Westbrook juniors Alexis Witham (12) and Avery Tucker and sophomore Mary Keef (14) celebrate Keef’s second half goal during the Blue Blazes’ 1-0 win at Cheverus in a Class A South quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon. Westbrook advanced to meet Massabesic in the semifinals.
Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—Depending on your viewpoint, Wednesday afternoon’s Class A South quarterfinal round field hockey contest was a homecoming, an inspirational step forward or a gutwrenching and abrupt ending.
It was actually all of the above.
For Westbrook coach Theresa Hendrix, it was an opportunity to return to her alma mater, Cheverus, and lead her team in the crucible of the playoffs on the sidelines at Shea Field, where she once made a name for herself.
For the sixth-ranked Blue Blazes, after several seasons of postseason frustrations, it was a chance to take advantage of an opportunity to extend their campaign, and they would do so, thanks to a stellar 60-minute performance.
And for the third-seeded Stags, who expected to live to play another day, it was a lesson that anything short of your best effort in the playoffs can spell doom.
Less than three weeks after going back-and-forth in an overtime thriller, Wednesday’s rematch was controlled virtually throughout by Westbrook, but it took the Blue Blazes the full 60 minutes to secure victory.
In the first half, Westbrook outshot Cheverus, 5-0, and took seven penalty corners, but couldn’t convert and the game remained scoreless.
The Blue Blazes’ frustrations continued in the second half as the corners and shots continued, but Stags senior goalie Kat Kane denied them at every turn.
Finally, on Westbrook’s 14th corner, it finished, as sophomore Mary Keef banged home a feed from senior Maddison LeBeau for the lead.
Cheverus looked to answer, but couldn’t produce any consistent offense and after two late rushes were broken up by the Blue Blazes’ defense, Westbrook was able to celebrate a 1-0 victory.
The Blue Blazes improved to 12-4, advanced to set up a semifinal round showdown at defending regional champion Massabesic (13-2) Saturday and in the process, ended the Stags’ fine season at 11-4.
“There was no magic, we just didn’t play well,” said Cheverus coach Sally Cloutier. “It just didn’t work. (Westbrook) played a great game and defended us well.”
“It’s always a spirited and exciting atmosphere here,” Hendrix said. “Every single girl came out and did their job. The girls got fired up before the game and they brought the energy right from the beginning.”
When Cheverus and Westbrook meet in the postseason, you can rest assured that it will be down to the wire and that 60 minutes typically won’t be enough.
All three previous playoff encounters went at least double overtime and two had to be decided in penalty corners (see sidebar, below, for previous results).
Both squads are coming off fantastic regular seasons and this contest could have easily taken place in the semifinals or even the regional finals were it not for the vagaries of the Heal Points system.
The Stags won their first two games, dropped a close one at home to Massabesic, then rattled off six more victories before losing in overtime to Westbrook and at Marshwood. Wins in its final three contests, including a palpitating double-overtime victory over Scarborough, gave Cheverus an 11-3 mark and the No. 3 seed in Class A South.
The Blue Blazes, meanwhile, won their first four games, then dropped a one-goal home decision to Scarborough. After five straight victories, capped by an OT win over Cheverus, Westbrook lost to Kennebunk, Massabesic and Biddeford before closing with a victory over South Portland to go 10-4 and earn the No. 6 seed. In Saturday’s preliminary round, the Blue Blazes eliminated 11th-ranked Bonny Eagle with ease, 8-0.
In the regular season encounter, Sept. 29, which was played at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Cheverus freshman Lucia Pompeo scored early and senior Bella Booth forced overtime late, but Westbrook prevailed on junior Avery Tucker’s goal, her second tally of the contest.
Wednesday, on yet another fabulous autumn afternoon (69-degrees at the start), the Blue Blazes prevailed again after surprisingly dominating all statistical categories.
Westbrook set the tone just 40 seconds in by earning a corner, but it was broken up by Cheverus senior Hannah Abbott.
The Blue Blazes got a second corner with 28 minutes left in the first half and again, Abbott broke it up.
With 26:38 to go, Keef produced the game’s first shot, but Kane denied it.
With 21:55 on the clock, Tucker had a great look in close, but Kane turned that aside as well.
Westbrook appeared to take a 1-0 lead with 17:52 left in the first half, as Keef set up junior Alexis Witham, but it was waved off because the ball had been sent in from outside the circle and the officials ruled it had deflected in off a Cheverus defender, not Witham’s stick.
After the Blue Blazes earned another corner, Cloutier called timeout to try and reverse momentum, but it didn’t help, as Tucker had a shot saved, Stags senior defensive standout Anna Smith had to clear the ball from the goal mouth, Smith blocked a shot on a corner and Smith broke up a Tucker rush.
Later in the half, Westbrook had two more corners, Tucker was denied by Kane, Witham had a shot saved, sophomore Kaitlyn Talbot had a shot stopped and after earning a corner as time expired, the Blue Blazes couldn’t put a shot on cage and the game remained, 0-0.
Little changed in the second half, except Westbrook finally put the ball in the goal.
Cheverus nearly turned the tables just 40 seconds when freshman Madison Durgin stole the ball, but her shot went wide.
The Blue Blazes then earned four corners in three minutes, but only managed one shot, as LeBeau shot wide.
With 25:01 left, off another corner, LeBeau was denied by Kane and on the rebound, Witham had a shot blocked by Smith.
With 22:16 to go, the Stags managed their lone shot on goal of the game, as Pompeo sent a backhander on target, but Westbrook junior goalie Kimberly Goddard made the save.
Hendrix called timeout with 20:43 remaining and the Blue Blazes returned to the attack.
With 19:08 left, Keef set up Tucker for a bid that Kane saved.
Off another corner, Tucker was denied by Kane again and on the rebound, with Kane lying on the ground, she stopped two more shots.
Finally, with 17:31 to go, Westbrook broke through.
Off a corner, LeBeau got the ball to Keef and she found some shooting room and fired the ball past Kane and into the cage for a 1-0 lead.
“We just added that new corner, so it was great to see it work,” Keef said.
“We couldn’t get a bounce, but we knew it would come at some point and it did,” Hendrix said.
The Blue Blazes weren’t content to sit on their lead and pressured for a goal which would have put the win on ice, but Kane denied sophomore Katelyn Champagne off a corner and Tucker on the rebound, stopped LeBeau off another corner and Tucker on yet another corner.
With 5:36 left, Cloutier called her final timeout, but the Stags couldn’t produce the equalizer.
Out of the break, Pompeo threatened to get into the circle, but her rush was broken up by Westbrook senior Madalene Herbert.
A minute later, Abbott tried to create offense, but her rush was also broken up by Herbert.
That would be Cheverus’ final opportunity and the Blue Blazes managed to keep the ball in their offensive zone and run out the clock on their 1-0 victory.
“We’ve practiced the past three days on who to mark up on Cheverus,” Keef said. “We wanted to focus on our offense this game and I thought we did. We try to work harder than the other teams. We just tried to focus on our strengths.”
“It was a very exciting game for our girls,” Hendrix said. “(The Stags) have huge strengths in the middle, so we keyed on their top players and tried to double-team everything. We talk about playing 60 minutes, especially against a good team, and we did that today.”
Westbrook put 16 shots on goal to just one for Cheverus and had an 18-0 advantage in corners. Goddard made one save.
Westbrook will now look forward to its first semifinal in awhile.
The Blue Blazes dropped a 2-1 decision at Massabesic on Oct. 5, but they’ll return to Waterboro confident they can spring another upset.
“The past couple years, we’ve gotten shut down in the quarterfinals, so it feels amazing to get this far,” Keef said. “We’ll see how far we can go.”
“This is a great group of girls,” said Hendrix. “(Co-coach) Beth (Murphy) thinks this is one of the most talented groups we’ve had. This shows where Westbrook field hockey can go. We need to keep our energy going.”
Cheverus was paced Wednesday by its defense and by Kane, who bowed out with 15 saves.
“I’m really proud of our defense,” Kane said. “I think we played a great game. They had a lot of corners. It was a lot of hard work.”
“Kat was unbelievable,” Cloutier said. “I thought she played awesome. Anna Smith played awesome. Defensively, we played well, but they had corner after corner after corner.”
Ultimately, the Stags just couldn’t get their offense going and that led to the early ouster.
“It wasn’t our day today,” Kane said. “I didn’t expect this. I didn’t even think this could be our last game. I’m really sad, but I’m proud of our team. (Westbrook) came out with energy. They just had it.”
“We couldn’t get a corner,” Cloutier said. “That’s unheard of. It’s a frustrating way to lose. We haven’t had a bad game all season. This was a bad time to have a bad game.”
Cheverus has to part with a dozen seniors, including standouts Abbott (who will play next year at the University of Maine), Kane and Smith.
“This is the best team I’ve ever been on,” Kane said. “We have great coaches and my teammates are amazing. I love this team. I’m just sad it has to end.”
“We had some great wins and we had a great season,” Cloutier said. “It’s a great group of kids. We had a ton of fun together. We had a good run. We have 12 seniors and we’ll miss them. A lot of girls did a lot for us.”
The Stags figure to be a power again in 2018, however, as Lucia Pompeo and seniors-to-be Bella Booth and Sophia Pompeo will lead the way.
“It will be a big transition, but we’ll be alright,” Cloutier said. “We return a lot of talent. Hopefully this motivates them.”
Cheverus senior goalie Kat Kane makes one of her 15 saves Wednesday.
Westbrook sophomore Mary Keef plays the ball up the sideline as Cheverus senior Celia Migliaccio gives chase.
Cheverus freshman Lucia Pompeo and Westbrook sophomore Ariana St. Clair fight for possession.
Cheverus senior Bella Booth drives the ball.
This was a familiar sight for Cheverus Wednesday, as senior Anna Smith, left, senior goalie Kat Kane, junior Sophia Pompeo and senior Hannah Abbott prepare to defend one of Westbrook’s 18 penalty corners.
Westbrook junior Kimberly Goddard is congratulated at the final horn.
Class A South quarterfinals
Cheverus 2 Westbrook 1 (2 PC) (game played at Deering High School)
Western A quarterfinals
Westbrook 1 @ Cheverus 0 (4 PC)
Western A semifinals
@ Westbrook 2 Cheverus 1 (OT)