Cheverus’ girls’ hockey team celebrates following its 4-1 victory over Falmouth in Wednesday’s South Region quarterfinals. Hoffer photo.

PORTLAND—Cheverus’ girls’ hockey team has experienced quite the roller-coaster ride over the past year.

From an inspirational and somewhat surprising state championship last February, to the program’s very existence being in jeopardy, to survival, and now back to the playoffs, nothing has come easily.

But when the money is on the line, one thing is for certain.

The Stags, from their stars to their role players, will come up big in big spots.

That was the case again Wednesday evening at Troubh Ice Arena, when third-ranked Cheverus hosted No. 6 Falmouth in a South Region quarterfinal where the Stags were tested, but ultimately did enough to advance.

Cheverus went on top to stay midway through the first period, when junior standout Lucia Pompeo set up freshman Elle Cooney for a goal and later in the period, Pompeo added a goal for a 2-0 lead.

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The Stags even took a seemingly comfortable three-goal lead in the second period, when Pompeo set up senior Hannah Woodford, but the Yachtsmen refused to go quietly and just 40 seconds into the third period, sophomore Kate Kinley scored to give them some life.

Kinley nearly made a it a one-goal game later in the period, but Cheverus junior goalie Trinity Atwater made her most clutch save and it led to a Pompeo breakaway goal the other way and that was enough to help the Stags go on to a 4-1 victory.

Cheverus improved to 14-5 on the season, ended Falmouth’s year at 5-14 and in the process, advanced to battle No. 2 Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland (12-5-1) in the semifinals Saturday at 6:10 p.m., back at Troubh Ice Arena.

“We can only do what we do,” said Stags’ coach Scott Rousseau. “We have one way to play. Our options are limited, but we executed really well today.”

The road to repeat

Cheverus has certainly gotten the opposition’s best all winter, but the Stags still managed to win 13 games and earn the third seed in the South Region.

Falmouth, which lost to Scarborough in last year’s South Region semifinals, won just five games this winter, but captured two of its final three to wind up with the sixth and final seed in the region.

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Cheverus won the regular season encounter in overtime, 2-1, Jan. 14 in Falmouth.

The teams had split two prior playoff meetings, with the Stags winning, 3-0, in the 2010 West Region Final and the Yachtsmen prevailing, 11-0, in the 2016 South Region semifinals.

Wednesday, Cheverus led most of the way, but the victory didn’t feel secure until the final horn.

The Stags had an early chance to take the lead on the power play, but couldn’t produce a good look.

After Kinley was denied by Atwater, Falmouth senior goalie Hannah Dubinsky saved a shot from Pompeo, but Cooney was there to clean up the rebound with 8:36 left in the opening period, putting Cheverus on top, 1-0.

“Playing with a lead is nice,” Rousseau said. “Falmouth is dangerous. They play hard. Hannah’s had a great year in goal.”

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After Atwater denied senior Brooke Flaherty and the rebound was cleared, the Stags doubled their advantage with 4:26 to play in the period, as junior Jordina Coleman got the puck to Pompeo, who skated in and beat Dubinsky to make it 2-0.

Late in the first, Atwater stopped a backhanded shot from senior Izzy Roy, then denied Kinley.

Cheverus tried to pull away in the second period and after Dubinsky saved shots by freshman Bela Cloutier, Pompeo and Pompeo again, it went on the power play and with 6:59 on the clock, Pompeo set up Woodford for a shot that Dubinsky couldn’t save and the lead was 3-0.

Later in the period, Falmouth hoped to answer, but Atwater saved a shot by Kinley and also denied a rebound bid from freshman Caroline Rozan.

The Yachtsmen would then come out for the third period with renewed energy and were quickly rewarded.

With 14:20 to play, Kinley had a shot stopped by Atwater, but she got to the rebound and sent it home to get Falmouth on the board.

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The Yachtsmen hoped to draw closer, but couldn’t get many good looks until 3:47 was left on the clock.

When Kinley found some room and fired a shot, but Atwater turned it aside.

“Trinity is really good,” Pompeo said. “She keeps us in it when we need her most.”

“Trinity did what Trinity does when we needed her,” Rousseau said. “We’ve been together a long time and there’s no one else I’d want between the pipes when it matters most to make a big save.”

Then, the puck wound up on the stick of Pompeo and eight seconds later, the game was essentially over, as Pompeo went coast-to-coast and scored (Woodford was given an assist) and the lead was 4-1.

“Coach tells me to slow down and look up and I tried hard to do that today,” Pompeo said.

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“Obviously Lucia is a special player,” Rousseau said. “She came through like she did all year.”

“We just missed a great chance and they came down and Lucia pinged one off the upper post and that kind of sealed it,” Falmouth coach Rob Carrier said.

The Stags ran out the clock from there and celebrated their 4-1 victory.

“We just had to push back,” Pompeo said. “We do whatever we need to do. We just said it’s like any other game. We just had to come in playing hard like we usually do.”

“Our role players were the difference today,” Rousseau said. “They were fantastic. Our wingers won the battle of the blue line. We got pucks out of our zone. The only thing we have from last year is the same uniform. Lucia played one regular season game last year. Hannah is the only player who played the whole regular season.

“We do have great chemistry, like we had last year and the girls believe we’ll figure it out and find a way.”

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Strong effort

Falmouth fought hard throughout the game Wednesday and all season, something that Carrier recognized and paid tribute to following the contest.

“We were dealt a difficult schedule, but we had a group of seven seniors who knew the task at hand,” Carrier said. “It wasn’t easy, but they played great and I’m really proud of the effort they gave today. The girls knew it could be the last game, so if there was ever a game to skate a full 45 (minutes), this was it. I really liked the effort, especially in the third period. Cheverus was great and we were right there with them for a large part of the game.”

The Yachtsmen graduate an abundance of talent, but hope to remain in the mix in 2020-21.

“I’m not sure what our middle school numbers look like, but the girls we have coming back, I like how they’ve been playing,” Carrier said. “If we can mesh the returning girls and new girls, we’ll see what can happen.”

Same place Saturday

Cheverus won the regular season meeting against Cape/Waynflete/SP, 4-2, Jan. 20. The Stags also won the only prior playoff encounter, 1-0, in double-overtime, in last year’s semifinals.

“I feel pretty good about what we’ve accomplished, but we can’t underestimate anyone,” Pompeo said. “I’m excited. I think we’re ready for it.”

“We’ll just do what we do, play stingy defense and keep the game tight and be patient and hope to get a break,” Rousseau said. “Cape is a great hockey team. We’ll do our best.”

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

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