PORTLAND—It was a game without equal.

A game that wouldn’t end.

And a game that the Falmouth Navigators, Cape Elizabeth/South Portland/Waynflete co-op team and hundreds of fans on hand at Troubh Ice Arena Saturday afternoon/evening will never forget.

In a South Region girls’ hockey semifinal, top-seeded Cape/SP/Waynflete first appeared bound for victory, then appeared doomed to certain defeat, but seven seconds from its season coming to a premature close, Cape/SP/Waynflete got a tying goal from senior Katharine Blackburn and the fun was just getting started.

In a game that was pretty darn fun all along.

After having a power play goal waved off in the second minute, Cape/SP/Waynflete broke through with 2:03 to go in the first period, as senior captain Sofia Cook sent a seemingly innocent clear up the ice and it somehow found the net, but fourth-ranked Falmouth was undaunted and answered a mere 21 seconds later, on a goal from freshman Amelia Brann, which sent the contest to the second period tied, 1-1.

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Cape/SP/Waynflete seemed to restore order when freshman Catie Lee set up  junior captain Delaney Whitten for a power play goal at 2:42 of the second period, but again, the Navigators roared right back, as sophomore Trinity Grenier scored a power play goal of her own at 3:49 to tie it.

With Falmouth freshman goalie Ella Wiley holding off several golden Cape/SP/Waynflete chances, it appeared the game would go to the second intermission deadlocked, but with just 11.9 seconds left, Kinley stole the puck and beat Cape/SP/Waynflete junior goalie Abbey Steinhagen to give the Navigators a stunning 3-2 lead, which held into the third period.

Where, Falmouth quickly tacked on an insurance goal, courtesy Brann, and Cape/SP/Waynflete was firmly on the ropes.

But back came Cape/SP/Waynflete midway through the third, when freshman Marina Bassett scored to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Wiley turned aside several bids to tie it and as time wound down, it appeared the Navigators would pull off the biggest shocker of the postseason to date, but with only 7.1 seconds showing, Blackburn fired a prayer from just inside the blue line and it somehow found the mark to send the game to overtime.

But one eight-minute, “sudden victory” OT wasn’t enough to send a team to the regional final.

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Nor was a second.

Or a third.

Finally, 10 seconds into the fourth overtime, after two-and-a-half grueling hours of graceful hockey, Cape/SP/Waynflete punched its ticket to the next round, as Bassett fed freshman Libby Hooper for the game-ending goal and an unforgettable 5-4 victory.

Cape/SP/Waynflete improved to 13-2-2 on the season, ended valiant Falmouth’s campaign at 9-6-1 and advanced to battle No. 3 Scarborough (11-5-1), which needed three overtimes in its semifinal, in the South Region Final Wednesday at Troubh Ice Arena at a time to be announced.

“We played Lewiston in the state final in 2020 and I thought that game was the best I’d ever seen, but this one rivaled that,” said Cape/SP/Waynflete coach Bob Mills. “Boy, were we depleted at the end. We’re both exhausted and relieved.”

Next step

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Two years removed from an overtime loss to Lewiston in the state final, it’s no surprise to see Cape/SP/Waynflete making another deep playoff run. The squad had a solid 11-2-2 regular season, which featured some huge wins down the stretch, then Wednesday, Cape/SP/Waynflete had no trouble with No. 8 Portland/Deering in the quarterfinals, prevailing, 8-2.

Falmouth has really come on as the season has progressed and after posting an 8-5-1 regular season mark, the Navigators made a statement in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, beating No. 5 York with surprising ease, 5-1, to advance.

The teams played just once this winter, a 3-0 victory for Cape/SP/Waynflete Jan. 27 in Portland. They split two prior playoff meetings, with Cape/SP/Waynflete’s 4-3 victory in the 2018 South Region quarterfinals the most recent (Falmouth prevailed, 7-1, in the 2015 West Region semifinals).

Saturday, with a good crowd on hand, the drama gradually built until it got to the point where it was a shame that someone had to lose.

Cape/SP/Waynflete carried play much of the first period and appeared primed to take a quick lead when it went on the power play just 57 seconds in when Falmouth was caught with too many players on the ice.

Sure enough, at 1:38, after Wiley stopped a Whitten shot, Lee was there to send in the rebound, but the goal was disallowed due to a Cape/SP/Waynflete player being in the crease.

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Wiley then robbed Hooper on a rush, denied Bassett after she made a great move to get free, then stopped another Bassett shot on a rush.

Finally, at 11:57 of the period, Cape/SP/Waynflete broke through, in a stunning and seemingly innocuous fashion.

Cook, from behind her blue line, flipped the puck down the ice for an apparent icing, but instead it veered toward the near post and it somehow snuck between Wiley’s stick and the post for a 1-0 advantage.

That could have broken some teams, but it only made the Navigators’ resolve that much stronger and they quickly answered at 12:18, as Brann ripped a shot from up top past Steinhagen to make it 1-1, with sophomore Eva Chace and junior Emerson Roy getting assists.

Falmouth celebrates its first goal of the game. Hoffer photos.

“The team didn’t fold and came right back out and tied it and I knew then we’d be in it,” said Falmouth coach Rob Carrier.

Cape/SP/Waynflete had a 9-1 advantage in shots on goal, but the game was deadlocked after one period.

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Early in the second period, Cape/SP/Waynflete looked to go back ahead and after Wiley stopped shots from Cook and Whitten, it went on the power play again and this time, got a goal that counted, as Lee set up Whitten to make it 2-1 at 2:42.

Again, the lead didn’t last, as Falmouth got to go on the power play and at 3:49, seconds after a Kinley shot was saved, freshman Audrey Farnham passed to sophomore Morgan Adams, who found Grenier, who scored her third playoff goal to tie it up again, 2-2.

Wiley then came up huge, stopping shots by Lee, Whitten twice and Hooper three times.

Then, with just 11.9 seconds remaining, the Navigators took advantage of a golden opportunity and went on top, as Kinley stole the puck and fired it home for a 3-2 lead.

It then took Falmouth all of 37 seconds into the third period to double its lead.

When Steinhagen stopped an initial shot by Kinley after a turnover, Brann got to the rebound and while Steinhagen got a piece of the shot, it wasn’t enough to stop it from rolling in to make the score 4-2.

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Cape/SP/Waynflete then amped up the offense and after freshman Hartson Mosunic, Whitten and Lee had shots saved by Wiley, Lee set up Bassett for a goal with 8:11 left and the deficit was suddenly just one.

Cape/SP/Waynflete then pushed for the equalizer, but Bassett missed just wide, Wiley denied Blackburn twice, Wiley saved a shot from Cook and a rebound bid from sophomore Kierith Gentilini, then she robbed Bassett in front with 3:22 remaining.

Steinhagen was pulled for an extra attacker with just over a minute to play, but it appeared to be for naught when Wiley saved a long shot from Lee with 9.9 seconds showing.

Cape/SP/Waynflete then had one final chance off the ensuing faceoff and did it ever capitalize.

Bassett got the puck back to Blackburn and Blackburn, right near the blue line, lofted a shot on goal and it got through a screen and past Wiley to tie the game, 4-4.

With only 7.1 seconds to go.

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“I knew Marina would send me the puck off the faceoff because that always happens,” Blackburn said. “I couldn’t even see the net because there were so many people blocking it. I think it might have gone over (the goalie’s) shoulder, I’m not sure. It was really surprising to me that it went in.

“Coming off the second period, we just calmed down in the locker room to re-set ourselves. It was just a matter of getting shots on net. I didn’t want it to be the last nine seconds of my career. A lot of the things Coach has talked to us about all season about being resilient stuck with me.”

“It was just such a great feeling to see that puck hit the net,” Hooper said. “Getting a quick shot was important because there were a bunch of people in front of the net. It was so exciting.”

“Katharine has a great shot,” Mills added. “She hits the net most times. I’m not sure their goalie saw the shot. It was well-placed. That gave us the emotional jump that we lacked the first couple periods. We knew we had the talent to win, but in the last minute, I was pretty concerned. You work so incredibly hard to get to this point.”

“I knew they’d keep coming because they weren’t the number one seed by folding,” said Falmouth coach Rob Carrier. “I knew they’d throw everything at us and they did and it paid off with the tying goal. In the moment, you can’t dwell on the goal because you have to get ready for OT.”

Cape/SP/Waynflete junior captain Delaney Whitten lines up a shot in overtime as Falmouth senior Kate Kinley defends.

Cape/SP/Waynflete nearly won the game 36 seconds in overtime when the puck got behind Wiley, but Navigators sophomore Eve Chace swept it out of harm’s way at the last possible moment.

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Chace then nearly won it at the other end, but her bid was saved by Steinhagen.

After Kinley had a shot saved by Steinhagen, Chace broke up a rush by sophomore Becca Good.

Wiley then stepped up huge, denying a shot from Blackburn and a point-blank bid from Bassett.

Hooper then had two chances to win it, but both were saved by Wiley and after the ice was resurfaced, the game would go to a second overtime.

A second overtime didn’t produce any resolution.

Nor did the third.

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Then, in the intermission following the third OT, Hooper had a simple message for her teammates.

“I just remember speaking about how this was going to be the last time we were going to step on the ice because we were going to put the puck in the net, reminding everyone to stay calm and move the puck well and make smart plays,” Hooper said.

“Libby said that the first shift of the period would be the last shift of the game and that’s exactly what happened,” Blackburn said.

After the ice was resurfaced once more, the fourth overtime began and finally, Cape/SP/Waynflete was able to advance.

And it took only 10 seconds.

After winning the opening faceoff, Cape/SP/Waynflete set up on offense, as Lee pushed the puck into the corner. Bassett skated it down and fed Hooper, who this time, wouldn’t be denied.

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“There was a dump in, Marina skated the puck down and the puck ended up in the corner,” Hooper said. “I was in the high slot calling for it and had a quick release. To be honest, the shot wasn’t that pretty, but it didn’t matter.”

“Libby went wide, then the puck went in the corner, then Marina passed it in front and Libby put it right in,” said Blackburn.

“There was a little confusion on defense,” said Carrier. “There was a wet spot where the puck got stuck, then they had a 2-on-1 and she buried it.”

At 6:57 p.m., Cape/SP/Waynflete could finally celebrate its 5-4 victory.

It took a long, long time, but ultimately, Cape/SP/Waynflete was the team to celebrate victory Saturday.

“It’s a really great feeling to win,” Hooper said. “I’m very happy and very thankful for my teammates. There were so many emotions going up and down. It was worth it to play an amazing game. There was a lot of stress and frustration, but we channeled that into playing as one full unit. It was very exhausting, but when I stepped on the ice, I didn’t even care about how exhausted I was.”

“It was really exciting, lots of fun,” Blackburn said. “This shows we never give up and even if we get down, we know we can get momentum and come back. It was very back-and-forth. It was very fun and intense and I’m glad we came out on top. We knew going into the game they’d be a different team than they were when we saw them earlier in the season.”

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“It shows the importance of playing three solid periods,” Mills added. “We’ve been able to come back several times this year. Falmouth’s goalie was incredible today, so the girls had to just keep doing what we’ve been doing, keep getting bodies to the net and good things would happen. After the game, I asked the team to talk about lessons learned and they said, play three periods.”

Heroic effort

Falmouth was heartbroken with the loss, but turned heads with its effort, starting with Wiley, who overcame a shaky start to dazzle.

“Ella wanted that first goal back and she really was amazing for us all game,” Carrier said.

The Navigators came oh-so-close to pulling off the shocker, but ultimately fell a goal shy.

“It was exciting from start to finish,” Carrier said. “The overtimes amped everything up. To be honest, I thought we’d have a good first period. We’d practiced well and played well against York. I think we caught (Cape/SP/Waynflete) off-guard a little bit, then they came back to life in the second and third periods. The biggest difference was our fatigue and Cape’s depth on offense. We can’t run the same kind of lines they do. They wore us out even though we tried to slow the game down.

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“We’re trying to put things in perspective. I wasn’t sure where we’d end up this year. To play this well was unexpected. A lot of girls are sad that the season is over and how it ended after we came so close to extending it. It’ll take a couple days to look back and come away realizing how much we accomplished.”

Falmouth graduates Kinley, along with four other seniors, but the younger Navigators got great experience this winter and will be hungry to make another playoff run next season.

“I’m not sure how our numbers will look,” Carrier said. “For the girls coming back, I’m sure this will serve as great motivation for next year.”

Trophy time

After both teams rest up, Wednesday’s regional final figures to be a thriller.

Cape/SP/Waynflete struggled more this year against Scarborough than anyone, as the teams tied, 2-2, in the first meeting Dec. 23 in Gorham before the Red Storm took a 4-2 decision Jan. 22 in Portland.

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Cape/SP/Waynflete 1-3 all-time versus Scarborough in the playoffs, but it did win the most recent encounter, 3-2, in the 2020 South Region Final.

“I really want to get back to states,” Blackburn said.

“We’ll celebrate today, but then we’ll start preparing (for Scarborough) tomorrow,” Hooper said. “We have to just focus on the next game, the next shift.”

“It should be a fun night (Wednesday),” Mills added. “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing. We need to be prepared mentally as well as physically and be ready from the opening whistle.”

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

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