HAMPDEN, Maine – A 3-0 halftime advantage is considered insurmountable to most field hockey teams.
But Gardiner, which held such a lead after the first 30 minutes of Monday’s Eastern Maine Class B final with Nokomis, wasn’t comfortable for a couple of reasons.
First, the Warriors from Newport were defending a regional crown, and second, well, there are two halves in a game.
Gardiner coach Moe McNally’s fears came to fruition as the Warriors drew within 3-2 with just over 12 minutes remaining, but the Tigers held on from there to win by that same score and clinch their first Eastern Maine title since 1987, when the team was in Class A.
The undefeated Tigers (17-0) will take on Western Maine champion York in Saturday’s state final in Yarmouth while Nokomis wraps a stellar campaign 13-3-1.
Gardiner, which beat Nokomis 2-0 in the regular season and that same score in the KVAC title game, pounced quickly, as Marissa Lawrence scored 1:43 into the contest while Olivia Reny gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead at the 22:38 mark. Both goals were assisted by Kashley Weymouth.
Katie Schide’s unassisted tally with 10:27 remaining gave Gardiner its aforementioned halftime advantage, but Schide and her teammates weren’t ready to concede anything yet.
“Going into the second half I knew they were going to fight because that’s how they play, they never give up, so we were worried,” Schide said.
She had good reason to be, as Nokomis started the second half the same way Gardiner did the first, as Marissa Shaw swept home a Taylor Lovely cross just under two minutes into the period.
The Warriors made it a one-goal game with 12:10 to play, once again, courtesy of Shaw, this time on a penalty stroke.
“They started playing long-ball and snuck in behind us, we had to make a couple of adjustments there,” said McNally. “They had a couple good shots in there, obviously the penalty stroke was a good one as well.”
Gardiner’s back line toughened up from there, and the Warriors had a tough time penetrating into the circle in the final moments of regulation.
“I think we just kind of collected ourselves and just remembered the basics and just put it all together again,” said Schide.
Even though Nokomis fell short of its goal of returning to the state championship game, the Warriors still had plenty of reasons to smile.
“It’s disappointing, but hey, the first half was not our game,” said senior captain Sabrina Vaillancourt. “We came back and pulled through, so it made it much better for us. Losing 3-0 would not have been fun.”
Facing such an uphill climb, it could’ve been easy for the Warriors to roll over and die.
“We didn’t, and I’m glad that we came back and pulled through,” Vaillancourt said.
The rally was possible thanks in large part to the play of Maria Adams in the cage, as she turned away several Gardiner scoring opportunities, finishing with six saves on 15 shots.
The Tigers had a decisive edge in possession in the first half, and Nokomis didn’t get a shot off until Shaw’s goal early in the second.
“Our heads weren’t in it [early]. I don’t know why,” said Vaillancourt.
The Warriors, however, came out with a lot more intensity in the second half and generating more scoring chances, but just couldn’t find the cage when it mattered most.
“We just couldn’t get it in the last four minutes,” Vaillancourt said.
Ali Beaulieu had three stops on five Nokomis shots for Gardiner.