CAPE ELIZABETH— The Cape Elizabeth boys’ lacrosse team found out first-hand Wednesday night that as predicted, the Falmouth Yachtsmen are on the verge of becoming an elite contender.
Despite their youth and inexperience, the Yachtsmen came into the lair of the most storied program in the state and gave the hosts everything they could handle for three-plus quarters before the Capers finally pulled away for a 6-3 triumph, their third win in a row.
“We knew (Falmouth had) improved and that it’s probably the strongest team they’ve had,” said Cape Elizabeth senior Mike Holden, who had four goals on the night. “Coming in, we knew it would be tough.”
Cape Elizabeth, a state finalist last spring, lost 8-6 at Yarmouth in its opener in a rematch of last year’s Class B Final, but bounced back nicely with 14-1 wins over Gorham and Freeport. Holden had six goals, while senior Sether Hanson grabbed 17 ground balls against the Rams. Holden had four goals and two assists, while senior Jon O’Hearn scored four times and added six assists in the win over the Falcons.
Falmouth, meanwhile, gave defending Class A champion Scarborough all it could handle in its opener before losing 7-5. The Yachtsmen then bounced back with a stunning 13-1 home win over perennial contender Kennebunk.
Cape Elizabeth has never lost to Falmouth. Last year, the Capers downed the Yachtsmen 12-5 in Falmouth.
Cape Elizabeth would continue that trend Wednesday at Hannaford Field, but the game was in doubt most of the way.
It was clear from the onset that offense would be at a premium. The teams combined for more turnovers than shots in the first period. Finally, with 2:18 to go, the Capers went up 1-0 when junior Tom Foden took a pass from sophomore Wilson Laprade and beat Falmouth sophomore goalie Jay Hurdman (who made four big saves in the first 12 minutes) to make it 1-0 after one quarter.
Just 1 minute, 47 seconds into the second, the Yachtsmen drew even. Freshman Jack Cooleen did the honors, taking a pass from sophomore Brendan McDonnell in transition and firing a shot past sophomore Jack Roos to make it 1-1.
An unassisted goal by O’Hearn with 3:38 left in the half put Cape Elizabeth back on top and an unassisted strike from Holden at the 1:46 mark appeared to give the hosts some breathing room, but 31 seconds later, Falmouth cut into the deficit when sophomore Nick Bachman stole a pass at midfield and raced in to beat Roos to make it a 3-2 game at halftime.
In the first half, the Yachtsmen won five of seven draws. The Capers had a 19-18 edge in ground balls, led 13-9 in shots, and forced 16 turnovers while committing 13.
Early in the third period, Falmouth had a couple of great chances to draw even, but Cooleen was denied by Ross on the doorstep and moments later, an apparent goal from Bachman was wiped out by a crease violation.
But with 7:23 left in the quarter, the Yachtsmen tied the contest when junior Kyle Lucas scored, but that would be Falmouth’s final tally of the night.
With 5:54 remaining in the third, Holden scored on a rebound goal to put the hosts ahead 4-3 heading for the fourth.
“Our transition game picked up at the end,” Holden said. “We moved the ball well to the open guy. The defense played really well. The only goals they had were mistakes.”
Finally, midway through the final stanza, Cape Elizabeth was able to get some breathing room. With 6:15 left, Foden stole the ball at midfield and quickly fed Holden for a goal. Then, 27 seconds later, Holden delivered the coup de grace, taking another pass from Foden before scoring to account for the 6-3 final score.
“I think if we get down a couple goals, we tend to force it instead of getting in our motion offense,” said Falmouth coach Mike LeBel. “We didn’t convert on a couple we should have. We started to take bad shots and it caught up to us.”
“It was the same exact thing as Yarmouth,” Capers coach Ben Raymond said. “They scored all their goals man-up or with us throwing them the ball. I think our settled defense did a great job.
“We’re still working on the offense. When we get in transition and find the open guy, we’re tough to stop. Sometimes we get bogged down and we’re in the penalty stuff and we don’t have possession. Transition has been a focus for the past week-and-a-half. Trying to get more chances out of our transition offense. We’ve been clearing the ball well, but we haven’t scored a lot of goals out of it.”
The final stats were pretty close. Falmouth had a 7-6 edge in faceoffs. The Capers had 40 ground balls to 35 for the Yachtsmen (Foden led the hosts with six, junior Mike Kane had nine for the visitors). Falmouth had 32 turnovers to 29 for Cape Elizabeth. The hosts outshot the Yachtsmen 22-14. Hurdman made eight saves to six for Roos.
Raymond was certainly impressed with Falmouth.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “They have a lot of good, young players who have played a lot of lacrosse. We knew they’d be good. They have a good youth program. John Fay’s been a big help with that. Mike’s a great coach. They do things the right way. It’s good to see. It’s good for us. We want to have competitive games.”
The Yachtsmen took solace in the fact they’re getting closer and closer to knocking off an elite team.
“Cape’s a great team,” LeBel said. “To come on to their field and pretty much play them even for three quarters was promising for us. They’re just more experienced and I think that’s what you’ll see from us against elite teams. We have freshmen on attack and in the midfield. We have a lot of sophomores playing. Physically, we’re just not as developed. When you play a physical team like this, it’s going to catch up to you. We were running three lines the first three quarters. That allowed us to stay in the game.
“It was a great game to be a part of. A couple of years ago, we’d come into these games just wanting to survive. Now we can win them. The kids are gaining confidence every day, every game. We’re taking care of the teams we should beat.”
The Yachtsmen (first in the initial Western Class B Heal Points standings) is at St. Dom’s Saturday and visits York Wednesday of next week. Falmouth still has tests remaining against NYA, Portland and Yarmouth.
“We’ll be ready for St. Dom’s,” LeBel said. “We play all the big teams once. Unfortunately we had Scarborough the first game, these guys the third game. I think we have more room to develop. Going into the tournament, I think we’ll be better prepared.”
The Capers (second in Heals) are at Deering Saturday night and visit NYA Wednesday. Look for them to continue to improve as well.
“It’s still early, but the guys are stepping up,” Holden said. “The team’s improving. We should be getting stronger.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mhoffer