FREEPORT—A nearly flawless regular season had a perfect ending Wednesday afternoon for the Yarmouth field hockey team.
The Clippers, who were filled with question marks when the season began due to an abundance of unproven players, capped their dizzying turnaround from a program which didn’t win a single game five years ago to one which now has to be taken seriously a championship contender as their depth, balance and skill were all on display at Freeport in the teams’ mutual finale.
Yarmouth opened the scoring in the 24th minute when senior standout Kallie Hutchinson, whose arrival corresponded with (and had a lot to do with) the program’s resurgence, scored on a penalty stroke.
Then, 1:37 before halftime, the Clippers scored one of the prettiest goals seen anywhere this fall, as freshman Emilie Martin passed to sophomore Georgia Giese, who set up junior Cara Ricciardi for a 2-0 lead.
Yarmouth, despite having 13 penalty corners, couldn’t add to its lead, but a stellar defensive performance, sparked by junior Samantha Middleton, who had her best game to date, held the Falcons in check and the Clippers went on to the 2-0 victory.
Yarmouth improved to 13-1, capped its best season since 1998, locked up the No. 2 seed for the Western Class C playoffs and dropped Freeport to 7-6-1 and seventh in Western B in the process.
“I’m very impressed,” said Hutchinson. “Yeah, we’re young, but we have confidence, which is something most teams don’t have. We have a lot of charisma and we play well. Going into the season, I never thought we’d come this far and that we’d be this high in the standings or have homefield advantage.”
Both Freeport and Yarmouth have enjoyed success this fall, even though the Clippers have won more.
The Falcons have been and up down, but have shown glimpses of greatness.
Freeport lost its opener at York in a playoff rematch, 7-0, then dropped a tough 2-1 home decision to Kennebunk in overtime. The Falcons then won at Gray-New Gloucester (2-0) and Old Orchard Beach (7-1) and at home over Poland (3-0) and Cape Elizabeth (2-0) before finally falling to visiting Falmouth, 3-1. After bouncing back with wins at Lake Region (3-1) and Poland (2-1) and at home over Gray-New Gloucester (1-0), Freeport fell at Kennebunk (2-0), settled for a scoreless home tie versus Fryeburg Academy, then lost at Greely last Thursday, 2-0.
The Clippers, meanwhile, entered Wednesday’s game one fluky bounce shy of perfection.
Yarmouth started by downing host Old Orchard Beach (7-0) and visiting Waynflete (7-0), before scoring late for a 3-2 win at Sacopee Valley. After a long-awaited victory over nemesis North Yarmouth (2-1, at home), the Clippers blanked host Wells (6-0), visiting Traip (4-0) and host Old Orchard Beach (7-0). After a 2-0 home win over Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth eked out a 1-0 win at Waynflete, then had to go to double overtime before outlasting visiting Sacopee Valley, 1-0. A 2-1 double overtime loss at NYA followed, as the Panthers produced the winner after one of the zaniest ricochets you’ll ever see.
Yarmouth treated that loss as a learning experience.
“We got scared midway through that we peaked too early, but once we lost to NYA, we worked hard after that,” Hutchinson said. “We brought back the fire and intensity and we’ve risen ever since. That shocked us into gear and made us realize we could be beat. If you get cocky, you won’t improve.”
“That loss was helpful,” said Clippers coach Mandy Lewis. “We looked at parts of our game that we needed to improve. We focused on what we wanted to accomplish.”
The Clippers bounced back to defeat visiting Wells (5-0) and host Traip (3-0).
Freeport and Yarmouth saw plenty of each other in the 1980s and 1990s, meeting in the playoffs five times between 1988 and 1998, with the Clippers winning all five.
After several years of not meeting (after Yarmouth moved up to Class B), the series was renewed starting in 2010. On Oct. 7 of that year, the Clippers beat the Falcons, 1-0, to end a two-year, 34-game losing streak, the symbolic start of the program’s return to contention.
After the Clippers won at Freeport (2-1) in 2011 and at home over the Falcons in 2012 (1-0), Freeport beat Yarmouth for the first time this century last Oct. 5 (3-2). The Clippers returned the favor in the regular season finale, 2-0, at home.
Wednesday, on the Falcons’ Senior Day, both teams hoped to finish strong and move up in the standings, but it would be the Clippers doing their thing.
In the eighth minute, Yarmouth got the first chance, but in a sign of things to come, the Clippers were stymied on a corner, as a Hutchinson shot was blocked by Falcons senior Abby Smith.
Freeport’s first chance saw a cross from senior Hannah Williams trickle through the crease untouched.
With 17:30 to play in the half, Clippers sophomore Abby McDowell had a shot saved by Falcons junior goalie Morgan Karnes. Seconds later, Hutchinson had a shot saved by Karnes and a rebound from Martin was denied by Karnes as well.
Yarmouth junior goalie Tori Messina made her first save with 13:40 left before halftime, denying a Williams bid.
Freeport then earned its first corner, but Middleton came up big, clearing the ball before a shot.
The Clippers broke the scoring ice with 6:53 left.
Hutchinson fired a long blast which Karnes slowed. The ball trickled dangerously close to the goal line, but wasn’t ruled in and in the ensuing scrum, Karnes fell and trapped the ball, giving Yarmouth a penalty stroke.
Hutchinson is as close as you can get to a sure thing on penalty strokes and she converted again, firing a high shot to the right of Karnes, into the netting for a 1-0 lead.
“At the beginning of the season, I was nervous (on penalty strokes), because all the pressure is on the shooter,” Hutchinson said. “I know my team’s behind me either way. I’ve gotten lucky this year. The power I can obtain from my hits has come into my strokes. Once I get into rhythm, I just go with it. I take a breath once the whistle is blown. It’s all about composure. If you take that second, it gives the goalie time to think.”
Falcons coach Marcia Wood called timeout to settle her charges, but it didn’t help as the Clippers soon doubled their lead.
Martin played the ball down the right side and delivered a perfect cross to Giese, who touched the ball over to Ricciardi and Ricciardi, who was active presence on offense all day, rattled the cage and just like that, the Clippers were on top, 2-0.
“I couldn’t have done it without Georgia and the other girls,” Ricciardi said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. It felt so good.”
“I’ve been really impressed with the power of our forwards,” Hutchinson said. “They keep their sticks down in the circle. They take what we do in practice and take their intensity and do something with it. I didn’t know going in (to the season) who would score, but first game, we had seven goals and basically seven different girls had one. It’s been very nice for me. Sammy and Cara, a lot of people are coming into their own. We’re looking to players like them to step up. Our intensity and our drive and our passion has been very impressive.”
“Recently, we’ve looked for a forward line set up that will really produce,” Lewis added. “Today, pieces fell into place. We had players step up. I think a strength of ours is if one player is having an off day, we work through it and other girls step up. Cara had a great game. She’s worked hard on improving her stick skills in the circle. She just got hungry out there.”
Yarmouth had a 7-1 advantage in shots in the first half. Five saves from Karnes kept Freeport within hailing distance and Wood tried to keep the Falcons believing they had a chance.
“When I called the timeout, I could tell the girls were feeling defeated,” Wood said. “They were quiet today. Yarmouth beat us to every ball. I think we looked at their Heal Points and thought, ‘Oh my God, they’ve only lost one game.’ They don’t see they’re capable of beating top teams.”
There would be no scoring in the second half, but both teams had their chances.
The desperate Falcons came out sizzling and just 40 seconds in, Williams sent a long hit into the circle, where sophomore Bailey Coffin redirected it toward the goal. Messina stood tall, however, and the rebound was cleared.
The Clippers then went back on the attack, but Hutchinson had a long shot saved and senior Fiona Clarke’s rebound was denied. Moments later, Hutchinson tried again, shooting on a penalty corner, but it was deflected wide.
After Clarke redirected junior Bre Morrill’s long hit wide, Williams took off down the field, looking to cut the deficit in half, but Yarmouth sophomore defender Nicole McDowell stopped her at the last moment.
With 19:36 to play, Williams again created a scoring opportunity with a rush, passed the ball to senior Dani Foster and Foster delivered a perfect feed in front, but Coffin couldn’t get her stick on the ball.
Middleton stepped up huge again with 8:30 to play, blocking Williams’ cross.
“I’ve had some games where I wasn’t really myself, but today, I really wanted to bring it and play really hard,” Middleton said. “Having Kallie telling me to do certain things helped me.”
“Sammy has a lot of energy,” Lewis said. “She’s our defender who doesn’t give up. If she gets beaten, she gets back into position and she’s ready to go.”
Freeport kept the pressure on and after Williams had a shot saved by Messina, the Falcons earned back-to-back corners. On the second, a Smith feed into the box trickled through untouched.
With just over five minutes to play, the Falcons got three corners in a row and on the last, Nicole McDowell cleared the ball away.
After Karnes saved consecutive shots from Clarke, Freeport had one final chance, but a Foster shot that appeared ticketed for the goal was cleared out of harm’s way at the last second by Clippers sophomore defender Gracie Griffin.
Yarmouth ran out the clock from there on its 2-0 victory.
“It got really tough at the end,” Middleton said. “We were really tired, but we kept our sticks down and stayed positive.”
“I’m really surprised because we have a really young team,” Ricciardi said. “We’re working really well together and we’ve achieved so many good things together.”
“It’s an exciting way to end,” Lewis added. “We knew Freeport would give us a tough game today. We created opportunities and we were able to finish. It’s been a very good season. We’ve come a long way. Some of the seniors have been in the program and helped that happen.”
The Clippers finished with a 19-4 shots advantage and had 13 corners, but struggled finishing on Freeport’s turf field.
“The corners were a struggle,” Lewis said. “We had a hard time with our inserts and that threw off the rest of our play.”
Messina made four saves and got plenty of help from Griffin, Nicole McDowell, Middleton and senior captain Meaghan Gorman.
“Our defense is so strong,” Hutchinson said. “I couldn’t trust Nicole more behind me. Sammy played well. We have (Meaghan’s) leadership back there. They give me so much confidence.”
Freeport, which got 13 saves from Karnes, had 10 corners of its own , but for the fourth game in a row, couldn’t score.
“Is this deja vu?” Wood said. “We came out with fantastic energy. We were looking good. We were getting looks. There’s just a big barrier that’s preventing us from finishing. It is disappointing. We wanted to show a better record this year. We were flying high a few weeks ago, then something happened. Still, I’m proud of what the seniors have done. They’re very passionate.”
Freeport projects to be the seventh seed in Western Class B and will play at No. 2 Leavitt (10-3-1) in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
The Falcons simply need to find a way to score.
“We feel jinxed not scoring,” Wood said. “It’s in our heads and it’s hard for it not to be. We’ve probably had 60 or 70 corners straight without a goal.”
Yarmouth will be second in Western C and will host a quarterfinal Tuesday, against either No. 7 Telstar (6-8) or No. 10 Waynflete (4-9-1). The Clippers don’t play the Rebels during the season, but went 2-0 against the Flyers, winning easily in the opener, then struggling in the rematch.
Yarmouth knows it has an opportunity to complete its tremendous season with a fantastic finish. The Clippers won’t have to play another game on grass and will have homefield advantage for two rounds (presuming they win their first game).
“It’s very wide open,” Hutchinson said. “We have to come out intense from the first whistle. The girls want it.”
“I’m ready and I’m really excited,” Middleton said. “We’re going to go for it. Since we’re a little younger, I feel like we connect better and we want it more. We practice hard and we’re close-knit.”
“Being home is important,” Ricciardi said. “It gives us motivation. It gives us the mindset that we can do it. It’s so much fun. I love the team. We’re like one big family.”
“Homefield is helpful, but it’s not something we can rely on,” Lewis added. “I think we’ve really progressed. To make it further each year is exciting. We hope that continues.”
What a difference four years makes.
“(Meaghan) and I say it every day, ‘How did we get here?'” Hutchinson said. “No one would have thought a team with three seniors and five juniors would bring it this much. I couldn’t be more lucky for the group of the girls I’ve been able to play with. The respect for field hockey in Yarmouth has improved immensely since my freshman year. People at school see it. I knew it was something we’d have to work for. Looking back at the four seasons I’ve had, I couldn’t be happier or have more pride in what this program means. After this season, no matter how it ends, I’ll be able to say my high school career was everything I could make of it. I couldn’t be more proud of how my team has come out this year. I never expected to make it this far.”
Yarmouth sophomore Abby McDowell tries to work her way around Freeport junior Lexi Peacock.
Yarmouth junior Nicole McDowell stretches to knock the ball away from Freeport sophomore Bailey Coffin.
Freeport junior goalie Morgan Karnes, junior defender Bailey Karnes and Yarmouth senior Fiona Clarke keep their eye on the ball.
Yarmouth freshman Emilie Martin is confronted by Freeport senior Chloe Whittaker.
Yarmouth junior Samantha Middleton sends the ball up the field.
Freeport senior Hannah Williams races up the field.
Yarmouth senior Kallie Hutchinson fires a penalty stroke goal past Freeport junior Morgan Karnes for the game’s first score.
@ Freeport 3 Yarmouth 2
@ Yarmouth 2 Freeport 0
@ Yarmouth 1 Freeport 0
Yarmouth 2 @ Freeport 1
@ Yarmouth 1 Freeport 0
Yarmouth junior Cara Ricciardi taps home the second goal of the game and gets a hug as a reward during Wednesday’s game at Freeport. The Clippers went on to a 2-0 victory to cap a sensational 13-1 season.
Derek Carpine photos.
More photos below.