Waynflete’s girls’ lacrosse team celebrates at the final horn of Saturday’s 9-8 victory over Freeport in the Class C state final as junior Jess Connors (1), who scored five times, prepares to race and congratulate her mother, coach Cathie Connors. Hoffer photos.

BOX SCORE

Waynflete 9 Freeport 8

W- 4 5- 9
F- 2 6- 8

First half
23:20 F Driscoll (K. Tracy)
21:59 W Connors (free position)
12:18 W C. Bliss (Sherry)
9:09 F S. Tracy (free position)
1:54 W Connors (free position)
28.8 W Connors (Dinapoli)

Second half
21:23 W Sherry (Connors)
17:55 F Groves (Jensen)
16:38 F S. Tracy (free position)
16:22 W Connors (unassisted)
14:42 W C. Bliss (Kelly)
10:38 F Whittier (Groves)
10:20 F Feller (unassisted)
9:03 W Connors (unassisted)
8:30 W Kelly (unassisted)
6:56 F Driscoll (K. Tracy)
4:49 F K. Tracy (unassisted)

Goals:
W- Connors 5, C. Bliss 2, Kelly, Sherry 1
F- Driscoll, S. Tracy 2, Feller, Groves, K. Tracy, Whittier 1

Assists:
W- Connors, Dinapoli, Kelly, Sherry 1
F- K. Tracy 2, Groves, Jensen 1

Draws (Freeport, 12-7)
W- Sherry 4 of 9, Millspaugh 1 of 6, Connors 2 of 4
F- S. Tracy 7 of 12, K. Tracy 3 of 4, Groves 2 of 3

Ground balls:
W- 35
F- 45

Turnovers:
W- 23
F- 23

Shots:
W- 19
F- 26

Shots on cage:
W- 17
F- 23

Saves:
W (Girard) 15
F (Williams) 8

PORTLAND—Imagine a Hollywood executive being presented with the following script:

“Mom, a longtime successful girls’ lacrosse coach is in a championship drought. That is until her daughter emerges a star player and helps the team reach the state final. There, the daughter scores five goals, including a pair where she somehow squeezes through the entire defense. Then, with the game and the season on the line, the daughter, known for her prolific offensive skills, makes the defense play of her life to cap the victory and with the final credits rolling, leaps into her mother’s arms in celebration.

“Cut.”

That executive would likely laugh and dismiss such a script out of hand, but sometimes truth is stranger, or in this case, more wonderful than fiction and all of the above occurred Saturday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium when third-ranked Waynflete and valiant, never-say-die No. 1 Freeport squared off in a Class C state final for the ages.

The Flyers, who last won a championship in 2013 and who finished under .500 two years ago before missing out on a season altogether last spring, and the Falcons, who lived up to preseason billing as the team to beat in Class C, produced a back-and-forth display of heart, will and skill that needed all 50 minutes to determine.

Freeport struck first on a goal from junior Megan Driscoll less than two minutes in, but that would be the Falcons’ lone lead of the game.

Waynflete junior standout Jess Connors, daughter of longtime Flyers coach Cathie Connors, then tied it up on a free position and she was just getting started.

With 12:18 left in the first half, in transition, senior Kilee Sherry fed freshman Cece Bliss for the go-ahead goal, but three minutes later, Freeport drew even when junior captain Savannah Tracy converted a free position of her own.

Late in the half, Waynflete took the lead for good when Jess Connors scored on a free position, then with 28.8 seconds left, Connors scored from senior Claire Dinapoli for a 4-2 halftime advantage.

When Connors set up Sherry for a goal early in the second half, the Flyers appeared on their way, but back roared the proud Falcons, as senior Hannah Groves and Tracy scored a little over a minute apart.

Then, out of a timeout, Connors won the draw, then somehow got through the defense before scoring unassisted.

Bliss added a goal to make it 7-4, but again, Freeport pulled within one, as junior Ellie Whittier and senior Meredith Feller answered.

Again, Connors wouldn’t be denied, scoring unassisted to extend the lead, then with 8:30 to play, freshman Tilsley Kelly added a goal and Waynflete had a seemingly safe 9-6 advantage.

The Falcons still refused to say die, however, getting goals from Driscoll and sophomore sparkplug Kate Tracy to pull within one with 4:49 to play.

The Flyers then had to hold on for dear life and thanks to the heroics of junior first-year goalie Emily Girard they were able to do.

Freeport had one last possession, but Connors knocked the ball away and Waynflete was able to hold on for a 9-8 victory.

Connors scored five goals, assisted on another and Bliss scored twice, while Girard stopped a whopping 15 shots as the Flyers finished the season 10-5, ended the Falcons’ fine campaign at 11-4 and won a title for the first time in eight years, for the 14th time ever and for the 13th time in Cathie Connors’ reign as coach.

“There’s no better feeling than this, right now,” said Jess Connors. “I’ve watched my Mom win state championships since I was a baby and there’s no better feeling to be on the field and to win one myself.”

“This means everything,” Cathie Connors added. “Every team is special, but after losing a season, this year was like I was a new coach. I felt like I found a new inspiration as to why I do this and love this. I feel so lucky.”

A 50-minute show

Class C featured more parity than any other class in girls’ lacrosse this season and Freeport and Waynflete were near the top of the heap from start to finish.

The Falcons won their first five games and nine of their first 10 before settling for a 9-3 mark and the top seed in Class C (see sidebar, for links to previous game stories).

Freeport got tested in the playoffs, but handled No. 8 St. Dom’s in the state quarterfinals, 18-9, before holding on to edge No. 4 Lake Region, 7-6, in Wednesday’s semifinal round.

Waynflete made plenty of noise this spring, holding its own again foes from Classes A, B and C. The Flyers gave Cathie Connors her 300th victory May 8 and won three times by a goal, including once in overtime, as they showed tremendous growth from the end of March through the middle of June.

“At the beginning of the year, it was a little bit rough, but we pulled through,” Girard said. “We practiced a lot and worked on what we needed to work on. I think we surprised ourselves.”

“In March, I had six kids on the team and I had to take 10 kids and try to figure out offense, defense and midfield,” Cathie Connors said. “We changed it up and kept finding out new things over and over again. We figured it out.”

Waynflete then eliminated sixth-ranked Wells in the state quarterfinals, 11-2, and Wednesday, went to second-seeded Maranacook and came away with a 9-5 victory to reach the state final.

In the teams’ regular season meeting May 22, the Falcons prevailed, 9-6, as Kate Tracy led the way with four goals.

Freeport and Waynflete met twice before in the playoffs, both times in state finals. The first encounter came way back in 1992, when the Flyers prevailed, 15-9. The second came 20 years later, where Waynflete rolled to a 16-5 victory.

While Freeport, which won a MAISAD title back in 1991, was taking part in its third-ever state final and seeking its first championship (see sidebar for previous results), Waynflete was competing in its 18th title game.

Saturday, in the final event of not just the spring sports season, but a long, challenging and unprecedented school year, the teams took the field under nearly perfect conditions (82 degrees at the start) and produced a game that no one who took part or watched will soon forget.

Waynflete junior Jess Connors and Freeport sophomore Kate Tracy take the game-opening draw.

Jess Connors won the opening draw, but the Flyers turned the ball over and the Falcons quickly took advantage, as with 23:20 left in the first half, Kate Tracy set up Driscoll for a shot that Girard couldn’t stop for a 1-0 lead.

Waynflete bounced right back and with 21:59 to go, Connors was awarded a free position and she beat Freeport sophomore goalie Piper Williams to tie it up.

“That first goal calmed my nerves and made me feel better,” Jess Connors said. “I think it put us in motion.”

The Flyers then pushed hard to go on top, but Williams denied Sherry on a rush, Bliss point blank, Bliss again, then Sherry.

After Connors had a goal waved off for stepping in the crease, Waynflete did go ahead with 12:18 to play in the half, as in transition, Sherry passed ahead to Bliss, who scored for a 2-1 advantage.

“The first time we played (Freeport) we were really slow on offense and we didn’t capitalize,” Cathie Connors said. “We’ve worked on our fastbreaks and finding lanes.”

Freeport coach Marcia Wood called timeout and her squad responded, as after Girard denied Groves and Feller, Savannah Tracy was awarded a free position and finished with 9:09 on the clock to make it 2-2.

But after Girard preserved the tie by denying Kate Tracy, Driscoll and Groves, Waynflete took the lead for good with 1:54 remaining, as Jess Connors scored on her second free position shot.

Then, with 28.8 seconds to go, as they did so often in their glory days, the Flyers scored a pivotal, momentum-altering late goal.

In transition, Dianapoli fed Connors and Connors scored her third goal for a 4-2 lead.

Freeport nearly answered off the ensuing draw, but Feller’s shot hit the crossbar and Waynflete was up by two at the break.

In the first half, the Falcons won five of seven draws, but every other statistical category, other than the scoreboard, was even.

The second half then featured scintillating back-and-forth action as both teams fought to the end.

Kate Tracy nearly scored off the second half draw, but her shot was blocked at the last second.

The Flyers then went up by three, as with 21:23 remaining, Sherry contorted her body to catch a pass from Connors before beating Williams.

Freeport came right back, however.

After Girard saved a pair of bids from senior Myah Jensen and another from Kate Tracy and a Driscoll shot was blocked, Jensen set up Groves for a goal with 17:55 to play, snapping a 16-minute, 14-second scoring drought.

The Falcons only needed to wait 77 seconds for their next goal, as Savannah Tracy converted a free position with 16:38 left and suddenly it was a one-goal game, 5-4, and Cathie Connors called timeout.

It couldn’t have worked out any better, as Jess Connors got the ball and fought her way through the defense before beating Williams with 16:22 on the clock to push the lead back to two.

With 14:42 to play, Bliss scooped up a ground ball off a deflected pass from Kelly and scored and Waynflete had a three-goal lead again, 7-4.

Dinapoli then almost extended the lead to four, but she hit the post, then had a shot saved by Williams.

Freeport then rallied once more.

With 10:38 left, Groves set up Whittier for a goal.

Then, just 18 seconds later, off a draw win by Savannah Tracy, Feller drove around a defender and beat Girard to make it 7-6.

Cathie Connors then took her final timeout and once again her daughter made it look like a brilliant move.

With 9:03 to play, after winning the draw, Jess Connors again found a sliver of room and while the defense converged to stop her, they couldn’t and Connors finished to make it 8-6.

“My adrenaline kicks in sometimes and I just go for it,” Jess Connors said. “The only shots you miss are the ones you don’t take, or something like that. We wanted to win each half, each segment. We wanted to stay ahead. We pretended it was 0-0 at halftime. We wanted to win the second half. We played like we were behind.”

After Girard saved a shot by Driscoll at one end, Waynflete transitioned back to offense and with 7:30 remaining, Kelly, on the run, bounced a shot past Williams to make it 9-6.

But the Flyers were still far from home free.

The Falcons would rally from three goals to one again, as Kate Tracy set up Driscoll for a goal with 6:56 on the clock and after Girard stopped shots from Jensen and Driscoll in succession, Waynflete turned the ball over and Kate Tracy finished unassisted to cut the deficit to 9-8 with 4:49 still to play.

The Flyers got the ball on the ensuing draw, but Kate Tracy forced a turnover.

Then, with 4 minutes to go, Feller set up Jensen in front, but Jensen missed just inches high.

After the teams traded turnovers, junior Riley Simon earned a free position for Freeport with 2:32 to go, but Girard made the save.

“It was just adrenaline,” said Girard. “I tried to watch the ball as much as I could.”

Seconds later, Driscoll was awarded a free position, but missed high.

Waynflete got the ball and cleared it into the offensive zone.

Bliss tried to clinch it, but Williams made the save with 1:36 remaining.

Bliss got the ground ball, however, and the Flyers tried to stall, but with 32.7 seconds to go, they turned it over and Freeport got its final chance.

The Falcons were able to get set up on offense, but the Waynflete program has been notorious for its stingy zone defense for decades and with the game and championship on the line, that defense came through.

Freeport wasn’t able to find a lane or an open cutter and with time winding down, Connors knocked down a pass and in the ensuing scrum the horn sounded and at 7:31 p.m., the Flyers erupted and celebrated their 9-8 victory.

“Internally, I wasn’t so calm,” said Jess Connors. “I was just trying to do anything to prevent them from scoring. We wanted this win for the entire team. I saw the ball and kind of whacked at it. It was the best feeling ever. There’s nothing better than hearing the horn when you’re ahead by a goal in the state game.

“I knew our team could do it. We love each other. We might not have the stick skills or be as good as other teams, but we know each other so well. We’re best friends. We bonded in team pool parties. There’s nothing better than being on the field with people you love.

“I don’t think I could have wished for a better season. We didn’t win every game, but we played our hardest in all of them, so there’s nothing more you can ask for. Freeport’s fun to play. They’re a tough team. Savannah and Kate are incredible. They have so much heart and they’re so fast.”

“I don’t remember any of (the final seconds),” Sherry said. “I counted on Jess. It was exhilarating for sure. I immediately thought, go to the goalie and scream, then go to Cathie, then go to the fans and scream. It’s so fun. I love that I ended my senior year like this. This feels amazing.

“We worked so incredibly hard. Freeport did too. It was a great game. Our first game against them, we were a little bit off. It was hot, not to use that an excuse. We were ready for this game. We put so much hard work and sweat and tears into each practice. We all believed and supported each other. We didn’t hang our heads at all.”

“It was a huge rush when the horn went off,” Girard said. “I was so proud of the team.”

“(Freeport’s) good and fast and super well-coached, so it was scary at the end,” Cathie Connors added. “We just had everybody go back on defense and packed it in and just hoped.”

Waynflete coach Cathie Connors hugs her daughter, junior Jess Connors, during the post-game awards ceremony.

Jess Connors, who technically first attended one of her mother’s state game wins in 2003, three months before her birth, and who later was part of the team handshake line as a young girl, had one of the most memorable state final debuts in state history, scoring five goals and assisting on another. She also led the team with six ground balls and won a couple of critical draws.

“Every goal of Jess’ that went in, I was nearly in tears,” Cathie Connors said. “I could tell, because I obviously know her so well, that she wouldn’t stop until the game was over. Jess took that whole pandemic year seriously. She was out shooting and at the gym.”

Bliss, a budding star, added two goals, while Kelly and Sherry finished with one apiece.

Dinapoli, Kelly and Sherry also had one assist.

Girard, who took over between the pipes this spring, had the game of her young life, making 15 saves.

“It was an insane amount of pressure,” Girard said. “I was nervous, trying so hard not to hyperventilate. I was so excited to be here.”

“Emily’s been steady every single practice and every single game,” Cathie Connors said. “Our goalie coach, Laura Bishop, is phenomenal. She puts on the pads and gets in the goal and shows her what to do. Emily saved the game.”

Waynflete overcame 23 turnovers.

So close

Freeport junior Savannah Tracy and sophomore Kate Tracy show off the runner-up trophy.

Freeport got two goals apiece from Driscoll and Savannah Tracy, while Feller, Groves, Kate Tracy and Whittier finished with one apiece.

Kate Tracy also had two assists, while Groves and Jensen finished with one apiece.

Williams made eight saves.

The Falcons won 12 of 19 draws, had a 45-35 edge in ground balls (Kate Tracy finished with a game-high 12, while Savannah Tracy scooped up seven), a 26-19 shots advantage (23-17 on cage) and turned the ball over 23 times.

“We had chances,” Wood said. “I’m proud of the quick goals we got. We wanted to have a good game and to rally after being down a few goals shows our perseverance. We played hard and played well. The rallying from being down is a testament to who we are. One more draw, 30 more seconds might have been enough.

“Nerves got the best of us at points today. We forced a lot of passes. I chalk that up to nerves. Savannah’s knee has been bothering her and I think that threw the girls off. Waynflete’s defense is great. We held the ball too much today. We should have moved it a little more. (Waynflete’s) improved. They picked up their game. We made them make mistakes but we couldn’t capitalize. We still did great things on defense and Piper had a great game.

“It’s been quite a ride. We did some great things. I know it’s sad for my seniors I’ve had for seven seasons now with field hockey and lacrosse. It hurts now, but in a few days we can reflect back and be glad we were there and the underclassmen will want to get back there and next time it will be different. To be here and have all our fans here, it was awesome to see that. I saw a lot of youth players in the stands. Hopefully they’ll pick up on this.”

A bright future

Waynflete senior captains Claire Dinapoli, left, Kilee Sherry and Laney Friedland show off the championship trophy.

Waynflete graduates Dinapoli, Sherry, Kaitlin Bliss, Laney Friedland, A.J. McGrath and Pippi Simpson, but everyone else returns, suggesting the Flyers won’t need to wait long for another shot at a title.

“I’m going to miss the seniors so much,” Jess Connors said. “I can’t imagine playing on this exact team. We have some good incoming eighth graders. Hopefully we can pull it off again.”

“We return a lot of great players and we have a lot of great players coming up,” Cathie Connors said. “I’d love for this to become a habit again.”

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

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