PORTLAND—A slow start put the Cheverus girls’ lacrosse team in another early hole and even the prolific scoring of sophomore Meredith Willard wasn’t enough to save the Stags Thursday afternoon.

Willard scored a program-record 10 goals and her teammates added five others, but visiting Kennebunk managed to produce one more and held on for a 16-15 victory at Boulos Stadium.

The Rams led 4-0 less than 10 minutes into the game, but Cheverus came to life and took a 9-7 lead into halftime when Willard scored her seventh goal as time expired. The Stags scored the first goal of the second half, but Kennebunk went on a 6-0 run to retake the lead. Again, Cheverus rallied and pulled even on Willard’s ninth goal with just over six minutes remaining, but Rams senior Kate Graydon scored her sixth goal with 3:18 to play, Kennebunk added one more and Willard’s 10th tally, with 13.4 seconds to go, left the Stags just short.

Kennebunk snapped a three-game skid and improved to 5-4, while Cheverus fell to 5-5.

“It was intense,” Willard said. “It was a good game. Both teams played very well.”

Scoring fest

Kennebunk has been up and down this season, but has been competitive like always.

The Rams opened with a 14-8 victory at Portland and after a 10-8 home loss to Waynflete, defeated host Westbrook (12-2), visiting Bonny Eagle (13-3) and host Sanford (11-4). Then, Kennebunk suffered a series of frustrating losses, falling at home to Marshwood in three overtimes, 10-9, at Falmouth (17-10) and at home to Massabesic, again in overtime (8-7).

Cheverus has had its share of interesting games as well this spring.

The Stags opened with a 12-9 loss at Massabesic, then enjoyed wins over visiting McAuley (14-5), North Yarmouth Academy (13-8), Portland (10-3) and host Deering (15-10), before struggling, dropping close games to Marshwood, 7-5, and Scarborough, 11-10. Saturday, Cheverus lost at Waynflete, 16-5, but got back on track Monday with a 14-10 triumph at Windham.

The Stags entered the game having beaten the Rams just once in nine meetings (please see sidebar). They almost did it again Thursday, but fell just short.

Just 39 seconds in, Graydon made her presence felt, taking a pass from senior Alli Bush and beating Cheverus freshman Hope Correia to break the ice.

With 22:14 left in the first half, sophomore Catie Bush scored unassisted. Four minutes later, Catie Bush set up Alli Bush and with 15:08 showing, senior Lauren Errico scored and just like that, Kennebunk was off to a fast start, up, 4-0.

“I think it’s nerves,” said Willard, of the Stags’ recent slow starts. “We need to light the flame sooner and get it started earlier. Then, who knows what could happen.”

The hosts answered 54 seconds later when sophomore Elyse Caiazzo scored unassisted. Willard got her first goal with 12:29 left in the half, taking a pass from sophomore Sadie Lyons before finishing.

“Elyse’s shot started us off,” Willard said. “That got us going. We worked together on the passing. It was very back and forth.”

The Rams restored their four-goal advantage behind goals from Alli Bush (assisted by Graydon) at 11:38 and junior Betsy Craig (on a free position) at 10:20.

The hosts dominated the rest of the half.

Willard started the surge, finishing a pass from Lyons at 9:22. At 8:05, Willard scored unassisted and Kennebunk coach Annie Barker called timeout, but it didn’t turn the tide.

With 7:42 to go, Caiazzo assisted on sophomore Alex Logan’s goal and with 6:17 left, Willard (again from Lyons) scored to tie the game.

The Rams went back on top on an unassisted goal from junior Rose Bryant with 4:48 to go, but Willard (from Lyons) tied the game at 3:19.

With 47.2 seconds to go before halftime, with Cheverus playing short-handed, Willard ran three-quarters of the field before beating Kennebunk junior goalie Lizzie Stockbridge to give the Stags their first lead.

Then, as time wound down, Caiazzo passed to Willard, who turned and fired the ball into the net as the clock hit zero. The officials ruled the ball was in the net before the horn sounded, the goal counted and Cheverus was up, 9-7, at halftime.

When Lyons set up Caiazzo for a goal with 23:07 left in regulation, the Stags’ lead was up to three, but it would then be the Rams’ turn for a run.

Craig got the comeback started with an unassisted goal at 22:13. Graydon scored on a free position with 19:51 to play and with 16:46 showing, Graydon scored unassisted to tie the score.

Just 18 seconds later, Bryant (from sophomore Allison Truman) scored to put Kennebunk back on top, 11-10.

Unassisted tallies from Bryant at 15:45 and Graydon 18 seconds later made it 13-10 Rams.

“At halftime, I said, ‘There’s nothing more I can do for you, you’re twice the team they are,'” longtime Kennebunk coach Annie Barker said.

Again, the Stags got off the deck.

Caiazzo (from Lyons) scored with 14:38 to go to end the 6-0 run.

With 12:25 remaining, Willard got her first goal of the second half, making a nice spin move on a defender before finishing to cut the deficit to 13-12.

A free position goal from Graydon at 11:36 gave the visitors a little breathing room, but senior Catie Walsh (from Caiazzo at 10:51) and Willard (unassisted, in transition with 6:14 remaining) tied the score one last time.

Willard had a chance to put the Stags on top, but shot high with 4:55 to play.

Cheverus wouldn’t have another chance to lead.

With 3:18 to go, Graydon put Kennebunk back on top and this time it was to stay, with an unassisted tally.

The Rams won the ensuing draw and ran 59 seconds off the clock before Craig scored unassisted to make it 16-14.

Kennebunk again won the draw and ran the clock under a minute before turning the ball over. Willard made the Rams pay by scoring unassisted, but only 13 seconds remained.

The Stags had to win the ensuing draw and score quickly, but they moved too early, Kennebunk was awarded possession and the Rams finally brought the shootout to an end, holding on for a 16-15 triumph.

“It was definitely a war,” Graydon said. “I think what happens is we get a little comfortable and we sit back on our heels. We can’t do that. We need to stick with it. You can be confident and keep your head as well. When we’re down, we definitely have that drive. We’ve had two overtime games, so we know how to dig in our heels and get it done. We lost three in a row, so we wanted to get a ‘W’ back on the board.”

“I think four or five goals is nothing,” Barker said. “We have that mentality that it is, we let teams creep back in, then we get into OT and can’t finish. We’re young and I get that, but we have enough seniors. We have to keep on believing and trusting each other. We’re working on it.”

Graydon’s effort was overshadowed by Willard, but she was terrific nonetheless with six goals and an assist. Bryant and Craig both scored three times. Alli Bush had two goals (and one assist), while Catie Bush and Errico had one apiece. Catie Bush and Truman also had one assist apiece. Stockbridge made eight saves.

“The defense wasn’t communicating and it wasn’t fair to Lizzie,” Barker said.

Kennebunk was solid in the draw circle, winning 19 of 32 opportunities. Graydon went 13 for 21, Truman 6 of 10 and Bryant 0 for 1.

“Draws were an issue for us, so we put all our guns in the circle and came up with it,” Barker said.

The Rams had a 43-39 edge in ground balls. Graydon finished with seven, while Bryant had six. Kennebunk turned the ball over 23 times.

As for Cheverus, Willard had one of the most productive games seen anywhere in the annals of Maine high school girls’ lacrosse. She was almost unstoppable with 10 goals.

“I’ve never had a game like this,” said Willard. “I got some great assists and we had fast breaks. That’s always good.”

“It’s an amazing stat,” said Stags coach Jamie Chamberlain. “(Meredith) just has that one focus of making plays. Today was her day. Every game, it seems like it’s someone else.”

Caiazzo added three goals, while Logan and Walsh both scored once. Lyons assisted on six goals, while Caiazzo had two helpers. Correia made two saves. Logan won 13 of 32 draw opportunities. Willard, fittingly, also led all players in ground balls with eight. Caiazzo had seven, senior Sarah LaQuerre six and Lyons five.

The Stags committed 17 turnovers, but had a 27-25 edge in shots (23-18 on cage).

“We got behind early, then kicked into gear,” said Chamberlain. “We’re just too charitable. We have a young, inexperienced team. They understand it. The kids see that. We talk about playing a full 50 minutes, coming out ready to go. We made a lot of great plays out there. It’s a snowball effect. One unforced turnover and the ball doesn’t bounce to us. It seems to go in cycles. We need to limit our mistakes. It all comes down to defense. You can score a lot of goals, but getting defensive stops puts you in position to win. We put ourselves in the position at the very end. We’re a very inexperienced team playing against kids who have been playing for years. From youth on up.”

Closing stretch

Kennebunk and Cheverus both still have opportunities to help their playoff positioning.

The Rams (fourth in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) are at Gorham Monday, have a huge home test versus Scarborough Thursday of next week and close at home against Thornton Academy May 29.

“I think we need to believe in ourselves,” said Graydon. “We have a lot of team chemistry and we love each other. We stick together as a team.”

“We’re working on the mental aspect because of the youth,” Barker said. “We had seven strong seniors last year. This year, we have a few, but we don’t have that  same kind of jelling. I think it’s coming. Everybody we lost to, we could have beaten. Falmouth, we didn’t show up. Marshwood and Massabesic, we could have easily won. I think it’s wide open. It’ll be an interesting playoff. It would be nice to play in Kennebunk.”

The Stags (sixth in Eastern A) are home with Thornton Academy Monday and close at Gorham Thursday of next week. If Cheverus can put together 50 strong minutes, it could recreate last year’s June thrills.

“We hope for a repeat of last year,” said Willard. “I would say we’re getting confidence. It’s desire and drive to start sooner and play 50 minutes. I know we can do it. I love this team. Last year was the greatest feeling ever. Hopefully we can duplicate it.”

“We’re doing a lot of good things if we can just dot the I’s an cross the T’s,” said Chamberlain. “We’ve made some really good plays out there. We’re getting experience, which is what happened last year. The girls are willing to work hard to get over that hump. We’re focusing on going out the final week of the season. The girls know they have potential. It’ll be close. If we win the next two, maybe we could get a home game. We just want to get in and can play anywhere. We’ve shown we can do that. “

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

Sidebar Elements

Previous Cheverus-Kennebunk results

@ Kennebunk 13 Cheverus 2

@ Cheverus 12 Kennebunk 10

Kennebunk 11 @ Cheverus 6

Kennebunk 11 @ Cheverus 7
@ Kennebunk 11 Cheverus 4

@ Kennebunk 11 Cheverus 4
Kennebunk 8 @ Cheverus 6
Western B Final
@ Kennebunk 10 Cheverus 5

Western B semifinals
@ Kennebunk 15 Cheverus 13