FREEPORT—For most of the first half Tuesday afternoon, it looked like the Freeport girls’ soccer team was the one looking to avenge a playoff loss from a year ago, not the Yarmouth Clippers.
That’s because the host Falcons took advantage of their two scoring opportunities to take a stunning 2-0 lead.
But just when Freeport appeared primed to take that healthy advantage to the half, the Clippers came to life.
With under a minute to go before the break, unheralded junior Eavan O’Neill somehow lofted in a shot from the corner and Yarmouth took momentum to the break.
The Clippers then controlled the second half.
With 31:35 to play, O’Neill was fouled in the box and while she had to leave the game with injury, she did earn a penalty kick for her team in the process and sophomore Cory Langenbach drilled it to tie the score.
Five minutes later, Yarmouth went on top, as sophomore Katie Clemmer headed home junior Lilly Watson’s corner kick. Watson then set up the clincher, as her feed was buried by sophomore Gretchen Barbera with just over 10 minutes remaining and the Clippers went on to a 4-2 victory.
Yarmouth earned a small measure of revenge for last year’s ouster, improved to 2-1 and dropped Freeport to 1-3 in the process.
“I felt like Freeport came out and wanted it more and played harder in the first half,” said longtime Clippers coach Rich Smith. “We just needed to step up and play. We were a step slow and a step late everywhere. I thought we’d be fired up, but we weren’t. The second half we played better and got some goals. We learned we can come from behind and win which is important.”
Yarmouth felt it was a team capable of doing some damage in 2013, but last Oct. 29, at home, the Clippers were upset by the Falcons, 1-0, in the quarterfinals and their season came to a sudden end.
This year, Yarmouth might have what it takes to make a deeper run.
The Clippers opened with a 2-0 home loss to Greely, but they carried play much of the way and the final score was misleading. Friday, Yarmouth got its first victory, 2-1, over visiting Cape Elizabeth, the defending Class B state champion.
Freeport, which lost to Cape Elizabeth in the semifinals a year ago, opened with losses at Cape Elizabeth (5-0) and Sacopee Valley (2-1) before romping at Wells (7-1).
Prior to last year’s playoff meeting, Yarmouth hadn’t lost to Freeport this century (see sidebar, below).
The Clippers got back in the win column in the rivalry Tuesday, but not as easily as some might have thought.
Yarmouth had some good chances early, but a shot from Barbera in the second minute was saved by Falcons junior goalkeeper Izzy Qualls, Qualls leaped to make a save on a 30-yard shot from senior Emma Torres in the eighth minute and a feed from Torres to freshman Sara D’Appolonia two minutes later, was broken up by Qualls coming off her line.
Freeport then transitioned to offense and just like that, took the lead.
Senior Julia Smith got free and played the ball up the left sideline and sent a cross all the way across the goalmouth to the foot of senior Jill Baker at the far post. Baker tapped the ball into the net and just liked that it was 1-0 Falcons with 30:04 to play in the first half.
“Julia has been a huge part of our offense,” said Freeport coach Elayna Girardin. “She’s done a nice job diversifying how she plays. She’s showing she can shoot, cross and pass through the middle. She’s worked hard and it’s come together.”
Yarmouth looked to answer, but Clemmer shot just wide and after Qualls bobbled a shot from freshman Hannah Corey, she pounced on the loose ball just before Clemmer could get to it.
With 16:37 to play in the half, the hosts struck again as again Smith made a long run and crossed the ball, this time to junior Maddie Squibb, and Squibb beat Clippers senior goalkeeper Shannon Fallon to make it 2-0 and put the visitors on the ropes.
Had Freeport been able to hold that lead into the half, it might have gone on to victory, but Yarmouth pushed for a goal and was eventually rewarded.
First, Qualls saved a long shot from Torres, D’Appolonia shot high on a free kick, a Watson corner landed untouched in the box, then was cleared away, another long Torres shot was saved and a bid from Langenbach off a corner went wide.
The Clippers didn’t quit, however, and O’Neill, who missed all of last season with a knee injury and is still seeing limited time due to not being 100 percent, fought for a ball in the corner, got around a defender, then lofted a cross that drifted toward the far post. Qualls leaped and got a fingertip on the ball, but it got past her and bounced off the far post and in to make the score 2-1 with 50.9 seconds left before the break.
“That gave us confidence and we kept playing hard from there,” Langenbach said.
“Eavan has come a long way,” Rich Smith said. “She tore her ACL a year-and-a-half ago. She had to sit out last soccer season and lacrosse season. I’m happy to have her buzzing around out there and being tough and focused. She brings a lot to the team. That was really a huge goal. We definitely needed to get it to 2-1 to have something positive to talk about at halftime.”
Yarmotuh kept the pressure on to begin the second half.
The Clippers almost drew even with 36:33 to play, but Clemmer’s one-timer went just wide.
Then, with 31:35 showing, O’Neill got a step on a defender and appeared goal-bound, but she was taken down and the official immediately ruled a penalty kick.
O’Neill was hurt, however, as she tweaked her knee (Smith felt after the game that it wasn’t a major injury) and play was halted for several minutes as she was tended to and removed from the field.
Once that was completed, Langenbach stepped to the line with a chance to tie it and she didn’t hesitate, blasting a shot to Qualls’ left, into the right corner of the net and the game was deadlocked, 2-2.
“I was nervous, but I knew I couldn’t think about it too much because then I might over-think it and mess up,” said Langenbach, about her first high school PK. “I knew where I was going. I tried to find a corner. I knew I hit it well.”
Yarmouth then took the lead with 26:04 to play.
The goal came on a corner kick.
Watson had served several nice balls on corners against Greely, but had nothing to show for it.
This time, a perfect serve found the head of Clemmer in front and Clemmer sent the ball into the net to put the Clippers on top for good, 3-2.
“On our corner kick plays, we pick a position where we’ll run to,” Clemmer said. “I saw it coming and I just headed it in.”
“We have a few people who can put the ball in the box,” Rich Smith said. “It’s just a matter of getting a body part on it. We just have to finish those off. They make the difference in games.”
The Falcons didn’t roll over, but couldn’t answer.
With 23:55 to play, Langenbach had to clear a corner kick from the box. Five minutes later, Julia Smith sent a shot just wide.
Yarmouth then got an insurance goal with 10:39 to play, as Watson passed to Barbera, who lobbed a perfectly placed left-footed one-timer over Qualls to make it 4-2.
Down the stretch, Freeport senior Alyssa Richardson’s rush was broken up by Clippers junior defender Lauren Bartlett and Fallon punched away a corner kick.
The Clippers then ran out the clock and got to celebrate their triumph.
“We came for revenge,” Langenbach said. “We didn’t want to lose again.”
“In the second half, we just really turned it on,” Clemmer said. “We decided to pick up our communication and make better passes. We finished a lot better than we did in the first half. We got really fired up after that goal and picked up the pace.”
“Everyone who’s back remembers the pain of getting knocked out of the playoffs, but it’s a new season and a new team with new goals,” Rich Smith added. “We focus on playing hard every game.”
Freeport did a lot of things right, but couldn’t answer once Yarmouth came to life.
“We played hard,” Girardin said. “This year we have a mix of experience and new players. Getting them to jell has been a major focus of mine. We’ve done that, but when the pressure builds, we lose it and once that ability to play as a team gets lost, we have a hard time getting it back. Once they got their first goal, it hurt us. Their second goal definitely made us question ourselves. It wasn’t the score that upset me, it’s their heads going down. They have to keep their heads up and keep fighting.”
Despite its slow start, Freeport believes it will be a factor as the season progresses. After hosting Gray-New Gloucester Thursday, the Falcons visit Fryeburg Tuesday of next week.
Don’t write this team off, it will be a factor in the weeks to come.
“We’re getting there,” Girardin said. “It’s early in the season. I look forward to what we’ll have later on.”
Yarmouth hopes to keep the good times rolling when it hosts Poland in a makeup game Thursday. The Clippers welcome dangerous York Saturday, then travel to Kennebunk and Wells next week.
Yarmouth is still a work in progress, but its upside is tremendous.
“We’re working a lot on possession,” Langenbach said. “I think we’re getting better, but we can still work on that.”
“Every game we just have to play hard,” Smith said. “The girls have a lot of potential. There’s a lot of skill on this team.”
@ Yarmouth 1 Freeport 0
Western B quarterfinals
Freeport 1 @ Yarmouth 0
@ Freeport 1 Yarmouth 1 (tie)
Yarmouth 2 @ Freeport 1
Yarmouth 2 @ Freeport 1
@ Yarmouth 2 Freeport 1
Yarmouth 6 @ Freeport 0
Yarmouth 6 @ Freeport 3
@ Yarmouth 4 Freeport 0
Yarmouth 4 @ Freeport 1
@ Yarmouth 3 Freeport 1
Western B quarterfinals
@ Yarmouth 5 Freeport 0
Yarmouth 2 @ Freeport 1 (2 OT)
Yarmouth 4 @ Freeport 1