YARMOUTH—After having to wait over two weeks to play a countable game, it wasn’t a big surprise to see Yarmouth’s field hockey team start slowly in Wednesday’s Class B South quarterfinal against visiting Freeport.

And if you know the third-ranked Clippers, it wasn’t a big surprise that they finished strong either.

The sixth-seeded Falcons, riding the momentum of their late-season surge, needed only four minutes to grab the lead, as senior Lily Welsher scored off a penalty corner, but that would be it for Freeport’s offense.

Yarmouth came to life in the second period and had some chances, but couldn’t score and still trailed at the half.

Then, early in the third quarter, off a corner, the Clippers drew even, as senior Ari Rustad scored, from senior Alice Donahue.

And Rustad wasn’t done with her heroics.

After Yarmouth fought off a couple Falcons’ corners early in the fourth period, Rustad put the Clippers ahead to stay on a rocket of a shot with 3:53 remaining.

Freeport earned one more corner in the waning seconds and played it out after time expired, but couldn’t register a shot and Yarmouth survived and advanced, 2-1.

The Clippers improved to 9-4-2, ended the Falcons’ season at 8-8 and in the process, set up a semifinal round date at No. 2 Cape Elizabeth (12-2-1) Saturday at a time to be announced.

“It was brutal not playing for over two weeks, but it gave us time to bond,” Rustad said. “We’re a very close team, so this feels so good. This is the farthest I’ve gone in my career.”

Close as can be

Yarmouth twice beat Freeport by 2-1 scores this fall, Sept. 6 at home and Oct. 7 on the road.

That was part of a solid campaign for the Clippers, who opened with a 4-3 home loss to St. Dom’s, then turned things around with their first win over Freeport and blanked host Greely (1-0), host Wells (3-0) and visiting Gray-New Gloucester (4-0), before edging visiting Poland, 2-1, in double-overtime. After a 1-1 home tie versus Cape Elizabeth, the Clippers fell at home to York (5-0) and won at Poland, again in OT, 1-0, then downed host North Yarmouth Academy/Waynflete, 4-1, lost at Fryeburg Academy (2-1), tied host Lake Region (0-0), beat Freeport for the second time, then closed with a 3-1 home loss to Fryeburg Academy on Oct. 11, over two weeks ago.

As the No. 3 seed in the region, Yarmouth earned a bye into the quarterfinal round.

Freeport, meanwhile, started slowly with losses to visiting York (4-0), host Yarmouth and host Cape Elizabeth (5-0) before getting in the win column with a 4-2 home victory over Greely. The Falcons then lost at Fryeburg Academy (4-1), before downing host Poland (2-1, in double-overtime) and visiting Lake Region (2-0). After a 4-1 loss at York, Freeport dropped a double-overtime heartbreaker to visiting Cape Elizabeth (3-2), before closing strong by edging host Greely (2-1) and after falling for a second time to Yarmouth, beating visiting Gray-New Gloucester (5-1), visiting Fryeburg Academy (3-2) and host Lake Region (1-0, in double-overtime).

The Falcons then advanced by virtue of a 6-0 win over No. 11 Gray-New Gloucester in the preliminary round.

The teams had met five previous times in the playoffs, with the Clippers capturing all of them, but the most recent encounter was way back in the 1998 Western C quarterfinals (Yarmouth won, 1-0, in the 18th round of penalty corners).

Wednesday, on a cold (52 degrees) and windy but thankfully dry evening, Yarmouth again prevailed, thanks to some late heroics.

Yarmouth sophomore Sophie Smith plays the ball up the field during Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Freeport in a Class B South quarterfinal. Hoffer photos.

Freeport got possession quickly and threatened the Clippers defense and after earning a penalty corner, broke the ice with 11:10 remaining in the 15-minute first period, as Welsher got to a rebound of senior Ava Gervais’ shot and sent it past Yarmouth senior goalie Cassie Walsh.

“We hoped to catch them off guard and we did, scoring first and coming out strong,” said Falcons coach Marcia Wood.

The second period was different story entirely, as sophomore Sophie Smith had a couple early shots denied by Freeport senior goalie Vicki Balla, then the home team kept the pressure on and Smith had two more shots saved.

“We had 15 days without a game, so it was like having a postseason preseason, which was interesting,” said Clippers coach Molly Saunders. “That’s why we started slowly. They scored in the first five minutes and we had to get our game legs again. It took a quarter, then we picked it up in the second quarter and held our own defensively.”

The Falcons clung to a 1-0 halftime lead, but Yarmouth was confident when the second half commenced.

Three minutes into the second half, the Clippers earned their fifth corner of the game and with 11:47 remaining in the third quarter, Donahue set up Rustad for a blast which Balla couldn’t stop and the game was deadlocked, 1-1.

“It was stressful to fall behind, but it made us work harder,” Rustad said. “I thought we were going to score. We tried to do our best and just had to finish.”

Both teams would have chances in the fourth quarter, but it would be Yarmouth which ultimately rattled the cage.

In the first two minutes of the final stanza, the Falcons twice had penalty corners, but neither resulted in a shot.

The Clippers would go on top with 3:53 remaining and it would be Rustad playing the hero, thanks to a beautiful shot from up top, a blast which Balla couldn’t stop.

“I just saw an open corner and shot,” said Rustad. “I had some room and I just wanted to get it in. It felt good off my stick. I actually used my coach’s stick today.”

“It’s always a fight to score but we did it,” Saunders said. “Ari did a great job. She saw a great opportunity. I saw her hesitate for a second, then she ripped the shot. It was a great goal. There’s nothing sweeter than the sound of the ball hitting that backboard.”

“Yarmouth’s two goals were beautiful goals and well-earned,” Wood said. “They fought for them.”

With 1:59 remaining, Freeport nearly tied it, when a long shot from junior Chloe White got through, but Walsh made the save.

Then, with time winding down, the Falcons earned a penalty corner and by rule, got to play it out after the horn sounded.

Freeport got the ball in front but it went off a player’s foot and the corner ended, as did the game.

Yarmouth then celebrated its 2-1 victory.

Yarmouth senior goalie Cassie Walsh is congratulated by her teammates after Wednesday’s 2-1 win.

“It was a great crowd tonight and it was nice to have their support,” said Rustad. “That last corner was stressful. We just told each other we loved each other and got the stop.”

“It’s always a nailbiter against Freeport,” Saunders said. “This is great for us.”

The Clippers finished with a 6-4 shots advantage and got three saves from Walsh.

Growth and promise

Freeport got four saves from Balla and had a 7-5 edge in penalty corners, but still felt short.

“I know the girls are disappointed, but this is what we wanted,” Wood said. “We had a chance at the end. It’s remarkable to have a .500 season and play this well with only one player (senior Kyla Havey) back with much varsity experience. Having no expectations helped us in the long run. We just went and played. I think once the girls starting feeling it we were fine. Kyla stepped up into a leadership role. (Junior) Liv Christensen, a middie, really stepped up. Sophie Bradford, a freshman, did great. A lot of kids at the beginning thought they had to get the ball to Kyla, but we changed that.”

The Falcons lose Balla, Gervais, Havey and Welsher, but will be starting from a much better place in 2022 and should be primed to go deep into the playoffs again.

“This builds so much for next year,” Wood said. “We lose four seniors and I have 17 coming back. I’m starting to see the benefits of my youth program too.”

Off to Cape

Yarmouth rallied to tie visiting Cape Elizabeth in the teams’ lone regular season meeting, in a game shortened by bad weather. The Clippers have lost both prior playoff encounters against the Capers, 1-0, in overtime, in the 2000 Western B Final and 2-1 (on seven rounds of penalty corners) in the 2007 Western B preliminary round.

“We keep getting to be a family for a few more days,” said Rustad. “We just need to know that we can win. We’ve put everything we have into it and we just have to put our hearts into it again.”

“Making it to semis is something we’ve worked hard for,” Saunders said. “We’re just going to go play some hockey and have some fun.”

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

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