Yarmouth senior Adrianna Whitlock fires a shot past York junior defender Kristen Leroux that found the net to finish the scoring in the Clippers’ 4-1 victory in the teams’ season opener Thursday. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos. More photos below. Buy this Photo

YARMOUTH—It didn’t take long for Yarmouth’s girls’ soccer team to live up to its lofty billing.

Thursday afternoon, by the time the Clippers’ season opener against visiting York was 20 minutes old, host Yarmouth had a three-goal lead and was well on its way to making a powerful opening statement.

After a few near-misses, junior Parker Harnett put the Clippers on top to stay with 26:21 to go in the first half.

With 21:53 on the first half clock, freshman Ava Feeley scored the first of what figures to be many varsity goals and a minute later, off a corner kick, Harnett struck again to give Yarmouth an insurmountable lead.

The proud Wildcats didn’t roll over, however. as senior standout Delaney Labonte scored on a free kick with 28:14 to go, but less than three minutes later, senior Adrianna Whitlock finished and the Clippers went on to a 4-1 victory, capturing their season opener for the fourth time in five years.

“I don’t think we could script any better how we came out,” said Yarmouth first-year coach Andy Higgins. “Our big focus was coming out strong in the first five minutes, then every five minute chunk after that.”

Another title quest

Yarmouth and York are perennial Class B title contenders and 2019 figures to be no different.

The Wildcats got to the Class B South Final a year ago, losing, 2-0, to eventual state champion Cape Elizabeth to finish 12-4-1.

The Clippers weren’t able to three-peat, instead finishing 10-6 following a 2-1 loss to Cape Elizabeth in the semifinals.

While York still has longtime coach Wally Caldwell at the helm (now in 25th season), Yarmouth welcomed a new coach this fall in Higgins, who played at Ellsworth High School and the University of Southern Maine and spent the past eight seasons coaching the Gray-New Gloucester boys’ squad.

First-year Yarmouth girls’ coach Andy Higgins shouts out instructions during Thursday’s contest. Buy this Photo

Last year, each team won by a 1-0 score on the other’s home field.

Thursday, on a gorgeous, sun splashed, 69-degree afternoon, this time, the home team carried play.

Harnett had several opportunities before she finally managed to finish.

Just 30 seconds in, she sent a cross across the goalmouth that went untouched.

In the fourth minute, Harnett had a shot saved by York sophomore goalkeeper Allie MacDonald, then she got the ball back and sent a left-footed bid just wide.

In the fifth minute, Whitlock got the ball to Harnett, who toe-tapped the ball on target, which MacDonald saved.

In the sixth minute, Harnett sent a left-footed blast just wide.

Another Clipper, senior Ehryn Groothoff, tried in the eighth minute, but MacDonald dove to make a nice save, setting up a corner kick, which was cleared by the Wildcats defense.

After MacDonald made another athletic save on a Harnett bid, York produced its first shot in the 13th minute, as Labonte headed a shot on goal, but Yarmouth senior keeper Hope Olson made the save.

Then, with 26:21 left in the first half, the Clippers broke through.

Groothoff got the ball ahead to Harnett, who eluded a defender, closed in on MacDonald, then finished with her left foot to put Yarmouth on top for good.

“We’re just trying to work through the midfield,” Harnett said. “We’re really good at communication. First touches and finding an open pass are things we’re focusing on. I got the ball and I heard (Coach) yell, ‘Take them on.’ Then I heard someone else yell, ‘Left foot,’ so I shot with my left foot. It was a relief to get one.”

“Parker understands the game very well,” Higgins said. “She’s a dynamic attacking player. She’s a combination of pace and strength and that’s a handful for anyone to shut down.”

After MacDonald denied senior Audrey Goesling, York tried to pull even, but Olson made a save on a long shot from senior Nina Howe.

The Clippers then scored twice in 61 seconds to pull away.

With 21:53 remaining in the half, Feeley, the latest member of her family to make a big contribution to the Yarmouth program, got to a nice through ball from Groothoff, raced in and finished to make it 2-0.

“Ava is fantastic,” Harnett said. “We love her and we love the energy she brings. She’s phenomenal 1-v-1. We’re so excited to have her.”

“Ava has a lot of experience, playing at a high level with her club team,” Higgins said. “She makes nice plays for us. She’s working hard at being the best she can for our team.”

Just as soon as public address announcer Kyle Bennett got done announcing the goal, the Clippers struck again, this time off a corner kick.

Whitlock sent the ball in and Goesling kicked it toward Harnett, who one-timed it past MacDonald with her left foot to make the score 3-0.

“Audrey had a great touch and I just finished it for her,” said Harnett. “That wasn’t my goal. It was everyone else’s.”

Labonte tried to answer for York, but Olson denied her shot.

Late in the first half, MacDonald kept the score 3-0 by saving two bids from Groothoff and another from Feeley.

In the first 40 minutes, Yarmouth enjoyed an 11-3 advantage in shots on frame.

The Clippers didn’t display the same intensity in the second half, at least until the Wildcats made things interesting.

With 28:14 to play, after a Yarmouth foul, York earned a free kick from 25 yards out and Labonte, who missed the 2018 season with a knee injury, demonstrated that she’s back in form and why she’s so deadly on set pieces, ripping a low shot past a diving Olson, to the goalie’s right, and into the net.

“That was a tough one,” Higgins said. “(Labonte’s) a phenomenal player and it’s great to see her back out there after she was hurt last year.”

The Clippers then responded like the champion they hope to become, as with 25:46 remaining, Whitlock got a look and fired a long shot that MacDonald got a hand on but couldn’t stop and the ball rolled into the net to make it 4-1, restoring the three-goal bulge.

“It helped to score three early and then I think we kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit,” Higgins said. “We had to refocus a little bit when they scored that goal. Adrianna’s goal let us relax a little bit again.”

The Wildcats had two late chances to again make things interesting, but after a long run, Howe sent a shot just wide, then Labonte just missed converting another long free kick, as Olson dove to make the save.

Yarmouth then closed out its 4-1 victory.

“We were so excited to play today,” Harnett said. “All of us were anxious to start. I think it’s been a really smooth transition.

“The girls focused on working together and competing for each other and when we do that, we’re a strong team,” Higgins said. “York is really good. They’re always tough. Wally is a great coach and they’ll be much improved the second time we see them.”

The Clippers outshot the Wildcats, 14-5, enjoyed a 4-3 edge in corner kicks and got four saves from Olson.

Flying under the radar was a strong Yarmouth defensive effort from start to finish.

“We’re solid defensively,” Higgins said. “(Senior) Ella (Caruso) has a lot of experience in the back. She anchored us and did well. (Junior) Gabby (Thibodeau) was tough in the middle. D’App (sophomore Katelyn D’Appolonia) drew the tough assignment of Howe and she neutralized her well. We have some versatility and depth.”

Just beginning

York is idle for a week, then plays at Greely next Thursday. After a trip to Gray-New Gloucester Sept. 14, the Wildcats finally open the home portion of their schedule Sept. 20 versus Freeport.

Yarmouth, meanwhile, welcomes Lake Region Saturday, then hosts Cape Elizabeth in a compelling regional final rematch Tuesday.

“We’re so hungry this year,” Harnett said. “We’re taking it one game at a time. That’s our big thing. We just have to stay composed. We know we don’t have to go undefeated to win a state title.”

“We gave the ball away too much tonight and we have to focus on taking care of possession,” Higgins said. “We’ll have a tough one Saturday against Lake Region. We have to focus and get ready. We’ll tighten up in preparation for that one.”

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

Yarmouth senior Ashlyn Feeley controls the ball as York junior Eliza Lunn defends. Buy this Photo

Yarmouth junior Parker Harnett, who scored two goals, battles York sophomore goalkeeper Allie MacDonald in front of the goal. Buy this Photo

Yarmouth senior Ehryn Groothoff and York junior Renee Bourque (2) and freshman Madison Raymond battle for the ball. Buy this Photo

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