HAMPDEN, Maine — The ability to convert restarts and intelligent, swarming defense can enable a team to compete with a more skilled team on the soccer field.
That was the scenario Saturday afternoon as the Washington Academy Raiders from East Machias claimed their first state Class C soccer championship thanks to senior midfielder Milos Gautier’s two perfectly placed first-half free kicks and thorough defending.
The Raiders nipped the fast and highly skilled Flyers from Waynflete School in Portland 2-1 at the Weatherbee School Athletic Complex.
Gautier curled a 25-yard free kick into the upper near-side corner 10:09 into the game and hooked a 27-yard indirect free kick set up by Mike Knowles around a still-forming wall and into the far corner with 3:20 left in the half to stake WA to a 2-0 lead.
“[On the first one] I knew they were setting up the wall near side and the ’keeper [Chris Gillespie] was set up on the far side. There was a bigger space to the near side so I picked my spot and went for it,” said Gautier.
“[On the second one], The wall was late to set up. Everyone was taking their time. So I told Mike to touch it quick. [Gillespie] was way, way off so I just curled it far post inside the side panel,” said Gautier.
“They were well-placed,” said Gillespie.
“Those were two good hits,” agreed Waynflete sweeper Sam Cleaves, who made a host of timely clearances and sent several menacing balls into the Washington Academy penalty area.
Dynamic Flyer Josh Bloom, a constant threat who controlled the midfield with his terrific ball skills and quick feet, converted a penalty kick with 16:07 left but the Flyers couldn’t convert their relentless pressure into an equalizer.
Bryce Colbeth made four saves on 27 shots for 17-1 Washington Academy and his back line of Brett Lyons, Steven Knowles and Will Manchester, along with substitute Sam Stevens, did an outstanding job limiting the Flyers’ high-percentage scoring chances.
A potential tying goal was kneed off the line by Manchester during a wild scramble with Colbeth out of position.
“We have an awesome defense,” said Colbeth. “They didn’t get any easy shots the entire game. This was, easily, our best game of the year.”
“We didn’t capitalize on our chances,” said Bloom. “When someone stepped up to the ball [to confront us], they had someone step in behind him. That’s how you play defense. They did a great job of that.”
Gillespie made three saves on 15 shots for the upstart 8-8-3 Flyers, who entered the Western Maine tournament as the 11th seed and pulled off road victories over No. 6 Wiscasset (2-0), No. 3 Telstar of Bethel (4-0), No. 2 Saint Dominic of Auburn (2-1) and No. 1 Mount Abram (1-0) of Strong.
“They were the best team we’ve seen, offensively, all year. They had some real fast guys up front. But I felt like we did a good job holding them back,” said Manchester.