WATERBORO and SACO—Avery Tucker tipped home a Maddison LeBeau blast from the top of the circle to push No. 6 Westbrook past No. 2 Massabesic in OT2 on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 21. The Blazes battled back from a deficit early in the second half to even things up and lay the foundation for a semifinals W.

Three days later, on Tuesday the 24th, Tucker and LeBeau again led Westbrook in offing a higher-ranked team, No. 4 Biddeford. The former scored on a breakaway and the latter on a corner to secure the A South crown and a trip to Saturday’s State Final – where they will face mighty Skowhegan.

Westbrook vs. Massabsic
“Big girls stepping up,” Westbrook co-head-coach Theresa Hendrix said, asked what she thought made the difference in the Blazes’ game with the Mustangs. “Kimmie Goddard had a few unbelievable saves – that gets momentum going; defenders coming up with big stops, getting it out of the circle.”

The bout proved dramatic not merely in the waning moments, but from the very get-go. Play rolled up and down the field, both teams creating pressure but neither team finding their way onto the scoreboard. Westbrook keeper Kimmie Goddard tallied three impressive saves in the opening three and a half minutes, and it was the Blazes’ offense who converted first. Roughly 20 minutes, Morgan LeBeau swept a Tucker feed past the left Massabesic post to the back of the cage for 1-0.

Westbrook’s lead lived a short life, however, and Massabesic showed their stuff as the break approached. Senior Emma Rutledge struck twice in rapid succession, scoring first on a reverse sweep out of a scrum at 5:39, then again on a similar play at 4:24. 2-1.

Goddard might’ve given up two goals, but, as noted, she also turned in some phenomenal saves.  Still, she can’t be in on all the action, and confessed a certain angst at being forced into the role of spectator far too often. “It’s stressful,” she said. “You want to go out and do something. But I just have to rely on my teammates – and I trust them; they’re my family.”

The Mustangs boast a potent offense, able to score against any opponent – hence the importance of having a last-line-of-defense as stalwart as Goddard. But the Blazes’ back line also showed their mettle on numerous occasions, protecting Goddard; for that, she applauded them.

“We have been playing, the past few games, our best defensive mode,” she said. “I think it’s our new formation that really helps us, with the three back. It’s really more of a defensive set-up, and it helps a lot.”

“Our girls hung their heads for a minute in the first half,” Hendrix said of Westbrook’s falling behind, “and they knew, if they wanted to win, that that couldn’t happen. They came back; through all the adversity they faced, they fought all the way to the end.”

Part and parcel to the Blazes’ recapturing their mojo was their coming together during the break. Hendrix described her and co-head-coach Beth Murphy’s locker-room advice: “[The girls needed] to play their game,” Hendrix said; “they needed to beat Massabesic to every ball, to out-hustle them. Massabesic’s a team, they’ll fight right to the end…so the girls knew, if they wanted to win, every second counted.”

“We know how good we can be when we want to be,” Tucker said. “We all have faith and trust in each other that we can be the best team. Our coaches just said to us, ‘This isn’t our team right now; you girls have got to pick it up if you really want it.’ And we really wanted it, so that’s what we did.”

Upon the teams’ return to the turf, Westbrook seized immediate control, harassing the Mustangs’ defense – and their keeper, Madyson Pomerleau – for the better part of ten minutes. In that time, the Blazes generated five corners; it was on the fifth of those that Maddison LeBeau notched the tying strike.

Tucker inserted on the corner, knocking the ball inward from the end line; LeBeau picked it up at the top of the circle. From there, most teams on most corners will work a further pass, attempt to create a less-obvious look. This time around, however, LeBeau simply cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger.

The ball exploded forward – a real cannon blast of a shot – through the Mustangs’ small contingent of defenders, past Pomerleau and into the back of the cage with a crash.

“I’ve been struggling – like, at the beginning of the game I was struggling – with my drives,” LeBeau said. “I was topping, the ball would go under my stick. So I breathed a little…and I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m going to stop the ball with the right side of the stick, and I’m just going to wing it in.’”

The remaining 20 minutes of regulation play slow-burned off the clock. The teams took turns pressuring, with Massabesic creating their own string of corners in the late going. The final seconds belonged to Westbrook: When Pomerleau kicked away a ball trickling toward the endline, it hit one of her defenders, resulting in a Blazes’ corner.

Time expired as Westbrook set up for the insertion and shot. If they could capitalize here, they would win. Alas, they couldn’t manage to duplicate LeBeau’s earlier success, and OT1 dawned tensely.

The Mustangs pressured hard to start the eight-minute stretch, but the Blazes took control midway through. At both 3:45 and 3:08, Mary Keef made runs up the right side of the field, only to find herself stymied in the both cases by an aggressive, charging Pomerleau.

Then, with time running out, Tucker earned a breakaway; Pomerleau ventured another rush, but Tucker got behind her. Tucker met with some Massabesic defensive resistance on her way to the cage, and the official signaled for another corner – Tucker didn’t notice as much, though, and slammed the ball home. Upon learning her goal didn’t count, she collapsed to her knees.

Once more, time expired. Once more the Blazes had a chance to win on a corner – and once more they failed to convert. OT2 arrived.

“Especially with the last one, the call didn’t quite go our way, with the play-on,” Hendrix said of the twin opportunities for her girls to win with nil time on the clock. “But that happens. We tell the girls, you play against 13, including the two refs.”

Naturally, those moments sapped some of Westbrook’s mental vigor – and yet, they dug deep and continued to fight.

“It’s so nerve-wracking,” LeBeau said of the Blazes’ pair of failed chances.

Tucker stressed the bright side. “The nice thing about it is, if we can’t execute the corner at the end of the first overtime, then we have a whole other overtime to give it all we’ve got.”

The outfits traded jabs to begin OT2. Around six minutes, Westbrooker Katie Champagne dashed up the left side of the field; she couldn’t penetrate the Mustang defense, but succeeded in grabbing a Blazes’ corner – the fateful corner, as it would turn out: Soon, the ball landed with LeBeau, perched at the top of the circle. LeBeau unwound into blistering shot, which pinballed into a tangle of bodies. Tucker managed just a touch, a slight redirect that tipped home the 3-2 goal. Westbrook had won.

There’s been a great deal of parity in A South this fall, as Hendrix and her girls well know. “I feel like I says this every time: Every game, it’s anybody’s game. We had a great game against them in regular season, a back-and-forth just like today.”

“We lost to [Massabesic] in the regular season,” Tucker said. “We knew that we had to keep the ball on our right side, because they’re a really strong team on their right side. And we’re a strong team, personally, I think, on both our sides. But [we preferred] to get it away from their stronger side and on to our right side. That was sort of the strategy of the game.”

“Today, it really was a team thing,” Hendrix said, asked which of her girls turned in standout performances. “Mary Keef getting some runs there on the right side; she’s a girl, exhausted, she’ll push right through it. Of course, Maddison in the middle and Kimmie out back. We have a sophomore, Katie Champagne, stepped up on the left side to put a big force there.”

Westbrook vs. Biddeford
The Tigers pulled off an upset in their own semfinal battle – they downed No. 1 Scarborough, 2-1 – to earn a shot at Westbrook. But, while the contest for the A South crown rolled up and down the field, each side pressuring the other repeatedly, only the Blazes ever converted.

Biddeford controlled the attack early, but they couldn’t create any quality looks, and Westbrook soon pushed back. The Blazes tallied a solid chance or two as the first half wore on – Tucker, for instance, sent a ball flying just over the Tigers’ crossbar roughly 22 minutes in.

“Biddeford’s always a team [that’s] going to go hard; their forwards are fast,” Hendrix said. “We knew that we were going to have to beat them to the ball.”

“We came out a little hesitant, almost,” Tucker said. “We were just nervous.”

Finally, at 3:25, the Westbrook broke the deadlock. Morgan LeBeau, driving through midfield with the ball, shoveled it forward to Tucker, who danced around a Biddeford defender before blasting a shot past keeper Taylor Wildes. 1-0.

“I’ve had a lot of plays like that,” Tucker said, “so that’s something I really practice and focus on. When I had that chance in the game, I just knew I had to do what I do and get it in.”

“I pulled left,” Tucker said of besting Wildes, “and I knew that if I brought her one way, I’d have to shoot the other for a little bit of deception.”

Asked about her silky ability to slide past opponents, Tucker cited that old standby, practice. “I practice a lot of field hockey,” she said. “I play almost all year round, and I play with players from Biddeford, with players from Cheverus, my own team, Scarborough – all those great teams. So I’m constantly practicing with some of the best players in the State, which really benefits me.”

Tucker nearly notched another just 30 seconds later – on a similar drive, no less – but couldn’t quite find the back of the cage.

The Tigers controlled the offense to begin the second half as well, but the Blazes again evened things out in short order. Westbrook then began generating corners at a machine-gun pace, taking three consecutive around 25 minutes, another at 19:30 and a fifth at 17:15.

The Blazes hashed two more corners between 14 minutes and 13:30 – and on the second, the team’s seventh of the half, LeBeau capitalized. Following the insertion, the ball bounced out to Abby Symbol at the top of the circle; Symbol bashed it forward into a crowd, where LeBeau picked it up and hammered it home. 2-0.

“The goalie was opening her legs,” LeBeau said, asked what she saw in the circle as Symbol’s feed found her stick. “Before, when we had it, I was shooting for more middle because she was going to step. So on the next corner, I was like, ‘Abby, we can do this; pass the ball.’ So I swept it, and – just an amazing feeling. So many emotions, because we were up 2-0.”

“Maddison has taken her game to a whole new level,” Murphy said. “This kid’s top-notch. She played the field beautifully: knew where to be, didn’t try to do too much, knew she had to be help on defense, knew where to get the balls out when the game was trickling down.”

Hendix talked about other girls’ contributions, and their ability to help Tucker and LeBeau play even better. “Our team’s really unique, and one of the reasons we got this far is because we have so many other girls in the field. Each game this year, we had different girls scoring and different girls assisting. Avery and Maddison have come up big and they love that clutch time, but it’s really all of them working together that make us get to this next level.”

“Our offense is doing really well,” LeBeau said. “Structurally. Like Morgan and Katie; Abby and Alexis, over in the middle, were doing good, too.”

Biddeford clearly grew desperate as their end neared – and just like a Tiger will do, backed into a corner, they only became more dangerous, grabbing the action by the throat and forcing it into Westbrook’s zone.

“That’s who they are,” Murphy said of Biddeford. “In our last game with them, we let down, and let them come back and tie it and put it into overtime, and they took it to us. This time, they did the same thing. They’re not going to quit; they’re a good team – that’s an excellent team over there. Young, and good. They’re going to be back.”

“Our kids have just been playing so well,” Murphy said. “Last two games, they’ve played the way we need them to play.”

“Biddeford’s a really good team,” Tucker said of the Tigers’ late-game pressure. “They have a lot of intensity, and they definitely were ramping it up. But I think we equally matched that, and did a really good job stopping them.”

But the Blazes’ new defensive setup – as mentioned, three back with Goddard – proved unbreakable in the end, and Westbrook emerged triumphant.

“We brought an extra defender back, which was different than when we played them before,” Hendrix said, “and I think that really helped us secure it out back…Especially with the last couple games, having their fast forwards, for us to have that little extra help out back.”

Ariana St. Clair and Maddie Herbert both stepped into the extra defensive slot for the Blazes. The tactic worked so well for Westbrook that Biddeford never logged an actual on-frame shot until roughly 10 minutes remained in the game.

“Our defense was great today,” Tucker said. “They did really good getting the ball out wide. And Kimmie did a fantastic job in goal. She’s really important to our team, and we love her so much. When we see her do good, it’s such a good feeling.”

“That’s our new structure,” LeBeau said. “It’s more defensive. So when [Biddeford] came back, we just shut them out. They weren’t really in their offensive mind until, like, 10 minutes left in the game. They didn’t get a shot on till then.”

Biddeford defeated Westbrook in the regular season – 4-3, back on Oct. 9. “I think when you lose to a team in regular season, it gives you that extra little piece inside of you that wants it even more,” Hendrix said. “These girls have worked so hard. We prepared for today and they came in and played as a team.”

Asked what made the difference for the Blazes this time around, Murphy was quick to answer:

“Two coaches, added to the program. That’s what I’ve been wanting. And these two have been a great addition. We’ve been a great team. They really know how to get these kids motivated; they’ve done a great job with the skills, and breaking everything down, and making the game easier for these kids – and [the kids have] bought into it. And they’re just playing out of their tree right now. It’s awesome to watch.”

Rachelle Messuri is Murphy and Hendrix’s assistant coach.

Murphy made sure to highlight the contributions of one more Blaze: “Alexis Witham played a tremendous game today too,” Murphy said. “She’s part of the kids in the middle that really took away from (Biddeford standouts) Abby Allen and Paige Laverriere. She was all over them.”

The Blazes face off in the State Final with Skowhegan on Saturday the 28th; Falmouth will host the event.

Saturday will be the Indians’ 17th consecutive trip to States – Skowhegan field hockey is undoubtedly the single most dominant dynasty in Maine sports today, and perhaps in all of Maine sports history. Meanwhile, it will be Westbrook’s first trip to States since 1980, when they beat Cony 2-1.

“I’m excited,” Hendrix said. “There’s no other team we would want to play. Ever since I was playing, it’s always been Skowhegan up north. So I’m really excited for these girls to live up to that challenge, to hopefully continue playing at their level and bring that one home.”

“We don’t,” LeBeau said, asked if she and her girls knew much about Skowhegan yet. “We’ll talk more about them in practice tomorrow.”

The ’79 Blazes also reached States, though they lost in that first attempt 3-1 to Waterville. Murphy, a Westbrook native, was actually on the ‘78 Blazes squad, and so just missed out on a couple of trips to the big game.

“We were in Western Maine Final with Bonny Eagle two of my years,” Murphy said. “So, never made it.”

To top it all off, in roughly 25 years of coaching, Murphy’s never advanced this far. She led her 2008 outfit to the Regional Final, but they ultimately lost.

“It feels pretty good,” Murphy said, clearly understating the matter.

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.

Morgan LeBeau fires forward a ball that’ll shortly find the stick of Avery Tucker, who’ll go on to score.

Alexis Witham’s work at midfield was crucial to interrupting the Tigers’ upfield movements, Tuesday night.

The (majority of the) Blazes, waiting to receive their individual awards and their team plaque, pose for fans a celebration photo.

Avery Tucker unleashes the ball that’ll put Westbrook atop Biddeford 1-0.

Westbrook Captains (L-R) Avery Tucker, Maddison LeBeau, Jaclyn Hazelwood and Camryn LaPierre pose with their freshly acquired 2017 A South Regional Champions plaque.

Blaze Ariana St. Clair scrambles, in close on the Massabesic cage, to get her stick on the ball and punch home a score. Mustangs keeper Madyson Pomerleau, prostrate on the turf, swipes at the play – as does her defense, her last hope.

Maddison LeBeau rushes toward her teammates to celebrate her game-tying goal, tallied on a corner roughly 10 minutes into the second half.

Madalene Herbert goes shoulder-to-shoulder with a Mustang.

Abby Symbol challenges a Massabseic opponent near the sideline.

Mary Keef threatened several times vs. Massabesic, including on this drive, one of two-in-a-row she generated late in regulation on Saturday. Massabesic keeper Madyson Pomerleau resorted on both to aggressive, charging stops – a tactic she would later try against Avery Tucker, only to see Tucker get by her.

With only seconds remaining, Avery Tucker scoots around Massabesic keeper Madyson Pomerleau and heads for the cage. Tucker would score – but the officials would wave off her goal, instead awarding Westbrook a corner.

Avery Tucker collapses to the turf, crushed after learning the refs had nullified what would’ve been her game-winning goal.

Katie Champagne drives forward for Westbrook midway through OT2 vs. Massabesic. Champagne wouldn’t reach the goal, but her push would lead directly to the game-winning corner.

Maddison LeBeau winds up for one of her now-legendary cannon-blast shots from the top of the circle – the now-legendary cannon-blast, it would turn out, that Avery Tucker would tip home for the winning goal.

Blazes Maddison LeBeau (left) and Avery Tucker (right) embrace in celebration of their game-winning team-up goal vs. Massabesic on Saturday.

The Blazes celebrate immediately following their semifinals upset of Massabesic.

Maddison LeBeau unwinds into a blast from deep in Biddeford’s corner. Her Tigers defender recoils.

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