HAMPDEN — With a roster dotted with six freshmen and eight sophomores, some thought that perhaps this would be the year that the Skowhegan field hockey dynasty would end, at least for one year.
But the Indians’ string of consecutive Eastern Maine Class A titles reached double figures Tuesday night, as Sarah Finnemore scored an unassisted goal early in the second half to lift Skowhegan to a 1-0 win over Messalonskee of Oakland.
The win not only advanced the 17-0 Indians to Saturday’s state final against Cheverus of Portland, but veteran head coach Paula Doughty won her 400th game and 10th straight titles.
Messalonskee finishes the season 14-3, with all three losses coming to Skowhegan.
The Indians’ youth showed a little bit early in the match, as they were a bit tentative in attacking the cage as the teams played to a scoreless deadlock.
The Eagles, however, did come out strong and proved to Skowhegan that they were going to be no pushover.
“It’s always a tough game with Messalonskee, they always bring the best games to us,” Indiands’ senior back Noelle Hancock said.
Messalonskee’s back line did a good job early on of keeping the hard-charging Indians from generating any high-percentage opportunities, prompting Doughty to calm her players down at the break.
“I think the first half we were intimidated, at halftime I tried to settle them down, get them back in their groove,” said Doughty. “In the second half we basically controlled the game, that’s what we wanted to do.”
The Indians did seize control 3:24 into the second half, as Finnemore, a sophomore, took a few dribbles along the left side and placed a perfect shot to the right of Messalonskee goalkeeper Lexi Cole.
Even though that goal represented a breakthrough of sorts for Skowhegan, the Indians are more accustomed to jumping on teams early.
“They prepared for it because the last time we played them we scored in the first minute,” Hancock said.
The Eagles’ best chance to get the equalizer came just a couple minutes later on a breakaway, but Skowhegan ‘keeper Anne-Marie Provencal dove to thwart a Messalonskee cross, as an Eagle attacker was left unmarked along the far post.
“For her to dive, she knew it was all or nothing, and she knew that would be the save,” said Hancock.
Eagles’ coach Brenda Beckwith was impressed with her own ‘keeper, who kept Messalonskee in the game late by making several point-blank stops.
“I think Lexi’s done that all year for us, come up with big saves, she’s very agile, really being looked at by big-time schools,” she said. “She does a nice job and she did definitely make some great saves for us.”
Skowhegan’s Provencal, who made five saves on six Messalonskee shots, was thrust into duty earlier this week when Shelby Obert, the Indians other ‘keeper, was ill and couldn’t play Tuesday.
“My ‘keeper played incredible today,” Doughty said.
Skowhegan generated 14 shots at goal, but Doughty wasn’t happy with the Indians’ play on penalty corners, usually one of their strengths.
“Our corners are usually much better than they were today,” she said.
But the Indians’ defense was strong, as they were quick to balls in the circle and limited the Eagles’ chances late in the match.
“When we were pressing in the circle they came up with big plays and really shut us down,” Beckwith said, “and we got some nice looks, but nice looks don’t turn into nice goals, and we just couldn’t penetrate their defense. I give them lots of credit.”
Beckwith also praised her own defense for its effort.
Cole had 10 saves for Messalonskee.