Yarmouth’s field hockey players race toward goalie Cate Ralph at the final horn of the Clippers’ 2-1 win at Kennebunk in Monday’s Class B South semifinal. Yarmouth advanced to meet two-time defending Class B champion York in the regional final Wednesday.
KENNEBUNK—Through nine games this autumn, Yarmouth’s field hockey team was seeking it’s identity.
It’s safe to say that the Clippers have found it and it can be described as triumphant.
Monday afternoon, Yarmouth accomplished something that was 16 years in the making and the Clippers aren’t done yet.
Visiting Kennebunk in a Class B South semifinal, which was delayed 72 hours by bad weather, third-ranked Yarmouth came out strong and grabbed a 1-0 lead when junior Sophie McGrath scored with 15:53 to play in the first half.
Out of a timeout, the second-ranked Rams answered, as sophomore Caroline Jarowicz scored on a rebound with 9:08 remaining.
The Clippers wouldn’t be denied and went right back on top with 4:10 left in the half, as in transition, senior Abby McDowell set up classmate Eliza Lunt for a pretty goal and a 2-1 lead.
From there, Yarmouth junior goalie Cate Ralph and its defense, led by senior Nicole McDowell, held Kennebunk at bay and when the Clippers cleared a penalty corner as time expired, they were able to celebrate a semifinal round victory for the first time since the turn of the millennium.
Yarmouth won its seventh game in a row, improved to 12-4, ended the Rams’ season at 12-4 and advanced to meet the state’s premier power, two-time defending Class B champion York (16-0) in the regional final Wednesday at a time to be announced at Massabesic High School in Waterboro.
“We didn’t even play as well as I think we could have, but we won and that’s a sign of a great team,” said Yarmouth first-year coach Amy Ashley. “None of these girls have ever been to a regional final. I’m so proud and happy for them to see what’s to come. They deserve it.”
While York was clearly the gold standard in Class B South this year (and seemingly every year), Yarmouth and Kennebunk engaged in a battle for the number two spot.
The teams split this season, as Yarmouth lost in overtime (1-0) at Kennebunk Sept. 20 and won at home (2-1) Oct. 5.
The second meeting was part of a five-game, regular season-ending win streak for the Clippers, who wound up 10-4 and third in the region. Yarmouth made quick work of No. 6 Fryeburg Academy in the quarterfinals last Tuesday, 5-1 (see sidebar, below, for previous stories).
The Rams started 1-2, losing to Falmouth and York, but they closed 10-1, losing only at Yarmouth and as the No. 2 seed, dispatched No. 7 Poland, 2-0, in the quarterfinal round last Tuesday.
The teams, who had no playoff history, were scheduled to meet in the semifinals Friday, but last weekend’s bad weather postponed the contest.
Monday, on a 55-degree day with a 13-mile-per-hour wind making it feel much chillier, in the first-ever playoff meeting between the schools, Yarmouth did just enough to advance.
Neither team could gain an advantage early and after Ashley called timeout a little over seven minutes into the game, the Clippers began to press and earned a couple penalty corners, but couldn’t register a shot.
With 15:53 left in the half, Yarmouth shot and scored.
Off another corner, the ball was knocked around and came to McGrath at the right post and she fired it past Rams senior goalie Olivia Kudas for a 1-0 lead.
“They have an amazing goalie, so we knew first shots wouldn’t always work and we’d have to get rebounds,” Lunt said. “We were playing on grass and going into the sun, so to score first was huge.”
“Sophie’s great around the goal,” Ashley said. “She has great hand-eye coordination. We had played a lot of defense, then came down and scored. That was a good sign.”
The Clippers showed no indication of being affected by the long wait to finally play the game.
“I don’t think the wait affected us,” Nicole McDowell said. “We were ready to play on Friday and we were ready to play today.”
“We did short practices over the weekend to make sure we got ready for the game,” Lunt said.
“We tried to keep the girls focused on other things,” Ashley added. “We told them to go through the normal day today, then get excited about the game. We gave them Friday off, practiced Saturday and practiced a little yesterday.”
Kennebunk was then able to wrest back the momentum following a timeout with 10:44 to go in the half.
With 9:08 remaining, Ralph made successive saves, but fell to the ground and the ball came to Jarowicz, who shot it into the cage to make it a 1-1 game.
Then it was the Clippers turn to answer and they did so with a breathtaking effort in transition.
Abby McDowell got the ball and raced toward the circle. Lunt, who has speed that makes her a matchup nightmare, got behind the defense and McDowell passed to her. Lunt didn’t hesitate and one-timed a shot past Kudas and she rattled the cage for a 2-1 lead with 4:08 remaining in the half.
“I was ahead and Abby passed the ball up and I just had to knock it in,” Lunt said. “It was exciting because I’ve missed a lot of those recently.”
“We made the most of our chances, which is awesome because we haven’t always done that, but we’re starting to finish more,” Nicole McDowell said.
“Eliza’s such a key member of our team,” Ashley added. “She’s been missing that goal lately, but she scored in practice this weekend. It’s fitting she did it today, especially on a grass field. It was such a beautiful goal.”
In the final minute before halftime, Yarmouth nearly scored again, but a backhanded shot by Abby McDowell was saved by Kudas and a rebound shot went wide.
York then pushed one final time, but as time expired, Ralph kicked the ball out of the circle and the Clippers (who held a 6-2 edge in shots and an 8-1 advantage in penalty corners) had a 2-1 lead at the break.
Yarmouth wouldn’t generate much offense in the second half and would have to rely on its defense to preserve the lead.
That unit was up to the challenge.
Early in the second half, the Rams got the ball into the circle, but senior Kacie Middleton cleared it.
With 21:51 to play, Jarowicz just missed with a shot.
With 20:15 showing, Ralph came way out of the cage to kick the ball away.
Seconds later, on a corner, Kennebunk junior Britney Gregoire just missed on the backhand.
The Clippers had a chance to get a third goal with 16:18 to go when senior Molly Wilson sent the ball in, but Kudas came out and collided with junior Maggie Gunville, breaking up the chance in the process.
After a Gunville rush was broken up by Rams senior Eliza Johnson, Lunt almost got her second goal when she tipped Wilson’s long hit, but Kudas made the save.
Kennebunk coach Kayla Billings called timeout with 5:57 remaining in regulation, hoping to spark a comeback.
The Rams would get two corners, but never could produce the tying goal.
With 3:40 left, Kennebunk’s corner didn’t result in a shot because the ball hit an offensive player’s foot.
Then, with just over 30 seconds to go, the Rams got another corner, which would prove to be their last chance.
Kennebunk got the ball in and crossed it to Ralph’s right, but no player could get a stick on it and Nicole McDowell made sure nothing happened from there.
At 4:38 p.m., the clock struck zero and Yarmouth was able to exult and celebrate its 2-1 victory.
“We knew we just had to clear the ball,” Nicole McDowell said. “We’ve had some tough losses, close at the end, and we weren’t going to let that happen again. It feels absolutely amazing. This has been our goal. To do it senior year is really special. They’re a really good team. We knew it would be a tough game. Everyone was playing for their season. We fought through and played with heart. We wanted it so badly because we lost here last time. We wanted to avenge that loss.”
“Holding on was tough,” Lunt said. “We had to play well on defense. We knew what we had to do to keep the lead. We knew everyone at the 50 had to sprint down and everyone worked really hard. It’s so exciting. It’s great we’ve gone this far. Coach has really pushed us a lot. We have to give her a lot of credit. She’s an amazing coach. After the first Fryeburg game, where we didn’t play great, we knew we had to get to work and be more of a unit and make each other look good on the field.”
“The girls prepared and we were able to let them see what we taught them and let them execute,” Ashley added. “One of our goals this season is to not let a team score more than one goal. Our defense has saved us and Cate has stepped up all season. Nicole is such a force back there. The coaches practice against Nicole every day and none of us want to go against her because she’s just so good.
“We believed we could do it. Even in our losses, we played well. We’re senior-heavy and they’ve worked so hard. It’s never easy to have a new coach senior year, especially after their great season last year, but they’ve been 100 percent respectful. They’ve worked hard. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It’s a testament to who these kids are. I’m thrilled I made the move to Yarmouth. We just like to be together and we live to play another day.”
The Clippers got five saves from Ralph, enjoyed a 9-6 shots advantage and took nine corners to the Rams’ four.
Yarmouth last competed in a regional final in Western Class B in 2000, when it lost to Cape Elizabeth. Wednesday, the Clippers will face the best team in the state regardless of class, a York squad which has won 52 successive games after blanking No. 8 Freeport (8-0) and No. 4 Leavitt (4-0) in its first two playoff tests.
The Wildcats, led by standout senior and Miss Maine Field Hockey finalist Lily Posternak, won at Yarmouth, 3-1, back on Sept. 12.
The teams have met just once previously in the postseason, a 1-0 Clippers’ victory in the 2000 Western B semifinals.
Yarmouth will be a decided underdog Wednesday, but write this team off at your peril.
“We’ll give it our all,” Lunt said. “This is the seniors’ last season. There’s 10 of us. We’ll play really hard. We don’t want it to end. We want to take it all the way.”
“We have to keep pushing,” Nicole McDowell said. “Our losses made us so much more mentally tough than we were a few weeks ago. York is amazing, but if we play as hard as we can, we have a shot. I’m excited to see how we do.”
“We have to believe,” Ashley added. “It’s high school sports and anything can happen on any given day. We’re privileged to be in the final against York and we believe we can win. We ran out of gas last time we played, but we did score. We have to limit the damage Posternak can do. We have to limit corners and we know we can score on them. It’s a hard test, but we’re playing for our season and hopefully we’ll step up.”