BANGOR, Maine — Throughout the first half of Sunday evening’s girls soccer game in the State Cup Finals at Falmouth High School, the Blackbear United under-15 squad was playing on its heels against Seacoast United Arsenal.
“This group has been Seacoast’s powerhouse team the last three years,” said Blackbear goalie Abby Pyne of the southern Maine club.
“We talked at halftime about what we needed to do,” said Blackbear coach MJ Ball. “They [the players] came out on fire. They dominated the second half.”
Ball switched a couple of his players into the midfield, the offense picked up, the defense found some breathing room and Blackbear rallied for a 2-1 victory over Seacoast to win the U-15 state championship.
“Once we got the hang of it, I think we wanted it more since they won the last three years,” Pyne said. “MJ did a great job and the team just executed.”
The contest was one of six title games on the day, with two others changed to Wednesday when the fields in Augusta became unplayable. All of the winners earned berths in the Region I Tournament set for June 28-July 3 in Lancaster, Pa.
Seacoast spent most of the first half Sunday controlling the play and the score reflected it. Seacoast scored early in the half on a goal by Abigail Maker and held that 1-0 lead at halftime.
Ball thought that wasn’t too bad.
“We played poorly in the first half, but we survived,” he said.
Blackbear responded quickly to Ball’s lineup changes as Pilar Elias tied the game about five minutes into the second half off a throw-in.
“It ping-ponged around,” Elias said, until the ball came to her and her left foot. “I scored right over the goalie.”
Elias was one of the players Ball shifted, moving her to center midfield.
“[The switches] boosted us up,” Elias said. “We became stronger offensively.”
“In the first half, they kept coming and coming,” said center back Maddie Page. “In the second half, we got a lot of shots off and we started to shoot more.”
Five minutes later came Blackbear’s game-winning goal, which was started by a free kick taken by Pyne. The ball was initially cleared by the Seacoast defenders, but Kaitlin Saulter kicked the ball to Claire Petersen, who blasted it at the Seacoast net. The ball bounced off a defender and into the goal, giving Blackbear the lead.
Seacoast was presented one more good opportunity to tie the game as a handball call resulted in the awarding of a penalty kick, which Maker took.
Pyne chose correctly where the shot was headed and leaped to knock it away.
“We were so relieved,” said Page. “She has a lot of experience with penalty shots. … We had a lot of faith she could stop it and she did.”
Pyne, a U.S. under-16 national team member, had faced Maker before.
“I knew which side she liked to shoot at, and I had worked really hard on penalty kicks,” she said.
“It was amazing,” said Ball. “It motivated everybody.”
“I didn’t see a shot from them after the penalty kick,” said Pyne.
She deflected credit for the victory to her teammates.
“The team did a great job of finishing the game,” she said.
Now they can look ahead to the Region I tournament, where Pyne and Elias will use their experience to get their teammates in the right frame of mind. Region I extends along the eastern seaboard from Maine to the Virginias.
“It was very nerve-wracking the first time for us,” said Elias, who has gone to the Region I tourney three times. “Now we can help others on the team out.”
“I’m going to my first one,” said Page, “but I also do [the Olympic Development Program]. The things they do are kind of similar.”
Pyne thinks they all will be fine.
“On paper they look better,” said Pyne of their potential opponents. “If we calm down, we can win these games.”
Control will be the key.
“You can’t let emotions and nerves get the best of you,” said Page.
U15 boys: Portland Phoenix Elite 3, Portland Phoenix Strikers 2; U14 girls: Velocity 2, Seacoast Barcelona 0; U-14 boys: Seacoast Blackwell 2 Portland Phoenix Elite 1; U-13 girls: Seacoast Celtic 1, Blackbear 0; U-13 boys: Portland Phoenix Elite 1, Seacoast Twombly 0; U-12 girls: Portland Phoenix Elite 2, Blackbear 1; U-12 boys: Portland Phoenix Elite 1, Seacoast McCormack 0