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Yarmouth’s players and fans celebrate after sophomore Eric LaBrie’s overtime goal gives the Clippers a dramatic 3-2 win over Greely in Saturday’s Class B South semifinal.
Chris Lambert photos.
More photos below.
YARMOUTH—If it’s better to be lucky than good, it’s better still to be lucky and good and since Yarmouth’s boys’ soccer team is both, its quest for an unprecedented three-peat still has life.
Saturday afternoon, the Clippers hosted rival Greely in a Class B South semifinal in the rain and Yarmouth needed 80 minutes and then some to advance in an instant classic.
After a sluggish start, the Rangers pounced first, as a shot by senior standout Hunter Graham deflected off a defender and into the goal for a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
The Clippers tied the score six minutes later, when junior Max Coury sent a beautiful long pass ahead to sophomore Eric LaBrie, who finished to forge a 1-1 tie, which held up until halftime.
After Yarmouth senior Matt Dostie hit the post with 22:41 to play, Graham put Greely on top, cleaning up a rebound with 16:44 remaining and the Clippers were in serious trouble.
Until they got a fortuitous bounce of their own.
With 4:05 left, junior Luke Groothoff launched a shot which hit a Rangers defender and floated over Greely junior goalkeeper A.J. Eisenhart and in to improbably tie the score, 2-2.
The teams would go to overtime and there, it was all Yarmouth, which took advantage of its new life and won it with 8:18 remaining in the first of two possible 15-minute, “sudden victory” sessions, when junior Luke Waeldner crossed the ball to the far post where LaBrie was there to head it home and give the Clippers a palpitating 3-2 victory.
Yarmouth improved to 13-2-1, ended Greely’s stirring playoff run and its season at 9-8 and advanced to battle top-ranked Maranacook (15-0-1) for the second year in a row in the Class B South Final, Wednesday at 6 p.m., in Readfield.
“It was a hard battle,” said Groothoff. “(Greely’s) a good team, but we always have a way of coming through when it matters most. Going down twice and coming back shows our character.”
Prior to 2013, Greely and Yarmouth were in different classes and with the exception of a couple meetings way back in 1974 and 1975, never met in the playoffs.
That all changed when the Rangers dropped back to Class B and that first season, 2013, Greely stunned a Clippers powerhouse in the regional final, 2-1. Yarmouth got a measure of revenge in 2014 (4-2 in the regional final en route to a championship). Last fall, the Clippers beat the Rangers again, this time in the semifinals, 3-1, en route to a repeat title (see sidebar, below, for previous matchups).
For most of the 2016 campaign, it didn’t appear as if Greely would be a serious playoff factor, as it began 3-6, but the Rangers showed life late and at 7-7 went into the postseason as the No. 6 seed (see sidebar, below, for previous game stories).
After holding off No. 11 Leavitt, 1-0, in a preliminary round game played on the turf at North Yarmouth Academy due to bad weather, Greely shocked third-ranked Cape Elizabeth Tuesday in the quarterfinals, 2-1.
Yarmouth was expected to be a team capable of winning a program-first third successive championship and other than a couple of surprisingly lopsided losses to Falmouth (5-0 and 5-3) and a tie at York, the Clippers lived up to billing, going 11-2-1 and earning the second seed in Class B South.
Tuesday, in the quarterfinals, Yarmouth advanced with a 2-0 win over No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester.
The Clippers beat the Rangers twice this season, 4-1 Oct. 1 in Cumberland and 2-1 in the finale Oct. 18 in Yarmouth.
Saturday, Greely hoped to keep its unexpected run going, but the Clippers instead somehow managed to even the all-time postseason series at 3-3.
The first 10 minutes or so saw the teams feeling each other out without a quality chance.
Twelve minutes in, Groothoff lined up for a free kick just outside the box, but the Rangers blocked it.
With 26:23 to play in the first half, Greely suffered a blow when senior Lucca Pfruender suffered an apparent collarbone injury and have to leave the game (he would not return).
The Rangers then got a lift, as with 21:01 to play in the half, Graham got just a little room and that’s all he needed, as eluded two defenders, then shot and the ball deflected off a defender and over the head of Yarmouth senior goalkeeper Michael Hagerty Jr. and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Four minutes later, Greely almost doubled its lead, as Graham headed the ball to senior Henry Melville at the near post, but Melville shot just high.
The Clippers then pounced and tied the score with 15:05 left in the half, when Coury sent a long through ball ahead to LaBrie, who outraced the defense, roared in on the right side of the box, then shot low to the left to beat a diving Eisenhart, tying the score, 1-1.
“Max got me the ball and I just outran the defense,” LaBrie said. “I was trying to hit it across the net and I got it.”
After Hagerty denied a long shot from Greely senior Will Pidgeon and Eisenhart saved a shot by LaBrie, the teams went to the break deadlocked.
There wouldn’t be much separation in the second half either.
Yarmouth almost went on top less than three minutes into the second half, when Dostie eluded several defenders and got into the box before having the ball knocked away.
The Clippers then got three straight corner kicks, but couldn’t put a shot on frame.
The Rangers then earned three consecutive corners, but only managed one shot, a bid from junior Quinn Molloy that was wide.
With 22:41 to go, Yarmouth came within inches of the lead, as Dostie sidestepped a defender, then sent a left-footed rocket to the left of a helpless Eisenhart, but to Greely’s relief, the ball rang off the far post to keep the game tied.
Greely then went on top with 16:44 remaining, as senior Dylan Fried got free on the left side of the box, Fried’s shot was blocked by a defender, but the ball came in front to senior Alvaro Obregon, whose bid was denied by junior Cal Owen, who came in to play goalie for the Clippers in the second half. Owen couldn’t control the rebound, however, and Graham was there to bang it home, making it 2-1 Rangers.
“Hunter came in and won a championship freshman year and has given us everything he had,” said Greely coach Mike Andreasen. “He was positive with the other kids. He’s a class player. He gave us his biggest game tonight. I’ll miss him.”
“Hunter’s good on the ball, he’s not easy to move,” Waeldner said. “He’s solid and he’s a smart player.”
“(Greely’s) always had that dangerous great player,” said Clippers coach Mike Hagerty. “Hunter’s so dangerous one-on-one. In fact, he’s dangerous one-on-two, so they can afford to drop guys back.”
Now desperate, Yarmouth focused exclusively on the attack, but a Dostie rush was broken up by Greely freshman Matt Kramlich, Eisenhart caught a long free kick by Groothoff and a Clippers’ corner kick was cleared.
Pidgeon had a chance to put the game away, when he counterattacked with 6:48 left, but his shot was saved by Owen.
Then, with 4:05 remaining, fortune favored the hosts.
Groothoff took a pass from senior Henry Coolidge, eluded one defender, then shot the ball. The trajectory quickly changed when the ball hit a defender and it arced over the head of Eisenhart, who lunged to no avail and watched helplessly as the ball tickled the twine to tie the score, 2-2.
“Henry played a nice ball across and I had a little space and took a shot,” Groothoff said. “It was just a deflection. That’s how soccer is, anything can happen. We trusted the coaches and the game-plan. We wanted to play fast, but not rush it.”
“That was great for Luke,” said Hagerty. “He’s been working on his shot. That was just a weird bounce. It spun and we got a fortunate bounce. That mirrored their first goal.”
“Hats off to Yarmouth, they make plays and they’re poised,” said Andreasen. “They attacked hard and they tied the game on a deflected goal. That’s tough to swallow. It hit Dylan in the shoulder. Who knows where it would have gone, but probably not the one place A.J. couldn’t get to. That’s how the ball bounces and unfortunately, that’s how it bounced for us.”
The Clippers almost ended it in regulation, but a shot from Dostie hit the side netting with 2:41 to go.
The contest would go to overtime, where Yarmouth built on its momentum and brought the game to a victorious conclusion.
LaBrie got a chance three minutes in, but missed wide.
He wouldn’t be off target the next time.
Waeldner created the winning goal with a nice run down the left side before crossing the ball to the far post. LaBrie was there waiting and with 8:18 to go in overtime, LaBrie headed the ball past Eisenhart and into the goal to end it and give the Clippers a 3-2 victory.
“I was trying to get to the back post, so I was in the right place at the right time,” LaBrie said. “It felt good.”
“The plan was to get the ball wide and cross it into the box,” Waeldner said. “I was trying to put it in to our strikers and it happened to work out. I saw a bunch of kids and then the ball hit the back of the net. It was a pretty good feeling.”
“We hoped it would end on a quality goal and it was a good cross and a good finish,” Hagerty added. “We talked all week that the back post would be open and we had to get it there and we were frustrated. We finally did it. All props go to Luke Waeldner. He got the ball there. He’s earned his playing time. He didn’t play a lot in the second half of the season. The assistant coaches and captains told me he earned more time and should be out there. We give our players a voice. Eric came to me and asked to play a little more on the outside. We slid him outside and in the first half and he wasn’t touching the ball enough. We put up top and he got a goal. He’s such a dangerous player. He has a nose for the goal. Those were his 13th and 14th goals of the year. He’s a fabulous sophomore. He also benefited from passes from Max and Luke. He’s one of the calmest sophomores I’ve ever seen around the goal. He doesn’t panic.”
At 5:06 p.m., after nearly two hours of high quality soccer between ancient rivals, Yarmouth was able to exhale and exult.
“We felt like the winner was coming,” Groothoff said. “We knew we’d get it, so we pressed them hard and it eventually came.”
“I knew they were a tough opponent, but I didn’t know it would be this hard to get a win,” Waeldner said. “They put up a good fight and worked hard. It was a good battle.”
“Thank goodness we showed good character and bounced back,” Hagerty added. “I think karma worked in our favor. Greely’s tough. We’ve been in games like this, so we don’t panic. These games are exciting. It was competitive and up and down. I’m proud of how the kids responded. They didn’t get nervous. Greely is well coached. They get guys behind the ball and it’s hard to beat eight or nine guys back. We go way back and they beat us here three years ago, but I think the difference the past three years is the homefield and the turf. Grass can create sloppiness. On turf, we can be faster. We can read and get truer bounces. We’re not huge fans of grass. Turf’s safer and better and cleaner this time of year.”
To illustrate the tightness of the contest, witness shots on frame (five for each side). Owen made two saves and Hagerty Jr. had one for the Clippers, who took six corner kicks to the Rangers’ three.
Greely got two saves from Eisenhart and left lamenting what-if.
“If you play a team three times, usually you get one, but not today,” Andreasen said. “It was an unmarked guy on the back post that got us. They try to beat you in the corners and they did that. We didn’t look good in overtime. We were playing defense. The kids ran out of mental gas. We were lucky just to get to overtime. Losing Lucca early hurt us, he’s one of our best forwards.”
The Rangers were 3-6 at one point this season and wound up falling about four minutes shy of playing for a regional title. Another unheralded Greely team enjoyed a deep playoff run.
“We made strides,” Andreasen said. “We started miserably and came on strong at the end.”
The Rangers will have to start over, as they’ll be decimated by graduation.
“This could be the biggest group I’ve lost,” said Andreasen. “We played 15 back regularly and 12 were seniors. We have A.J. back in goal, (junior) Evan Goettel in the back and Quinn Molloy on the wing. It’s going to be a real transformation process. We might be a year away and that’s hard in this conference. When you play young, you take a beating because the teams that are old are also good.”
Last season, visiting Yarmouth rallied late to tie Maranacook, then beat the Black Bears, 3-2, on a LaBrie goal in an overtime thriller in the regional final. The teams, who don’t play in the regular season, will square off again Wednesday.
The Clippers have won three of four previous playoff games against Maranacook.
Yarmouth knows it won’t be easy, but after surviving Saturday’s scare, the Clippers are ready to make the most of their second chance.
“We’ll stick to our plan,” Waeldner said. “We have to go in confident.”
“We have a lot of pride,” LaBrie said. “We have to just keep playing our game. If we play Yarmouth soccer, we’ll be fine.”
“We have to have good practices, stay focused and play the style we like to play,” Groothoff said.
“Maranacook has a good single striker and has a decent back four,” Hagerty added. “They’re well coached. It will be similar to today with us seeing eight or nine guys dropping back. They’re tough on their home field, but we have good and smart kids and a good staff. We’ll be ready.”
Yarmouth junior Tahj Garvey shields the ball from Greely senior Alvaro Obregon.
Yarmouth junior Luke Waeldner prepares to cross the ball as Greely senior Jack Saffian defends. Waeldner assisted the winning goal in overtime.
Yarmouth sophomore Jon Torres heads the ball away from Greely senior Hunter Graham.
Yarmouth sophomore Eric LaBrie and Greely senior Chris Borden fight for possession.
Yarmouth senior Matt Dostie lines up a shot.
Greely senior Hunter Graham shoots in traffic and gets a fortunate bounce for the game’s first goal.
Greely junior goalkeeper A.J. Eisenhart stretches in vain to reach Yarmouth junior Luke Groothoff’s shot as Clippers sophomore Eric LaBrie (23) and senior Gibson Harnett look on. Groothoff tied the game with 4:05 left in regulation.
2015 Class B South semifinal
Yarmouth 3 Greely 1
2014 Western B Final
Yarmouth 4 Greely 2
2013 Western B Final
Greely 2 Yarmouth 1
1975 Western B semifinals
Greely 3 Yarmouth 0
1974 Western B Final
Greely 1 Yarmouth 0