Yarmouth's valiant effort falls one goal short in regional final

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Yarmouth senior Ally MacLeod, left, hugs junior Emilie Martin after Martin’s first half goal gives the Clippers a 1-0 lead over York in the Class B South Final Wednesday afternoon. The two-time defending state champion Wildcats rallied to win, 2-1.

Joe Carpine (365digitalphotography.com) photos.

More photos below.

WATERBORO—It was Yarmouth against the world Wednesday afternoon and for a half, the Clippers shocked the world in the Class B South field hockey regional final at Massabesic High School against two-time defending state champion York.

Yarmouth, playing with a chip on its shoulder because almost no one thought it could win, took it to the seemingly unbeatable Wildcats early and took a 1-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the game when junior Emilie Martin finished a feed from senior Ally MacLeod.

The Wildcats had nine penalty corners in the first half, but due in part to a Clippers’ double team of Duke University-bound senior standout Lily Posternak, they couldn’t finish and Yarmouth held the lead at halftime.

But to no one’s surprise, York returned to its championship form in the second half and the Clippers could only hold them off for so long.

It took just over two minutes for the Wildcats to pull even as on their 10th corner, senior Izzy Bretz touched home a Posternak shot to make it 1-1.

With 16:19 to play, York struck again, as after Posternak had a shot blocked on a corner, Bretz took a pass from senior Julia Harrod and finished for a 2-1 lead.

To its credit, Yarmouth refused to go quietly and as time expired, the Clippers earned a penalty corner and had one final chance to extend the game and their season, but they couldn’t register a shot and their dream ended one goal shy.

While York improved to 17-0 with its 53rd successive victory and advanced to meet Belfast in the Class B state final Saturday, Yarmouth’s season came to an end at 12-5.

“I was completely confident coming into this game,” said Clippers first-year coach Amy Ashley. “We knew a lot of people doubted us, but we believed in ourselves. We fought until the end and that’s what I love.”

Wildcats rule

York has been the premier team in the region most of the century, winning 10 of the past 12 regional titles (and three state championships in that span, including each of the past two years). The Wildcats’ last loss came in the 2013 state final (1-0 to Nokomis).

York was seriously tested only twice this fall, rallying to beat visiting Kennebunk, 2-1, in overtime Sept. 8, in the third game, then holding on for a 2-1 victory at eventual Class C South champion St. Dom’s two days later. In the Wildcats’ 12 other contests, they outscored the opposition, 55-5

As the top seed, York had no trouble advancing to the regional final, defeating No. 8 Freeport (8-0) in the quarterfinals and fourth-ranked Leavitt (4-0) in Monday’s semifinals.

Yarmouth won just five of its first nine games (including a 3-1 home loss to York Sept. 12), but the Clippers caught fire late and won their final five to garner the No. 3 seed.

After dominating No. 6 Fryeburg Academy (5-1) in the quarterfinals, Yarmouth upset No. 2 Kennebunk Monday afternoon, 2-1, to reach the regional final for the first time since 2000.

The teams had met just once previously in the playoffs, a 1-0 win for the Clippers in the 2000 semifinals.

Wednesday, on a raw and chilly afternoon (45 degrees with a 10 mile-per-hour wind), Yarmouth gave its all, but ultimately fell just short.

York had the first scoring chance as it earned its first of many corners just over a minute into the game, but it was broken up without a shot.

The Clippers then went on the attack, but MacLeod’s shot was saved by Wildcats junior goalie Julianna Kiklis. 

Yarmouth then got successive corners, but the first was broken up and the second didn’t result in a shot.

With 22:53 to play in the first half, York junior Sydney Bouchard weaved through the defense and managed a shot, but first-year Clippers junior goalie Cate Ralph made the save.

After breaking up another Wildcats corner, Yarmouth went back on the attack and opened the scoring.

With 19:53 left before halftime, senior Abby McDowell played the ball into the circle, got it over to MacLeod and MacLeod crossed it to Martin, who waited until Kiklis dropped, then flicked it over the goalie and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

“Emilie scored a beautiful goal and that set the tone for us,” Ashley said. “She’s smart. The goalie went down and she lifted it. That’s exactly what we teach. I’m proud we could finish.”

That goal awakened York and the defending champs would be on the attack the rest of the half, only to be stymied.

After one Wildcats corner was cleared, they got another and with 15 minutes left, Posternak’s shot was blocked, setting up another corner which was broken up.

With 13:25 left, York got a corner and this time, produced a good shot, but senior Alex Lawlor’s bid was kicked aside by Ralph.

Two minutes later, a rush by junior Jessa Smith was broken up.

The corners kept coming as the Wildcats got four in a minute-and-a-half, but Ralph saved Bouchard’s shot, Posternak’s bid was blocked by Yarmouth junior Sophie McGrath and another Posternak shot was ruled too high.

Ashley then called timeout and that settled the Clippers down.

Yarmouth got a chance to double its lead with 2:49 remaining in the half, but a Martin shot deflected just wide of the post.

In the first 30 minutes, the Wildcats had a 7-3 edge in shots and a 9-2 advantage in corners, but Ralph’s seven saves kept Yarmouth on top.

York came to life after halftime.

It took all of two minutes for the Wildcats to earn another corner, their 10th, and this time, they converted, as Bretz inserted the ball to Posternak up top, Posternak made a move to her right to elude the defense, then shot toward the far post where Bretz was waiting to redirect the ball into an empty cage, tying the score, 1-1.

After another York corner was broken up, the Clippers got their best chance of the second half, as with 22:39 to go, MacLeod had a look, but Kiklis made the save. 

Back came the Wildcats, earning a corner, which was cleared.

With 20:23 to go, Yarmouth senior defender Taylor Robison came up huge, knocking the ball away from Posternak at the last second.

After another fruitless York corner, McDowell threatened to put the Clippers back on top, but her shot from a tough angle on the side was turned aside by Kiklis.

After a Wildcats corner, which saw Ralph kick the ball away, York got another, its 15th, and it produced the go-ahead score.

Bretz inserted the ball to Posternak, who had a shot blocked, but Harrod got to the ball, sent it to Bretz and Bretz sent it past Ralph for a 2-1 lead with 16:19 left in regulation.

Ashley called timeout to stem the momentum.

“I told them there was a lot of time left and we could do it,” Ashley said. “We told them not to give up. We implemented a new strategy at practice yesterday and the girls executed it perfectly as long as they could. Clearly, Posternak is a great player. We double teamed her everywhere. We had two girls following her man-to-man all over the field. In the first half, we took her out of her game. In the second half, she did more. We knew it wouldn’t end 1-0. Our goal all season is to not give up more than one goal. It was hard when they scored that second one.”

York had six more corners, but Ralph and her defense didn’t allow another goal, as the goalie denied Lawlor, Bouchard, Posternak (with a highlight reel kick), Bouchard and Posternak again.

As time wound down, the Clippers raced into the offensive zone and with just seconds left, they earned a corner.

By rule, the teams have to play out a corner even after time expires and that gave Yarmouth time to set up what it hoped would be a tying tally.

MacLeod inbounded the ball, it was passed to McGrath on the right and McGrath made a move toward the goal, but Wildcats sophomore Emlyn Petry knocked the ball away and at 4:55 p.m., the Clippers’ title dream was dashed with a 2-1 loss.

“We looked deflated, but we had fight in us until the end,” said Ashley. “We knew we could do it, but York’s a great team. They deflected the ball out of bounds. Unfortunately, that’s not what we wanted. We wanted to put pressure on the goalie, get a rebound and put it in. 

“If we could have come out of the first half scoring one more time, it might have been a different outcome. We wanted to see how York responded to being down. We were so excited to play this game. We had our runs.”

Yarmouth was outshot, 15-7, but got 13 saves from Ralph. The Clippers finished with three corners and allowed 21, but they denied the powerhouse Wildcats on 19 of them.

“Our defense has been our strong point all season,” said Ashley. “They had beautiful corners and we stopped 19. Sophie had the game of her life on the fly. She broke up so many corners. They didn’t score on a direct shot. Cate played out of her mind. For a brand new goalie, she’s been great.”  

Kiklis made six saves for York.

A special season

Yarmouth suffered a painful quarterfinal round playoff loss last season and underwent a coaching change in the offseason. The Clippers lost four times in their first nine games, three of them coming in overtime, yet they found themselves giving the state’s best team fits for 60 minutes Wednesday.

Yarmouth fell one goal short, but its playoff run won’t soon be forgotten.

“Since June, when I decided to take this job, we’ve come a long way and we’ve bonded,” Ashley said. “It’s been almost a perfect season. The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been to win today. I believe in these kids. They did everything I asked and more. I’m so proud of them.”

The Clippers have to part with Tessa Houston, Gracie Griffin, Eliza Lunt, MacLeod, Abby McDowell, Nicole McDowell, Chloe Noack, Robison and Molly Wilson.

“It’s sad for us because we lose a lot of seniors who mean so much for this program,” Ashley said. “They put this program on the map. They made their school proud and the community proud. I know they made their coaches and parents proud and I think they made themselves proud.”

Yarmouth has some shoes to fill, but with the likes of Martin, McGrath, Ralph and several others returning, won’t have to wait 16 years for another regional final appearance.

“I hope we can build on this season so we can be here more often,” Ashley said. “The girls want to pay again right now. That’s what you want, a team that’s inspired to play better.”

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

Yarmouth junior goalie Cate Ralph makes one of her 13 saves.

Yarmouth junior Emilie Martin shoots in traffic.

Yarmouth senior Abby McDowell battles for possession.

Yarmouth senior Nicole McDowell drives the ball.

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