The Waynflete boys’ lacrosse team made it to the Western Class B semifinals a year ago, but didn’t have to win a game to do so.
This spring, the Flyers punched their ticket to the semifinal round with a victory that was far from easy to accomplish.
Playing Wednesday afternoon at home against a York squad it had edged by a goal just 11 days prior, Waynflete grabbed an early lead, then bounced back from a lackluster third period with a three-goal flurry in the fourth to take the lead for good. The Flyers then held on down the stretch to advance with an exciting, 9-8 decision.
“This one was closer all along,” said longtime Waynflete coach Bob Johnson. “We had more of a lead in the first game. (York) played really well. Their coach thought they played their best game of the season. We had enough to pull it out. The kids are playing well. It was fun to have a home playoff game. It’s nice to have won a game to get to the semis.”
The Flyers went 7-5 in the regular season (its first winning mark since 2005) and earned the No. 4 seed in Western B. York finished 5-7 and came in No. 5. On May 30, the teams went back-and-forth before Waynflete eked out an 11-10 decision, thanks in large part to five goals from junior Miles Beaven.
The Flyers and Wildcats had no prior playoff history.
Wednesday, as was the case in the regular season meeting, Waynflete got off to a hot start.
Just 56 seconds in, junior Peter Smith scored unassisted for a 1-0 lead. With 7:18 to go in the first period, junior Jay Witte made his presence felt, as he took a pass from Smith and scored a man-up goal for a 2-0 advantage. Witte scored again on the man-advantage a minute-and-a-half later (with Beaven getting the assist) and it was 3-0.
“Miles had such a great game the game before,” Witte said. “They focused on him and I was able to pop some in.”
“(Jay and Miles) are a tough tandem to matchup with,” Johnson added.
The visitors got on the board with 3:40 to go in the first when sophomore Dillon DellaPasqua scored with his team playing a man-down. Then, with time expiring in the period, junior Joel Berger beat Flyers sophomore goalie Will Hallett to make it a 3-2 contest.
Just 20 seconds into the second period, junior Josiah Baker-Connick (who was huge all over the field all game) set up Witte for his third goal and Witte converted it in dramatic, fashion, scoring on a little flip shot behind his back which York sophomore goalie Alex Ahrikenchikh had no chance to stop, to make it 4-2.
The Wildcats made it a 4-3 game with 3:56 left before halftime when senior Cameron Rodrigues scored from senior Sam Rasche, but just 27 seconds later, Witte scored unassisted to make it 5-3 Waynflete at the break.
York had a 21-12 shots advantage in the first 24 minutes and forced 17 Flyers turnovers, but Waynflete had a 4-3 edge in faceoffs won and grabbed 30 ground balls (with Baker-Connick collecting 10 of them).
The Wildcats then came out hot in the third period.
Just 17 seconds in, Rasche scored unassisted. A mere 21 seconds later, York tied the game, 5-5, when Rasche set up junior Kyle McKenna for a goal. The Flyers went back on top, 6-5, with 57 seconds left in the quarter (snapping a 14 minute, 32 second scoring drought) when Baker-Connick fed sophomore Matt Butler for a man-up goal, but before the period came to a close, the Wildcats got unassisted goals from Rodrigues and senior Ben Hecht to take their first and only lead, 7-6.
On the ropes, Waynflete answered.
With 10:57 to play in regulation, Witte pounced on a rebound and flicked it home to tie the score. Then, with 6:52 to play, Baker-Connick put his team on top with an unassisted goal. With 4:42 left, Witte delivered some insurance (scoring man-up from Smith). That tally proved huge as the Wildcats got back within a goal on freshman Shane Hughes’ man-up goal (from Rodrigues) with 34 seconds to go.
York would get one final possession, but Waynflete sophomore Joe Veroneau came up huge, stripping the ball away and sending it downfield. The Flyers then ran out the clock and celebrated their playoff win.
“Ground balls and the will to win were the difference,” said Witte, who led all scorers with six goals. “We were at home. We wanted to win for the fans. I think this does a lot for the program. It shows that even in a rebuilding year, we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
“Going into the fourth quarter, I told them, ‘you know what it takes,'” added Johnson. “It was going to take hard work and getting goals one at a time. We got ground balls and made key plays.”
Baker-Connick (two assists and a game-high 15 ground balls), Smith (two assists) and Butler also had goals for Waynflete. Beaven added an assist. Hallett made 14 saves (including five in the fourth period).
“We had a little bit of a zone we threw in there,” Johnson said. “When Will’s facing long shots, that’s his forte.”
York was paced by two goals and an assist from Rodrigues. Seven Wildcats scored in all. Ahrikenchikh made five saves.
The Wildcats won 13 out of the 18 faceoffs and outshot the hosts, 46-21, but the Flyers grabbed 60 ground balls to 52 for York (7-6) and forced 29 turnovers.
Waynflete (8-5) now turns its attention to its semifinal showdown at No. 1 Cape Elizabeth (10-2) Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Flyers and Capers didn’t play this year. Waynflete has been eliminated from the playoffs on four previous occasions by the state’s most storied program, including last year’s 15-3 loss in the semifinals.
Regardless, the Flyers will go into that game full of confidence.
“We lost there last year, but I think we’re rolling right now,” Witte said. “We’ll see.”
“We’re approaching every game like we can win it,” Johnson added. “It’s a huge game for us. We have to approach it as if we can win it. If not, why play it?”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mhoffer