CAPE ELIZABETH—There was plenty at stake when Falmouth visited Cape Elizabeth in a girls’ soccer showdown Tuesday evening, which brought the curtain down on the 2011 regular season.

The host Capers were hoping to go undefeated and earn the top seed for the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, while the Yachtsmen were looking to bounce back from successive losses and gain some momentum heading into the postseason.

Neither squad gave an inch and that was evident by the score (or more pointedly the absence of a score) after 80 minutes.

Then, finally, in overtime, Falmouth broke through as junior Alex Bernier stepped into the hero role once again, collecting a deflected ball and firing it into the net with just 18.9 seconds left to give the Yachtsmen a 1-0 victory.

Falmouth finishes 9-4-1, while Cape Elizabeth dropped to 11-1-2.

“The losses were a bummer for us,” said Bernier. “Winning this will help give us the confidence we need for playoffs. It’s always good to turn it around.”

Playoff tuneup

The Yachtsmen won the Class B title a year ago and like always, are in the thick of the playoff hunt this fall under new coach Wally LeBlanc. Falmouth won its first three games this season, tied Cape Elizabeth (1-1), then downed York and Yarmouth before falling, 5-1, at Greely. After a 5-0 home win over Fryeburg, the Yachtsmen were beaten by Greely again, this time 2-1 on their home turf. After winning a pair, Falmouth lost at York, 2-0, last Tuesday, then, was shocked at home by Yarmouth Saturday, 1-0.

The Capers have been in the middle of the pack the past several seasons, but have shot to the top of the standings this autumn under new coach Luke Krawczyk and dynamic new sophomore Melanie Vangel, who transferred from Camden Hills. Cape Elizabeth had ties at Falmouth and at home with York, but won every other game entering Tuesday night.

Seniors from both teams were honored prior to the game. Once the teams took the pitch, the Yachtsmen carried play in the first half and Vangel did all she could to score in the second, but ultimately, overtime would be necessary.

In the third minute, a Bernier cross was snared by falling Capers senior goalkeeper Ali Johnson. In the eighth minute, a header from Falmouth senior Annie Criscione bounced in the box, but Johnson got to it in time.

Vangel first made her presence felt with 27:40 to go in the 40-minute first half, turning in traffic to fire a shot that Yachtsmen junior goalkeeper Caroline Lucas stopped. Ten minutes later, after a turnover, Vangel fired another shot, but this one went just wide.

In the 30th minute, Falmouth junior Caitlin Bucksbaum had a free kick from the left side, but Johnson made the save.

With 9:13 left before halftime, Vangel had breathing room for a second, but her shot was blocked by Yachtsmen junior Maddie Inlow.

Early in the second half, both Cape Elizabeth junior Maddie Riker and Falmouth sophomore Mary Catherine Kowalski fired shots, but Lucas and Johnson both stood tall.

With 31:07 left in regulation, a rush from speedy Capers freshman Kathryn Clark was broken up by Lucas. With 28:05 showing, a Criscione header was saved by Johnson.

In the 54th minute, off a corner kick, Criscione headed the ball toward the goal and Kowalski closed in, but Johnson got there just in time to make the save.

The hosts then took over.

With 23:53 to play, a Vangel rush was broken up by a sliding Lucas. Ten minutes later, Vangel fed Clark, but the pass was just long and Lucas got there first. With 7:51 to go, Riker had a shot, but Lucas denied it. Fifty seconds later, Vangel raced after a long pass, but again Lucas got to the ball just in time.

Down the stretch, Falmouth got a shot from Criscione in the box that went wide and a Criscione header that went wide and it was on to overtime.

Teams can play up to two five-minute, “sudden victory” sessions in OT, but only one would be necessary, courtesy Bernier, who also had an overtime game winner at Yarmouth this year.

First, Vangel almost won it for Cape Elizabeth when she again raced in after a pass and this time knocked the ball away from a prone Lucas. Vangel, blanketed by two defenders, managed to shoot, but the ball barely missed to the right (the shot was so close that some fans thought it went in and erupted in cheers).

Vangel had one last chance with 1:07 left in the first OT, but her turnaround shot resulted in a save for Lucas.

Falmouth then transitioned and when a pass was played ahead from the midfield, the Yachtsmen got a break. The deflected ball appeared as if it would be cleared by a defender, but she couldn’t connect with the ball and it squirted free toward Bernier, who was alone behind the defense. All Bernier had to do was beat Johnson one-on-one and she did just that, tickling the twine for the 1-0 victory.

“It’s all a blur,” said Bernier. “The ball just came across. I thought the defender was going to clear it, but it took a weird bounce and got by her. I was right there. I was lucky. I was at the right place at the right time. It felt good.”

“(Alex is) an opportunist,” said LeBlanc. “When she gets the ball in situations like that, she has great confidence and a sense of focus. Sometimes girls panic in that situation, but she finishes well in stressful situations.

“I think we were in a little bit of a slump. Things weren’t clicking. We really worked hard on changing things, settling in and playing soccer like we did earlier in the season. The girls took it upon themselves to communicate on the field and playing collectively and it really showed.

“I’m extremely happy with the season. We’re a young team with a new coach. You have your peaks and valleys and we’ve had valleys. I like that we hung in there together and grew from it. Hopefully this proves we’re a playoff-ready team.”

The Yachtsmen not only got out of town with a win, they also managed to neutralize one of the state’s premier scorers.

“We knew they were playing for an undefeated season and how good they were,” Lucas said. “I played against Mel in premier and I know how good she is. I was under a pretty heavy amount of pressure, but I came out with the ball. Our defense worked well to help me. It was a team effort. I was hoping we were finally going to score. We had a lot of momentum. We didn’t back down. We were in a bit of a slump, but this shows how good of a team we are.”

“The defense did a phenomenal job,” Bernier said. “Caroline did really well. Marking Mel, we talked about it. Wally told us to do the right things and it worked. She didn’t get one-on-one with the keeper.”

“I think it was the entire team defense,” added LeBlanc. “If we possess the ball more, we prevent passes to (Vangel). She’s always going to have opportunities. When they find her and she gets space, that’s when they’re at their best. We tried to hold the team at bay so they couldn’t find her. It worked to a degree. She picked it up a notch. She had several quality chances. She’s a class act for sure.”

While initially disappointed, the Capers quickly put the loss behind them.

“If you told me at the beginning of the season we’d have 11 wins, I’d have grabbed it with both hands,” said Krawczyk. “The first half, they were better. The second half, we came into the game. A minute before, we could have scored. We didn’t and they did. We look at it like a friendly before the playoffs. It was a very good game. Not many people expected us to even tie with them the first time. It’s not bad at all.”

Let the fun begin

Cape Elizabeth projects to be the No. 2 seed in Western Class A (behind Gorham) and will open the postseason Tuesday of next week. The Capers are one of several strong teams in a deep and balanced region. They hope to keep the good times rolling.

“We’re happy to be in the playoffs,” Krawczyk said. “We’re even happier to not have to play a prelim. We’ll try to keep winning. There are good teams out there. I know the girls really want to play here and it’s good for the town and it’s good for us, because it’s cheaper on gas.”

Falmouth will be third behind Morse and rival York in Western B and could host Yarmouth in the quarterfinals next week. This group certainly has what it takes to win it all once again.

“I think we’ve had a good season,” Lucas said. “We have a good ability to do well in playoffs.”

“It’s going to be a week of hard training,” Bernier said. “We’ll be focusing so we can succeed. Yarmouth won’t be easy. We’ll need to have a good work ethic this week.”

“I believe we’re looking at Yarmouth again,” LeBlanc added. “We had a difficult struggle with Yarmouth. Nothing’s easy. We have to be prepared. I feel that when these girls play together and play within themselves, we’re a competitive team. We’ve also shown when we let stress get to us, we can lay an egg. I’d love to win and take it as far as we can take it, but what’s important is that we play intelligent soccer.

“Morse is the real deal. They have three goal scorers. You hear people say they don’t have our schedule and that they won’t be able to compete, but I disagree. They’re confident, playing intelligent soccer. They’ll be ready and they’re playing at home. For any of us to think we can walk in there and take the game away would be a big mistake.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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