Soccer can be a very, very cruel game.
The Waynflete boys’ soccer team discovered that firsthand last Wednesday when the Flyers championship dreams were dashed in their first outing, a 1-0 upset home loss to Georges Valley in the Western Class C quarterfinals.
In Western A, Portland managed to advance to the semifinals for the first time in six years after downing Cheverus, 1-0, in the quarterfinal round. The Bulldogs’ run then came to a swift end Saturday with a 7-2 loss at defending state champion Scarborough.
A bitter pill
Waynflete enjoyed a fairy tale run to the Class C Final a year ago before losing to Washington Academy. This time around, the Flyers wore a bulls-eye and rose to the occasion time and again, winning 12 times, losing just once (1-0 at home to North Yarmouth Academy) and settling for a scoreless draw at Lake Region. That 12-1-1 mark represented the benchmark for the program and gave Waynflete the No. 3 seed.
Last Wednesday, the Flyers hosted No. 6 Georges Valley, a team they don’t play in the regular year and hadn’t met in the postseason in 30 years (a 6-1 Buccaneers’ win in the 1979 Western C quarterfinals).
Waynflete came out strong and looked to grab the lead, but just couldn’t capitalize. Seniors Daniel Mitchell and Robin Wajler had multiple chances, as did junior Tucker Geoffroy. Midway through the first half, senior Sam Cleaves got to the ball off a corner kick in front of an empty net, but his header went just high. That frustration typified the first half play as the Flyers dominated, but had to settle for a 0-0 result at the break.
Waynflete continued to pressure in the second half, earning three corner kicks, getting good bids from Geoffroy, Mitchell, Wajler, junior Omar Abdille and freshman Peabo Knoth.
Then, with 16:02 to play, disaster struck, when Georges Valley’s Ketch Cowan won a loose ball, beat a defender and raced in on helpless Flyers’ senior goalkeeper Chris Gillespie and fired a shot past him for a stunning 1-0 lead.
Waynflete almost tied it three minutes later, but Wajler hit the crossbar. Down the stretch, Mitchell shot just wide and four more corners went for naught. A last second clear delivered the coup de grace and the Flyers’ season ended at 12-2-1 with the 1-0 setback.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “Especially for this group of seniors who had been an integral part of this program for four years. It always seems like there’s another year for me. I’m disappointed for them, not in them.”
“We didn’t finish our chances,” Salway added. “We didn’t play our best, but we still played well enough to win. We didn’t play with much emotion. Last year, it was us against the world. This year, we were one of the top dogs. I told the kids that (Georges Valley) was dangerous. They have a good, athletic goalie. They’re strong down the middle and defend well.”
The Flyers graduate a special group of seniors, but should use the sting of this upset loss to spearhead another run in 2010.
“This has been a very easy year for me to coach,” Salway said. “They made this easy. It was a great regular season. We have a really big senior group who gave a lot to the program. I really like the kids I have coming back. I’m already thinking about next year.”
Run of emotions
Portland won its final seven games this fall to finish 9-3-2 and earn the No. 4 seed for the playoffs. Cheverus went 8-5-1 and wound up fifth in Western A, setting up a city showdown in the quarterfinal round.
On Oct. 6, the Bulldogs cruised to a 6-1 home win over the Stags behind three goals from junior standout Fazal Nabi. The longtime rivals had met just twice previously in the postseason. In the 1994 quarterfinals, the Bulldogs enjoyed a 4-1 victory. Two years ago, in the preliminary round, the Stags came away with a 1-0 win.
Wednesday, Portland had a goal erased on an off-sides call in the third minute and the game was scoreless at the half.
The lone goal of the contest came with 20:11 to go. Sophomore Paley Burlin’s corner kick found the head of Nabi at the far post and Nabi sent the ball into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
“Paley crossed the ball and I fought my way through and hit it top left,” Nabi said. “I made pretty solid contact. It was getting kind of nerve-racking. We played hard. It was a lot tougher tonight. They marked us tighter this time. I saw a lot more double teams.”
The Bulldogs dodged a couple bullets down the stretch and held on to win.
“We knew we’d be up against it,” said Portland coach Rocky Frenzilli. “I’m very happy for the boys. We knew it wouldn’t be 6-1. Cheverus came out very aggressive in the first half. We matched it. It was nice to have the wind at our back in the second half. We had a nice little feed from Paley to Faz for the goal. At the end, we weren’t going to be denied. I was hoping one goal would hold up. It’s a great team win.”
Despite its solid effort, Cheverus’ season ended at 8-6-1.
“We played hard,” said Stags coach Bill LeBlanc. “We came to play. It was two halves. In the first, we jammed it down their throat and had some chances. We knew we needed to score in the first half or we’d have to get through until overtime. We didn’t have any quality chances in the second half. It was hard to make passes or head the ball with the wind. Fazal’s a great player. We changed up how we played him. We man marked him and made sure we double teamed him. He got loose once.”
“(The season was) about what I expected,” LeBlanc added. “The kids played hard. We lost a couple games we shouldn’t have, but we wound up about where I thought with our seed.”
Cheverus graduates eight seniors, but several key players return in 2010. Expect the Stags to be right back in the hunt.
“We have some good players coming back,” LeBlanc said. “My sophomore class is really good. We’ll be all right.”
Portland hoped to give Scarborough a challenge Saturday and did so for a half. On Sept. 8, in the regular season meeting, the Red Storm won 3-0 in Scarborough. The teams split two prior playoff matchups (a 2-0 win for the Bulldogs in the 2002 preliminary round and a 3-2, triple OT victory for the Red Storm in the 2003 semis).
Portland sophomore Brett O’Kelly’s first-half goal tied the score, 1-1, at the half, but when the teams switched sides, Scarborough had the wind at its back and took over, scoring three times for a 4-1 lead. A Nabi goal off a free kick kept hope alive, but the Red Storm added three more to end the Bulldogs’ season at 10-4-2 with the 7-2 decision.
“I thought the kids played exceptionally well in the first half,” said Frenzilli. “We had chances to put a few more in, but we didn’t. We looked forward to the second half, but we got excited and Scarborough put a couple in and the kids weren’t able to rally back. Scarborough isn’t ranked No. 1 for nothing. They sensed the momentum had shifted.”
“I’m so happy for the kids for what they were able to do after a dismal first half of the season,” he added. “It was a good run. Unfortunately, it had to come to an end.”
Portland graduates five, but returns plenty of firepower, meaning the Bulldogs should be a factor again next fall.
“We’ll have a pretty good nucleus back,” Frenzilli said. “If the kids can come back ready to go, we’ll reload and see where it takes us. Next year, our first half of the season has to be played with the same intensity as the second half.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Waynflete senior Robin Wajler battled a defender and the goalie as he looked to put his team on the board last week. Wajler and the Flyers wound up unable to score and were stunned, 1-0, by Georges Valley in the Western Class C quarterfinals.
Portland sophomore Ben Day fought Scarborough senior Trevor Hoxsie for a 50-50 ball during the teams’ Western Class A semifinal round meeting Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs were eliminated, 7-2.