ORONO, Maine — The way the Orono and Fort Kent girls played Tuesday was an example of how championship soccer should be played.
Matched in a defensive struggle, neither the top-ranked Red Riots or second-seeded Warriors gave a lot of ground, and it was apparent early one goal could be the difference.
That was exactly the case, as Ruth Mares knocked in a rebound just over 15 minutes into the second half and Orono’s back line held on from there as coach Cid Dyjak’s club won its second straight regional championship with a 1-0 victory.
The 14-2-1 Red Riots will play either Waynflete of Portland or Georges Valley of Thomaston in Saturday’s state final while Fort Kent winds up 12-4-1.
There could easily have been more scoring if it weren’t for the play of standout goalkeepers Elizabeth Fox of Orono and Carissa Pelletier of Fort Kent.
“Carissa just makes amazing save after amazing save. She puts her heart into every game,” Warriors coach Kevin St. Jarre said.
It was Orono’s Fox, however, who made the first crucial save of the game, thwarting Fort Kent’s Taylor Boucher on a penalty kick 6:07 into the match.
Boucher was awarded the PK after a hand ball in the penalty area, but Fox made the stop, diving to her right.
“It was very nerve-wracking. My heart was just pounding extremely fast and luckily I was able to make the save,” said Fox.
The game stayed scoreless through the first half, as Carissa Pelletier in net, Vanessa Pelletier and Liz Mourneault shined defensively for Fort Kent as Orono dictated play and controlled possession.
Things stayed that way throughout the second half, but the Warriors got a solid counterattack going. Boucher had a wide-open shot at the 26:55 mark that Fox secured.
Orono finally broke the stalemate with 24:38 left in the second half, as Mares re-directed a Alex Crocker cross that clanged off the cross bar into the far post.
The ball scooted toward Chloe Paul first, but the senior striker was moving away from the goalmouth and let the onrushing Mahan handle it.
“She knew that it would be really hard to try and make the right angle,” Mares said. “We kind of made eye contact and just let it roll by her so I could just shoot it.”
Crocker, who crossed the ball from the right flank, was actually aiming for the near post. She got a little too much on her attempt, but it worked out OK for the Riots.
Trailing by a goal, the Warriors turned up their attack in the final 20 minutes of play, trying to keep the ball in Orono’s end of the field and generating a few solid chances.
But the Riots’ defense was unshakable, as a Boucher direct kick was quickly cleared by Orono’s defensive wall with 17 minutes to play and Fox stopped another Boucher direct kick with just under two minutes left.
“They had a lot of chances, but they started playing boot-ball and we just had to control the balls and win all the 50-50 balls,” Fox said.
Fort Kent’s hardworking back line made the Riots work for their shots, and Chloe Paul and Meghan Curtis and Mares, three of Orono’s main offensive weapons, were marked tightly throughout.
“Their defense is pretty good,” Crocker said. “We had to push ourselves pretty hard.”
Orono’s own back line, anchored by Caleigh Paul, Lauren Dwyer and Laura Triandafillou, kept the Warriors’ dangerous attackers, Gabrielle Naranja and Boucher, at bay for the most part.
Orono outshot Fort Kent 20-14. Pelletier played a solid, aggressive game in net for the Warriors, making 14 saves while Fox had nine for the Red Riots.