Yarmouth field hockey upset by Spruce Mountain in quarterfinals

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YARMOUTH—A season that produced so much joy ended in a trail of tears Wednesday afternoon.

After exceeding expectations for two months, Yarmouth’s field hockey team had visions of a deep playoff run, but those hopes were dashed suddenly and stunningly by visiting Spruce Mountain in Wednesday’s Class B South quarterfinal round playoff tilt.

The second-ranked Clippers got off to an ideal start, taking a 1-0 lead when junior Taylor Robison scored off a penalty corner less than 10 minutes into the contest. 

Yarmouth couldn’t rattle the cage again and while it tried to hold on for dear life, couldn’t do so, as the seventh-seeded Phoenix drew even with 10:16 to play in regulation, when junior standout Alex Bessey finished on a corner.

Neither team scored the rest of regulation and after Clippers senior goalie Tori Messina stood on her head with a heroic performance to keep the game going in the first overtime, a second OT proved to be too much for Yarmouth to survive, as 1 minute, 19 seconds in, Bessey set up senior Kaylee Leclerc for the winner and just like that, the Clippers were finished as Spruce Mountain prevailed, 2-1.

The Phoenix improved to 11-5, advanced to face No. 6 Leavitt (10-5) in Saturday’s semifinals and in the process, ended Yarmouth’s memorable season at 11-3-1.

“We certainly hoped for a different outcome today,” said Clippers coach Mandy Lewis. “We knew it would be a tough game. We talked in pregame that if we left it all on the field, that’s all we could ask for.”

New challenges

The teams had no history prior to Wednesday, as Spruce Mountain is a relatively new school, combining Jay and Livermore Falls. Yarmouth did beat Jay in four of five playoff encounters between 1989 and 1998.

The Phoenix had to win a prelim to advance, holding off No. 7 Greely, 1-0, Saturday.

The Clippers had quite a regular season, starting 9-0-1, before losing a close home game to defending Class B champion York. Yarmouth’s only other blemish was a 2-1 home setback to Falmouth on a last-second goal in the home finale.

The Clippers’ intention in this one was to come out and squash the Phoenix’s hopes early and while they got an early goal, they couldn’t make it stand up.

Thanks to the energy of senior Cara Ricciardi, junior Eliza Lunt, who is new to the team this fall, and senior Breanna Morrill, who was injured during the 2014 postseason only to enjoy a comeback season this year, Yarmouth controlled play early.

Just 40 seconds in, Ricciardi had a look, but it was blocked by a Spruce Mountain defender.

Yarmouth’s goal eventually came in the 10th minute, off a corner. The ball was inserted to Morrill, who ripped a shot that Phoenix senior goalie Grace Ryan stopped with her pad, but the ball came to Robison and she sent the rebound into the cage to make it 1-0 Clippers.

Had Yarmouth quickly added to its lead, it might have gone on to victory, but Ryan denied junior Abby McDowell on a corner and junior Ally MacLeod sent the rebound just wide.

Spruce Mountain then took a timeout and that turned momentum in the favor of the visitors.

The Phoenix pushed for the equalizer, but a rush from Bessey was broken up by Clippers senior Sammy Middleton, a corner resulted in Bessey setting up senior Emily Hogan for a high shot which Messina saved and off another corner, Clippers sophomore Sophie McGrath blocked a Hogan shot.

Late in the half, Lunt was denied by Ryan on a rush and the game went to the break, 1-0.

Yarmouth held a 6-1 edge in shots in the first half (4-1 on frame), but Ryan’s three saves kept Spruce Mountain very much alive.

Both teams were frustrated for much of the second half until the Phoenix finally drew even.

After Messina broken up a Bessey rush and the ensuing scrum resulted in the ball rolling just wide of the cage, Ryan came up huge, saving a shot from McDowell after she was set up by sophomore Emilie Martin. 

The Clippers then had a corner which saw Martin denied. McDowell was then frustrated three times in a short period of time, having two shots saved by Ryan and another rush broken up.

With 12:08 to go, Yarmouth junior defender Nicole McDowell broke up a Bessey rush and Messina saved a subsequent bid by Phoenix junior Sadie Storer.

Then, with 10:25 left, Spruce Mountain earned a penalty corner and pounced.

The ball was inserted by sophomore Morgan Dalton to Bessey, who fired a rocket that Messina couldn’t stop and with 10:16 left in regulation, the game was deadlocked, 1-1.

Lewis didn’t call timeout, hoping the Clippers would counter, but a scrum resulted in no shot on goal.

“There have been times throughout our season where we answered right away and I was hoping that would happen,” Lewis said. “We’ve worked a lot in practice on second shot, rebound opportunities, but we weren’t able to convert that today.”

Neither team had a good look from there and it was on to overtime.

In high school playoff field hockey, teams play two eight-minute, “sudden victory” overtimes and if no one scores, the game is decided in penalty corners.

That wouldn’t be needed in this one.

Spruce Mountain dominated the first OT, but Messina refused to let her high school career end.

Just 29 seconds in, Messina denied Bessey and Hogan’s rebound was blocked.

Off a Phoenix corner, Messina stopped a Bessey blast.

After Nicole McDowell stopped a Bessey rush, Messina twice denied Bessey on rushes, then robbed Leclerc and made a nice kick save on a Bessey bid with 26 seconds to go, sending the game to a second overtime.

In the eight-minute OT, Messina had four saves and broke up two other rushes.

“Tori had a great game,” Lewis said. “She’s kept us in a lot of games this season. We have a strong defense and that starts with our goalie. Tori will be very hard to replace.”

Spruce Mountain would keep the pressure on in the second overtime and on its first shot, with 6:41 left, brought an end to the contest.

Bessey again created the opportunity, getting in behind the defense and going one-on-one with Messina, but this time, instead of shooting, Bessey passed to Leclerc, who sent the ball into the cage, then went flying after it in a pileup that caused a moment of uncertainty before the goal was ruled good and the Phoenix celebrated a 2-1 victory.

“We have to hold our heads up,” Lewis said. “We know we played hard and did the best we could. Not seeing Spruce Mountain during the regular season made it a challenge, but in some ways, facing a new opponent in the playoffs can be a good thing. We felt the intensity start to shift midway through the first half, but we held on to the 1-0 lead. We weren’t able to maintain our intensity throughout the second half.”

Shots ended even, 10-10, as did shots on frame, 8-8, and corners, 4-4. Ryan made seven saves, while Messina stopped six shots.

Yarmouth’s season ended sooner than hoped, but it was quite a ride.

“I think coming back into Class B, it was unknown what our journey would look like, but I think we won more games than we expected,” Lewis said. “It’s been an exciting season.” 

They’ll be back

Yarmouth loses six seniors, including starters Messina, Middleton, Morrill and Ricciardi, but there’s a lot of strong young talent on this roster, suggesting the Clippers will be right back in the hunt in 2016.

“I think each season when we have success, it excites the girls (on the team) and the girls in middle school,” Lewis said. “The seniors played a big part in our success. They didn’t know field hockey without a playoff season and we want to keep that going. The future remains bright.”

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

The picture says it all. Spruce Mountain celebrates while Yarmouth looks on in disbelief after senior Kaylee Leclerc (in corner of goal with ball) scores to give the Phoenix a 2-1 double-overtime victory in Wednesday’s Class B South quarterfinal.

Chris Lambert photos.

Yarmouth junior Molly Wilson takes a swing.

Yarmouth junior Abby McDowell and Spruce Mountain senior Katelyn Gervais battle for the ball.

Yarmouth senior Tori Messina boots the ball away as junior Ally MacLeod looks on.

Yarmouth junior Nicole McDowell tries to break up a rush from Spruce Mountain junior Alex Bessey.

Yarmouth junior Taylor Robison (center) is mobbed by her teammates after scoring an early goal Wednesday.

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