HOULTON, Maine — Jimmy Fitzpatrick and his Houlton High School teammates have been waiting a year for a second chance at a gold ball.
The senior striker helped make that happen Thursday afternoon.
Fitzpatrick scored his 38th goal of the season just 6:58 into the Shiretowners’ Eastern Maine Class C final against Orono, and Houlton nursed that lead with solid all-around play to edge the Red Riots 1-0 and secure its second straight regional title.
The win advances fourth-seeded Houlton (14-2-1) to Saturday’s 10 a.m. state final at Scarborough against Hall-Dale of Farmingdale, which edged defending state champion Waynflete School of Portland in penalty kicks Thursday to win the Western Maine title.
“It’s incredible. I’ve thought about this ever since we lost down there last year,” said Fitzpatrick, whose team fell to Waynflete 2-1 in double overtime in the 2011 state championship match. “To go down to states as a junior is special but to be able to go down there again this year with experience is something else.”
“It’s been our goal, it’s what we’ve looked forward to since we started this season.”
Seventh-seeded Orono, which lost its fifth consecutive Eastern Maine final — the last four all requiring trips to Aroostook County — knocked off No. 2 Penquis of Milo and No. 3 Fort Kent to reach the title game again but ended its season with a 9-7-2 record.
“I knew they were tough and it showed,” said Houlton coach Mike Carlos. “I thought we had a few more opportunities than they did, we just didn’t finish some of our opportunities. They made some threats. I don’t think they were hard threats on us, but they’re a good team.”
Fitzpatrick, who scored three goals in Houlton’s 3-1 victory over Orono in last year’s EM title game, scored the only goal of this rematch after outbattling two Red Riot defenders as well as charging goalie Einar Loktu in the middle of the field near the 18-yard line for possession of a long lead pass from senior midfielder Brandon Ward.
“I didn’t really see much, to be honest,” said Ward. “I just knew Jimmy plays the middle and he’s quick and he’s usually there.”
Fitzpatrick was able to tip the ball to the left of the converging crowd, then chased it down and grounded the ball into the open net to give the Shiretowners a 1-0 lead with 33:02 left in the first half.
“They were trying to shield me off but I was able to fight through it and got the ball on my foot and saw the open goal,” said Fitzpatrick.
It was one of four threatening shots on goal in the half for Fitzpatrick in addition to a header he popped over Loktu only to have Orono’s Calum Hamilton clear the ball away.
“It’s so funny because my first year I played Jimmy at midfield, I wasn’t smart enough to put him on the front line,” said Carlos. “He probably has 80 or 90 goals, and if I had been smarter my first year and put him where he belonged he’d probably have more.”
Houlton held a 9-6 edge in shots on goal at intermission, but their total number of attempts was considerably higher than those taken by the Red Riots.
“The first half they outplayed us,” said Orono coach Waldo Caballero. “They won because they really played to win in the first half and we were not quite there. I thought we outplayed them in the second half until the final five minutes.”
Orono did generate more ball possession during the second half, with senior Mathew Cloutier a particular threat on the right side of the field, but the Red Riots were unable to seriously challenge Shiretowners’ goalie Kyle Buzzeo.
“That’s been a problem we’ve had,” said Caballero. “That’s a natural skill you have, you don’t teach that, and all season long within three yards of the goal we shoot over [the net] or we shoot around it, we just don’t capitalize.”
Houlton finished with a 15-7 advantage in shots on goal, with Loktu making 14 stops and Buzzeo with seven saves behind a Shiretowners’ defense featuring seniors Dan Swallow and Ethan Morse, junior Alex Casillas and sophomore Dan Howe.
“We’re a little physical at times and we play with some skill at times, it depends on the situation,” said Carlos. “I thought we played our game really well today.
“I was happy for the ‘W’, I’ll say that.”