Yarmouth boys blank Freeport in first playoff test

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Yarmouth senior goalkeeper Cal Owen and senior Bennett Wheaton celebrate at the final horn of the Clippers’ 3-0 win over Freeport in Thursday’s Class B South quarterfinal. Top-ranked Yarmouth remained undefeated and advanced to host Lincoln Academy in Saturday’s semifinal round.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

YARMOUTH—As the top seed in a regional tournament, you want to make quick work of your opponent and squash any upset hopes before they manifest themselves. 

Yarmouth’s boys’ soccer team executed that game plan masterfully Thursday afternoon when it hosted No. 8 Freeport in a Class B South quarterfinal.

With bad weather imminent, the need for a strong start was even more paramount and it took the Clippers all of 47 seconds to get the only goal they would need, as a shot from senior standout Luke Groothoff deflected off junior Jack Jones into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

Yarmouth kept the pressure on the duration of the first half and was rewarded twice more, as in the 21st minute, senior Tahj Garvey knocked home a rebound, and in the 34th minute, off a corner kick, when junior Eric LaBrie poked home a loose ball.

The Clippers didn’t score again, but they stymied the Falcons throughout and went on to a 3-0 victory.

Yarmouth won its 20th game in a row over two seasons, extended its unbeaten streak to 27, improved to 15-0, ended Freeport’s fine season at 9-7 and advanced to host No. 4 Lincoln Academy (10-3-2) in the semifinals Saturday at 6 p.m.

“It was a great start to the game in wet conditions,” Jones said. “We knew it was a playoff game and that anything could happen.”

Worth the wait

Yarmouth entered the season the heavy favorite in the region and the Clippers did nothing to disappoint, winning all 14 regular season games for the first time in program history (see sidebar, below, for previous stories). Yarmouth was only seriously tested five times, rallying from a 3-0 halftime deficit to down host Greely, 5-3, Sept. 7, holding off host York, 3-2, Sept. 12, rallying for a 2-1 home victory over Cape Elizabeth Sept. 22, edging visiting York, 1-0, Sept. 26, and eking out a 2-1 win at Cape Elizabeth Oct. 14.

Freeport won three of its final four games to go 8-6, its best mark since 2008, which was good for the No. 8 seed in Class B South. Saturday, the Falcons dominated visiting No. 9 seed Oak Hill, 7-0, in the preliminary round. 

The Falcons and Clippers met once in the regular season, a 6-1 Yarmouth victory Sept. 29 in Freeport. In that one, LaBrie scored three times, while Silas Chappell, Garvey and Jones also scored for the Clippers. Sophomore Jesse Bennell had the Falcons’ goal.

Prior to the quarterfinals, the neighbors had met five previous times in the playoffs (see sidebar, below, for results) with Yarmouth taking four, including a 1-0 triumph in the 2008 Western B semifinals, the most recent.

The teams were supposed to play Wednesday, but bad weather postponed the contest 24 hours to Thursday afternoon, where the rain continued to fall at times, but it didn’t bother the hosts, who advanced to the semifinals for the sixth year in a row. 

The Clippers got possession right away and with 39:13 to play in the first half, Groothoff got some room and fired a shot that hit Jones and the ball ricocheted away from Freeport junior goalkeeper Atticus Patrick and into the net for a quick 1-0 lead.

“Luke took a shot and I just kind of swung at it, it hit off me and went in,” Jones said. “Luke makes everyone better. The way he passes, moves and talks. He finds you in great positions. The easiest part of scoring is when he finds you.”

“The focus was a strong start,” Yarmouth coach Mike Hagerty said. “With bad weather, we knew it might be nice at the start, but not at the finish, so we wanted to get on them early like we did at their place (in the regular season). The beauty of Jack is that he’s in the right place a lot. Even before the goal, he was in the right place on a cross, so he could have had one there.”

The Clippers would eventually get a second goal, but were first frustrated as Groothoff shot wide, LaBrie headed the ball high, a long free kick by Groothoff was saved by Patrick and Groothoff shot just wide and missed high on a header.

After the Falcons put their first shot on frame, a long free kick from sophomore junior Caleb Arsenault which Yarmouth senior goalkeeper Cal Owen juggled before saving, the hosts earned a free kick from the side of the box and with 19:28 left before halftime, a serve from senior Eric Loomis found Groothoff, whose shot was saved by Patrick, but Garvey was there to bury the rebound for a 2-0 advantage.

“Luke is everywhere,” Hagerty said. “He makes everyone around him better. That’s what the best players do. He’s a difference-maker. We’ll miss the heck out of him next year.”

After Patrick dove to deny LaBrie, stopped a deflected shot off the foot of Groothoff and broke up a LaBrie rush, the Clippers struck again.

With 6:26 to play in the first half, off a Yarmouth corner kick, the ball bounced free in the box and LaBrie was there to finish for a 3-0 advantage.

“We knew what (Yarmouth) would do this time,” said Freeport coach Joe Heathco. “They just dribble at you. They don’t really beat you with passing. It’s old-fashioned really. They beat us on free kicks and a shot that deflected in.”

The Clippers had a 9-1 edge in first half shots and a 6-1 advantage on corner kicks. Patrick’s seven saves prevented the game from getting out of hand.

Freeport had some chances early in the second half, but a shot from sophomore Gabe Wagner was saved by Owen and after a header from Chappell off a corner kick hit the crossbar, Falcons junior Jason D’Amico sent a free kick high and a free kick from Bennell forced Owen to leap to save.

The Clippers then pressed for a fourth goal, but Jones headed a shot high, Groothoff just missed, senior Ben Norton ripped a rocket off the crossbar and Jones sent a header high.

Freeport had one final chance with 5:50 on the clock, but Wagner’s shot was saved by Owen and Yarmouth closed out its 3-0 victory.

“We didn’t have nerves, just excitement,” Jones said. “There’s always pressure as a top seed, but we just love to play soccer. I expected Freeport to be much-improved, to work hard and have technical players and they were impressive, but our defense played very well. I’m very confident with our defenders.”

“(Freeport’s) better than their record and they battled,” Hagerty said. “We had some kids with nerves, but most of them played the way they normally play and we took care of the ball, especially early.”

The Clippers out-shot the Falcons, 9-4, and had an 8-2 edge in corner kicks. Owen made four saves.

Building block

Freeport got six saves from Patrick, but its season came to a close.

“It’s a talented group and I’m very proud of them,” Heathco said. “We could have won even more games this year, but we didn’t take advantage of opportunities.”

Joe Ashby, Eben Babbidge, Evan McKittrick, Nate Thomas and Colby Wagner will graduate, but everyone else returns, suggesting the Falcons will be a factor again in 2018.

“We lose five seniors who were terrific players,” Heathco said. “They all contributed. We’ll miss them, but the core of this team is young and we’ll look to do better next year.”

On to Lincoln Academy

Lincoln Academy advanced to the semifinals in an unusual way. The Eagles were supposed to face fifth-ranked Mountain Valley in the quarterfinals, but the Falcons learned they had used an ineligible player during the regular season and forfeited, allowing Lincoln Academy to move on without breaking a sweat.

Yarmouth and Lincoln Academy don’t play in the regular season, but have met nine times in the playoffs. The Clippers hold a 7-2 all-time edge with a 2-1 (double-overtime) victory in the 2007 Western B quarterfinals the most recent.

“We have to focus on playing our game to the best of our ability and if we do, I don’ think any team can beat us,” Jones said.

“We were going to scout (Lincoln), but we didn’t get a chance to,” Hagerty said. “We’ll get a scouting report. The good news is they don’t play on turf a lot. I’d like to think we’re unique with our combination of size and speed. I love our speed. We still have to defend dead balls better and not foul teams in our defensive third. You don’t want a 50-50 ball in the box.”

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

Yarmouth senior Silas Chappell heads the ball as Freeport junior goalkeeper Atticus Patrick defends.

Freeport senior Evan McKittrick shields the ball from Yarmouth junior Jack Jones. 

Yarmouth senior Eric Loomis plays the ball.

Yarmouth senior Tahj Garvey fires a shot as Freeport senior Evan McKittrick defends.

Yarmouth junior Jack Jones heads the ball over Freeport junior Caleb Arsenault.

Yarmouth sophomore Jason Lainey serves up a corner kick.

Previous Yarmouth stories

Season Preview

@ Yarmouth 5 Greely 0

@ Yarmouth 2 Cape Elizabeth 1

Yarmouth 2 @ Cape Elizabeth 1

Previous Freeport stories

Season Preview

York 4 Freeport 0

Greely 2 Freeport 0

Previous Yarmouth-Freeport playoff results

2008 Western B semifinals
Yarmouth 1 Freeport 0

2005 Western B Final
Yarmouth 2 Freeport 0

2004 Western B semifinals
Yarmouth 3 Freeport 1

1982 Western C quarterfinals
Yarmouth 2 Freeport 0

1980 Western C quarterfinals
Freeport 1 Yarmouth 0

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