Yarmouth roars to life, downs Waterville for elusive coronation

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Yarmouth senior Katie Clemmer shows off the Gold Ball during a postgame celebration following the Clippers’ 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Waterville in Saturday morning’s Class B state final in Hampden. Yarmouth got two goals from Clemmer as it won its first championship since 2003.

Ashley L. Conti photos / Bangor Daily News

More photos below.

HAMPDEN—Nothing fazed Yarmouth’s girls’ soccer team this fall.

Not preseason hype.

Not wearing a bulls-eye during the regular season.

Not having the burden of the top seed for the regional playoffs.

And not even the prospect of trailing defensive juggernaut Waterville in Saturday’s Class B state final with under 18 minutes to play shook the will or belief of the Clippers.

Yarmouth’s faith and resilience was rewarded and when the final horn sounded Saturday morning at Hampden Academy, the Clippers finished where everyone expected they’d wind up.

As champions.

Yarmouth controlled most of the first half, but couldn’t finish and when Purple Panthers junior Mackenzie St. Pierre scored on a gorgeous header 51 seconds before halftime, the Clippers found themselves behind.

And they would stay that way deep into the second half before finally finding their scoring touch.

Then doing it again.

And again.

After countless frustrating near-misses, Yarmouth finally drew even with 17:39 to go, when senior standout Katie Clemmer tickled the twine.

That gave the Clippers all the momentum and with 8:01 remaining, junior goal scorer extraordinaire Sara D’Appolonia, on her 17th birthday no less, scored to put her team ahead to stay.

The party truly began 24 seconds later when Clemmer was credited for her second goal on a shot which deflected off a Waterville defender and into the goal.

Yarmouth’s smothering defense did the rest and the Clippers went on to an exhilarating and historic 3-1 victory.

Yarmouth won its third state championship, its first since 2003, finished a season of brilliance and dominance at 16-1-1 and handed the Purple Panthers their first loss in 18 games in the process.

“I wanted us to play as a team, not as individuals,” said Clippers first-year coach Josh Thornton. “Half the game today was an individual performance, half was a team performance. When we play as a team, nobody can touch us. We proved that today. It was a great second half performance. I was delighted with the girls. They really wanted it.”

Coronation

Yarmouth came into the 2016 season viewed as the favorite and considered by some to be the state’s best team regardless of class.

The Clippers largely lived up to billing during the regular portion of their schedule (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories), winning 12 games by a composite 47-5 margin. Yarmouth only struggled with York, which played the host Clippers to a 1-1 tie, then beat them, 3-1, in York.

As the top seed in Class B South, Yarmouth left no doubt it was the top team, blanking No. 9 Gray-New Gloucester, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, pulling away in the second half to beat fourth-ranked Cape Elizabeth, 3-1, in the semifinals, then leading almost the entire way in a 3-1 regional final victory over defending state champion Greely, the No. 2 seed.

Waterville. meanwhile, ran roughshod over its opposition in the regular season, going 14-0, scoring 74 goals and allowing just two.

The Purple Panthers earned the No. 2 seed in Class B North for the playoffs and downed No. 7 Nokomis (3-1) in the quarterfinals, third-seeded Oceanside (3-0) in the semifinals and top-ranked Hermon (1-0) in Wednesday’s regional final.

Waterville won the region for the third time in four years. The Purple Panthers lost the 2013 state game to Cape Elizabeth on penalty kicks, then turned the tables two years ago with a 1-0 overtime win over The Capers in the final. Overall, Waterville had played in 13 state games and won seven of them (all but the last two came in Class A).

Yarmouth won Class B in 1995 and 2003 and lost in four overtimes in the 1996 final (see sidebar, below, for previous state game results).

Since the 2003 championship, the Clippers made the playoffs every year, but due to the likes of Cape Elizabeth, Freeport, Greely, York or most often, Falmouth, standing in the way, couldn’t get back to the big stage.

This year was different and Saturday morning, under chilly skies (34 degrees at kickoff), the first ever encounter between the Clippers and Purple Panthers produced a result they’ll long remember in Yarmouth.

The first half was 40 minutes of frustration for the Clippers, who controlled play most of the way, but found themselves trailing at the break.

The first scoring chance came in the sixth minute, but Clemmer’s low shot was saved by Waterville senior goalkeeper Alexis Brandon. After back-to-back Clippers’ corner kicks didn’t produce a shot, the Purple Panthers got consecutive corners. The first was cleared, but the second sat free right in front of the goal before Yarmouth junior back Hannah Corey cleared it at the last second.

The Clippers then went on the attack for a long stretch.

D’Appolonia had a shot hit the side netting, then shot wide of the goal.

With 25:16 to play in the half, senior Gretchen Barbera’s cross was bobbled by Brandon, then collected just before Clemmer could bang home the rebound.

After Brandon saved a low shot from D’Appolonia, Clemmer shot wide in front, Clemmer had a left footed shot saved, D’Appolonia shot wide, Barbera’s rush was broken up by Purple Panthers senior back Jordan Jabar and Clemmer’s shot while falling was saved.

That set the stage for Waterville to possess late in the half and get the game’s first goal.

After a Purple Panthers corner kick was cleared, they kept possession and St. Pierre’s got to a serve just inside the box and sent a header past Yarmouth junior goalkeeper Meredith Lane which tickled the twine just inside the far post for a 1-0 lead.

“You don’t expect a header to come out of there and it dribbled into the corner,” said Clippers senior back Ella Antolini. “We just had to shake it off.”

That score held up at halftime, even though the Clippers had a 4-1 edge in shots on frame.

“It was frustrating that one of the only shots they had went in, but at halftime, we talked about letting it go,” said Yarmouth’s dynamic senior midfielder Cory Langenbach. “We knew if we played our game, we’d get it back.”

“It wasn’t something to worry about,” Thornton said. “In a game like this, something like that can build an emotional breakdown, but our big thing this year was to just worry about the game and not emotion.”

In the second half, Yarmouth controlled play almost the whole way, but it took an agonizing amount of time for the Clippers to score.

It took all of 35 seconds for Yarmouth to earn a corner kick, but nothing came of it.

With 37:31 left, Langenbach tried to set up D’Appolonia in the box, but Brandon got to the ball first.

Waterville almost doubled its lead a minute later, when sophomore Anika Elias lofted a shot that sailed over Lane’s head, but it landed just over the crossbar and on the net, out of harm’s way.

Yarmouth went back on the attack and D’Appolonia got the ball from sophomore Olivia Feeley in a promising spot, but she couldn’t get much on the shot and Brandon made the save.

With 33:52 left, Clemmer got inside the box, but was stymied by Jabar.

After a Clippers’ corner kick didn’t result in a shot, Jabar broke up another Clemmer chance, this one on the doorstep.

After another corner kick was cleared, Feeley’s shot was saved by Brandon.

With 27:57 left in regulation, Clemmer sent a rocket just high.

With 26 minutes to go, a Yarmouth corner kick resulted in a header by D’Appolonia, which went just over the bar.

The frustration continued, as Brandon denied Clemmer and Feeley shot high.

As the clock ticked under 18 minutes, there was reason for the Clippers to start panicking, but instead, they kept at it and finally were rewarded.

The equalizer came with 17:39 remaining and was set up by Barbera, who had a terrific game.

Barbera made a run down the right side and crossed the ball in front. D’Appolonia managed to get her foot on it and pushed it to Clemmer, who fired it into the net to tie the game, 1-1.

“Sara flicked it back to me and I was just there at the right time,” Clemmer said. “I didn’t have much of aim on it, but I got it. It was an exciting goal. The first half was really frustrating. We didn’t have energy. We brought it together in the second half. I kept shooting and I thought eventually, one would go in. We all had panic in the backs of our minds, but we relied on each other and brought out the energy we needed. After that goal, there was so much energy and excitement, we thought we had it.”

“We got a little frustrated, but we knew we had to trust ourselves and keep pressing and it would happen naturally,” Barbera said. “I’m so proud of Katie. She was there at the right time when Sara had that touch to her. That was so awesome. That gave us so much more confidence.”

“Gretchen was massive today,” Thornton added. “Her decision making was great. Her work rate was great. She’s a ball of energy.”

Clemmer almost gave Yarmouth the lead a minute later, but her one-timer was denied by Brandon.

With 11 minutes left in regulation, Feeley’s free kick was blocked, but she got the ball back and shot again and it went wide.

Feeley had one more shot go wide before the Clippers seized the lead.

With 8:01 left, Yarmouth junior Sophia Harpool played the unsung hero, serving the ball ahead to D’Appolonia, who managed to steer it past Brandon and into the goal for a 2-1 advantage.

“(Katie’s goal) put our foot on the accelerator and we didn’t let up,” said D’Appolonia. “We just kept pushing. Sophia sent the ball in. It was fumbling around and I got a foot on it. It happened to go in the right spot. That felt unbelievable.”

“In the beginning of the second half, we controlled play, but we couldn’t score, so we kept pushing and we knew it would come,” Langenbach said. “Katie and Sara are always awesome. They’re tough to defend.”

“With the two forwards we’ve got, something will break through eventually,” Thornton added. “It’s tiring playing against a team like us when you’re chasing after the ball all game. My best friend is the Cape coach (Craig Fannan) and he says it’s not fair for us to have two great forwards like that. It might not be fair, but we’re lucky. Katie and Sara have adapted and played well together. Good luck marking them.”

Any hopes of a Waterville comeback were extinguished once and for all, as the Clippers got the ball back, Clemmer got possession on the left side and crossed the ball in front where it deflected off a Purple Panthers defender and past a helpless Brandon into the net for a commanding 3-1 lead with 7:37 to play.

“I was just crossing it and I was hoping someone was there,” Clemmer said.

Yarmouth had scored two goals in 24 seconds and three in 10:02.

Waterville didn’t have a serious threat the rest of the way and in fact, the Clippers almost got a fourth goal, but after a corner kick was cleared, D’Appolonia sent the ball just wide and a Feeley shot was knocked out. Yarmouth got two more corner kicks, then ran out the clock on a 3-1 victory, which unleashed a massive, 13-years-in-the-making celebration.

“It feels so great,” D’Appolonia said. “I can’t even put it into words. I knew if we played our game, we’d come out with a win. It’s so inspiring to be on a team like this. We proved ourselves. We played as a team. We’re so well-knit. Our chemistry is unbelievable. I couldn’t be more grateful to be with a group of girls like this.”

“We’ve been waiting to do it since we were six years old,” Clemmer said. “We had so much chemistry this year.”

“It’s awesome to do this,” Langenbach said. “I think I can speak for all the seniors that this has been our dream. Me and the other five seniors have an awesome relationship. We’ve made each other better since youth soccer. We set our goal to make it here. In every practice and game, we pushed as hard as we could. I couldn’t ask for anything else. It feels amazing.”

“It’s incredible,” Barbera said. “It just feels right. Our last time in a Yarmouth soccer uniform and we win. I’m so proud of this team. Even back when we were Colts, we said this would be our year. It’s a great accomplishment to do this as seniors. We’re very close. We make each other better. Not one person is a star. We’re a team together and that’s how we’ve been successful. I’m sad this is my last year, because we’re just getting better.”

“I knew we were going to win since we stepped on the field in preseason,” Antolini said. “As seniors, we’ve been so vocal how we had all the faith in the world and everyone made it happen. There was never any doubt. We had confidence, skill and composure. We’ve played together winter, fall and spring for years. We all love each other and that’s why it feels more incredible.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Thornton added. “The girls are a great group. We just had to get them buying into what I wanted from them. The girls bought in and did it and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Yarmouth took nine corner kicks to Waterville’s three, finished with a commanding 15-2 shots advantage, as the defense smothered the Purple Panthers for nearly 80 minutes. Lane made one save.

“(Waterville’s) physical and they have good players, but we put pressure on them,” Thornton said. “We defended from the front. We made them panic. That took pressure off the back line and when they had to, they stepped in. The girls just did it right.”

The Purple Panthers got 12 saves from Brandon, but after allowing just three goals in their first 17 contests, surrendered three in just over 10 minutes Saturday.

In addition to the players and coaches on the field, credit for this championship has to also go to Rich Smith, the only program the coach ever knew prior to Thornton, who put the pieces of this championship in place, and for a terrific turnout from the Yarmouth cheering section.

“I loved all the support we had today,” Clemmer said.

“The fan support was awesome,” Barbera said. “We never have fans, so it was so nice that we had so many people who cared about us.”

Yarmouth truly turned into Titletown a couple hours later when the boys’ squad won its third consecutive championship, 5-2, over Winslow.

They’ll be back

The Clippers are fortunate in the sense that they have tremendous players in all classes, but there’s no question that the departure of Antolini, Barbera, Clemmer, Langenbach, the unheralded Abby Condon and Amanda Murray will be felt.

“Cory, Katie, I can list all of the seniors,” D’Appolonia said. “They have an unbelievable passion for the game. They’ve shown me what it means to be a team player.”

“The seniors were special,” Thornton said. “Cory will be a huge loss. I’ve been around this game my whole life and I’ve never met anyone who works as hard as she does.”

An abundance of firepower returns in 2017, however, and while the Clippers will need to fill some holes, don’t be surprised if another title run ensues.

One certainty is that this program won’t go 13 seasons between this title and the next one.

“I think we’re capable of another run next year,” D’Appolonia said. “We have so much young talent. I’m looking forward to it.”

“This probably puts more pressure on next season,” Thornton said. “I’ve got seven freshmen who are great players. We’ve have good incoming freshmen and good older players coming back. We’ll be a good team again. We’ll be ready to defend it.”

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

Yarmouth freshman Caroline Grant heads the ball away from Waterville junior Mackenzie St. Pierre.

Yarmouth sophomore Olivia Feeley manages to shoot the ball through traffic.

Despite the smothering defense of Waterville senior Jordan Jabar, Yarmouth senior Katie Clemmer manages to unleash a shot.

Yarmouth senior Gretchen Barbera, who had a stellar game, fights Waterville senior Jordan Jabar for possession.

Yarmouth senior Katie Clemmer is congratulated by her teammates after tying the game in the second half.

Yarmouth junior Sara D’Appolonia exults with her teammates after putting the Clippers on top to stay with 8:01 remaining. D’Appolonia played the hero on her 17th birthday.

Yarmouth’s cheering section helped inspire the Clippers to victory Saturday.

The new champions and their prize.

Previous Yarmouth stories

Season Preview

Yarmouth 4 Falmouth 1

Yarmouth 4 Falmouth 0

Yarmouth 1 Greely 0

Class B South semifinal
Yarmouth 3 Cape Elizabeth 1 

Previous Yarmouth state game results

2003
Class B
Yarmouth 2 Belfast 1 (6-5 PKs)

1996
Class B
Mt. View 3 Yarmouth 2 (4 OT)

1995
Class B
Yarmouth 2 Houlton 1

Previous Waterville state game results

2014
Class B
Waterville 1 Cape Elizabeth 0 (OT) 

2013
Class B
Cape Elizabeth 2 Waterville 1 (4-2 PKs)

2008
Class A
Waterville 5 Gorham 1

2007
Class A
Gorham 2 Waterville 1

1999
Class A
Cape Elizabeth 2 Waterville 1 (2 OT)

1998
Class A
Deering 2 Waterville 1

1987
Class A
Cape Elizabeth 2 Waterville 1

1985
Class A
Mt. Ararat 1 Waterville 0

1984
Class A
Waterville 2 Brunswick 0

1983
Class A
Waterville 3 Houlton 0

1982
Class A
Waterville 4 Ellsworth 0

1981
Class A
Waterville 7 Hampden Academy 0

1980
Class A
Waterville 1 Hyde 0

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