t played all year,” Hagerty said. “He went in and had a very positive impact. He and Liam helped change the tone of the second half.”

Undaunted, Yarmouth continued to press and ultimately was rewarded.

After Wheaton shot high, Eric LaBrie had a shot that Lapierre bobbled before saving and LaBrie had a shot deflected out, the Clippers got the winning goal.

With 14:10 on the clock, Coury set up Eric LaBrie, who raced into the box, was manhandled by a defender and fell down (it’s likely a penalty kick would have been called had a goal not been scored) and got the ball to Jones and Jones tapped it into the open net for a 2-1 lead.

“We had to keep putting ourselves in good positions and we knew one would go in,” Jones said. “Max played a fabulous pass to Eric, Eric passed it to me and I had the easy part, I just had to put it in. It’s a dream come true. It’s something I’ve thought about as long as  I can remember. That it happened was truly special.”

“I tried shooting it, but it deflected right to Jack and he put it in,” LaBrie said. “I don’t know if there was a foul or not.”

“Jack’s scored some big goals,” Groothoff said. “He’ll remember this one forever. He’s a very good player. I’m proud of him for getting that one. Sometimes you have to grind through and work hard and wait for one to pop out to you and take advantage of your chances.”

“You have to give Jack credit, he understands how to play under Eric,” Hagerty added. “Eric draws three kids and he should. A shout out to the refs for giving us the play-on instead of calling it a PK early. Jack did a great job yet again being in the right place at the right time to clean it up. He’s had a few game-winners.”

The Clippers hoped to add another goal and put it away, but LaBrie was just wide on a breakaway after taking a nice feed from Coury, Norton had a rocket saved by Lapierre and a pair of corner kicks didn’t produce a shot.

Then, with 3:08 to go, Winslow almost drew even again on a free kick.

This time, Wildes took it from 35-yards out and the ball got through a screen and appeared goal-bound before Groothoff knocked it away at the last second.

“Luke didn’t realize it, but Cal didn’t see the ball,” Hagerty said. “(Luke) had to clear the ball.”

That would be the Black Raiders’ last hurrah, as Groothoff and Coury played keep-away for much of the final couple minutes and at 5:07 p.m., when the final horn sounded, a most familiar championship celebration played out on the turf.

“The coaching staff we have is fabulous and the players are amazing too,” Jones said. “It’s been a pleasure being a part of this.”

“It feels amazing,” said Groothoff, who moved to Yarmouth from California for his sophomore year and knew nothing but championships in his three seasons. “I’m so glad I moved here. I’ve enjoyed my time in Yarmouth. It was frustrating, but we had to keep our heads and trust the game plan. We were worried, but we kept playing. Our defense played well and stayed clean. We tried to take it game-by-game and enjoy each one. (A championship) was always in the back of our minds. I’m very happy we got it done.”

“This one feels great,” LaBrie said. “We had a lot of chances, but we didn’t finish. We played too fast at times and didn’t play our game. I had a couple breakaways where I probably could have scored.”

“The first half, the one place we didn’t want to play them is down the middle,” Hagerty added. “At halftime, we said, ‘Glad we’re in a game, now let’s do what we do well.’ I thought the kids did a nice job. Our second half was fabulous. We went three-on-three in the middle and over-emphasized playing the ball wide. We wouldn’t have done any of it without Groothoff running the game in the middle. He gets the game ball for sure. I thought Tahj and Max did a great job giving us that width. Once we played it wide, the game changed and we got around them wide. We had a lot of great chances.

“Some teams, you have to figure out your chemistry. Day one this year, the chemistry was as good as the talent. That made it special. I don’t remember one day this year where we didn’t have a fun practice where the kids weren’t supportive of each other. They were willing to trust the coaches, each other and play for other. It was very unique.”

Respect

Yarmouth, which has won 23 straight games and is undefeated in its last 30 outings, ousthot Winslow, 17-2, on frame, and had a 9-5 edge in corner kicks.

The Black Raiders got 15 saves from Lapierre and made the Clippers sweat for 80 minutes.

“I think the big thing was we just had another year to play,” Wolfe said. “For the most part we had most of the team back. I think the other thing is we just knew what to expect from them, so we were more prepared for that.”

“I think we knew coming in they were much improved,” said Jones. “They were a strong team last year, but they’re really good this year.

“We knew (Winslow) had learned from last year and had a bunch of their seniors have been there before,” Groothoff said.

“Credit to Winslow,” Hagerty added. “They’re a much better team than they were a year ago. They’re strong down the middle.”

Titletown

Prior to Hagerty’s arrival in 1997, Yarmouth had won state titles in 1973, 1982 and 1989, but in the past two decades, the Clippers have established themselves as a program without peer and if you mix in the girls’ program’s success (back-to-back championships), it’s clear that the Golden Age of Yarmouth soccer is upon us.

“We’ve had a 17-0-1 team, but not a clean 18-0 like this,” Hagerty said. “I’m so proud that the town of Yarmouth, going back to the 1970s, has 12 (titles) and that’s the most. Yarmouth’s been a soccer town forever. The one (championship) in the 70s and two in the 80s really set the tone, then along came the Lynch family to establish the Colts club. Since the Colts became a club, we’ve won nine state titles. I love that Eoin Lynch (Class of 2002) is on our staff. He’s the smartest player I’ve been around. His Dad, Kieran, started the Colts. This is as much a community tribute as anything, the 12 titles. I heard from alumni from seven different states today. The kids are aware of the great pride in our program.”

Not done yet

Yarmouth, as always, will say goodbye to some standout seniors (Coury, Garvey, Groothoff and Owen lead a list of 14), but as always, the Clippers figure to be just fine next year and Yarmouth will have a chance to become the first big school to win five successive championships in 2019.

“We’ll miss Luke especially, but we have a good core coming back,” Jones said.

“It’s been great playing with the senior class and I’m definitely going to miss them a lot, but we have a good chance again next year,” LaBrie said. “We just have to rebuild and figure some things out.”

“No one has won five (in a row),” Hagerty added. “In the back, we have sophomores and a junior. We have fabulous goalies coming back who pushed Cal all season. Liam Ireland is back. Our youth is talented. They need to spend some time in the weight room and they will. We’re excited. I think we’ll continue to be one of the best teams around.”

Sun Journal staff writer Wil Kramlich contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Yarmouth senior Luke Groothoff gets past Winslow senior Kaleb Burbank.

Yarmouth freshman Ian LaBrie lines up a shot.

Yarmouth senior goalkeeper Cal Owen goes all out in an attempt to make a save.

Yarmouth senior Tahj Garvey tries to will the ball past Winslow senior goalkeeper Jake Lapierre.

Yarmouth sophomore John D’Appolonia heads the ball away from Winslow junior Isaac Lambrecht.

Yarmouth senior Bennett Wheaton collides with Winslow senior Jake Warn.

Yarmouth sophomore Liam Ireland, who gave the Clippers critical minutes in the second half, keeps his eye on the ball.

Yarmouth senior Silas Chappell runs past Winslow junior Isaac Lambrecht.

Yarmouth junior Eric LaBrie, center, is sandwiched by seniors Luke Groothoff, left, and Luke Waeldner after scoring the game’s first goal.

Yarmouth junior Eric LaBrie (23) and senior Max Coury (8) try to catch junior Jack Jones to celebrate Jones’ go-ahead goal.

Yarmouth seniors Luke Groothoff (10) and Cal Owen receive the program’s latest Gold Ball.

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Yarmouth 3 Freeport 0

Yarmouth 2 York 1

Previous Yarmouth state games

2016
Class B
Yarmouth 5 Winslow 2

2015
Class B
Yarmouth 3 Erskine Academy 0 

2014
Class B
Yarmouth 1 Ellsworth 0 

2010
Class B
Yarmouth 5 Ellsworth 0

2008
Class B
Yarmouth 1 Presque Isle 0

2005
Class B
Yarmouth 3 Presque Isle 0

2004
Class B
Yarmouth 1 Ellsworth 0

1997
Class B
Yarmouth 2 MCI 1

1991
Class B
Camden-Rockport 2 Yarmouth 1

1989
Class B
Yarmouth 2 Ellsworth 2 (tie)

1982
Class C
Yarmouth 2 Piscataquis 1

1973
Class B
Yarmouth 3 Van Buren 1

Previous Winslow state games

2016
Class B
Yarmouth 5 Winslow 2

2003
Class B
Falmouth 6 Winslow 1

2002
Class B
Falmouth 2 Winslow 1

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001.
Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net.
I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.