ASHLAND — Stifling defensive efforts led the Ashland varsity soccer teams to victories over Fort Fairfield Saturday and berths into Wednesday’s Eastern Maine Class D championship.
The Hornet girls came through with a 2-0 win in the opener, and then the boys prevailed, 3-1. The top-seeded and now 16-0 Ashland girls will next host No. 2 Penobscot Valley of Howland, another undefeated team, for the Class D regional title, while the boys, ranked third, will be on the road to take on No. 1 Bangor Christian.
Shots on goal were hard to come by for the visiting Tigers in both contests. Fort Fairfield managed only one in the girls’ game and just five in the boys’ game as the Hornet defense was brilliant all afternoon.
In the first game, the Ashland girls showed off a defense that has now shut out nine consecutive opponents. The last goal the team allowed came on Sept. 18 at Washburn. Since then, the Hornets have outscored the opposition, 63-0.
“We just try to work together and try to cover each other when we can,” said junior defender Laura Sturgeon, who fulfilled her assignment of bottling up one of the Tigers’ scoring aces, Chelsey Pelkey.
The usually high-scoring Ashland squad was limited to four first-half shots, but was successful in the final one which came with 9:51 left. Junior right wing Caitlin Paradis floated a shot from the right side of the 18-yard box that went over the head of Fort Fairfield goalkeeper Megan Jellison and into the left side of the net.
Offensive chances mounted for the Hornets after intermission, but the Tiger defense kept Ashland off the board until freshman right midfielder Morgan Doughty scored from close to the same location that Paradis did, lobbing a shot over Jellison and across the goal line.
Ashland finished with a 13-1 advantage in shots on goal, with Hornet goalkeeper Megan Cote not having to make a save. Jellison made four stops for the Tigers, who concluded their season under first-year head coach Tom Towle with a 9-6-2 record.
The boys’ contest was tied at halftime, but it didn’t take very long into the second half for the hosts to gain control. Goals by Michael Cook and Ben Philbrook within 1:01 of each other made it 3-1 and the defense held Fort Fairfield to just two second-half shots as the Hornets (13-2-2) moved on.
Just 4:38 after intermission, Cook took a cross in front of the goal delivered from the right side by Lucas Craig. Cook trapped the ball, quickly dribbled right and tucked the ball past FF goalkeeper Dalton Cassidy.
“It was a nice chip from Lucas and I just crossed over the defender and put it in the net,” Cook said. “It’s one of the best feelings — scoring a goal in the playoffs.”
A little over a minute later, Alex Kaiser set up Philbrook’s goal on a through ball for the two-goal lead. Ashland then concentrated on defense, double-teaming Fort Fairfield’s leading scorer, Johnny Theriault, with Aaron Sturgeon and Cook. The Tigers didn’t mount a quality scoring chance the rest of the way.
“He’s a wicked skillful player, but I’ve known him for a long time and know a lot of his moves,” Cook said of Theriault, who scored game-winning goals in the team’s two previous playoff matches.
Kaiser had given Ashland the lead 7:02 into the match by converting an Alex Lewin pass, but Fort Fairfield (11-6-1) answered with 16:12 remaining in the half as Theriault’s cross to teammate Joongi Yu in front of the goal tied it.
Ashland senior striker Cody Blair, the school’s career record holder in goals who has 41 so far this season, was held without a point by the strong Tiger defense, but Ashland coach Mark Stanley was pleased with how the others came through.
“[Fort Fairfield] is a very organized defensive team and knew their focus would be Cody in the middle, but we sort of played to that and kept it wide, especially in the second half,” Stanley said.