The top-seeded and undefeated Foxcroft Academy Ponies knew their neighbors, the Dexter Tigers, were going to be troublesome in their Class C North field hockey championship game on Wednesday night at Hampden Academy.
That was true even though they had beaten the Tigers twice by a combined score of 7-1 during the regular season.
And that is how the game played out as the Ponies earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory thanks to senior forward Cassidy Marsh’s penalty stroke 1:59 into the second half.
Foxcroft Academy (17-0) will take on defending state champ Winthrop (16-1) in Saturday’s state championship game at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.
Second-seeded Dexter finished at 13-4.
The game was a defensive affair, as was expected, since Foxcroft entered the game having allowed just two goals all season while Dexter had surrendered only eight. Neither had given up a playoff goal.
There were few high-percentage scoring chances, although the Ponies kept the Tigers pinned in their end after an evenly-played first half.
Sheryl Chase opened the scoring for the Ponies 6:12 into the game on a penalty corner. Chase took an insertion pass from Aleshia Raymond and fired a shot from high in the circle that made its way through a maze of players past goalkeeper Shawnee McNally.
But Cheyenne Beem equalized just under five minutes later, also on a penalty corner. She took a pass from Kiana Bennett in the left side of the circle and saw her shot deflect off a Foxcroft stick and sail high into the net.
Foxcroft put constant pressure on the Tigers early in the second half and when a shot hit the foot of a Dexter defender who was behind McNally, a penalty stroke was awarded.
Marsh converted with a low shot past the right leg of McNally.
“I had taken two or three of them this season and finished on all of them,” Marsh said. “I knew where I was going to put it: To the goalie’s right. [The referee] blows the whistle, I hesitate for a minute and wait for it to be quiet and then I take my shot. The shot went exactly where I wanted it.”
“I was so close,” McNally said. “I was an inch away from it.”
After that, Foxcroft repeatedly won balls in the midfield and pushed up into the attack. Dexter rarely got the ball over midfield until the waning two minutes when they threatened by penetrating the Foxcroft penalty circle. But they couldn’t generate any shots.
“Once we we had our second goal, we really knew we needed to keep them out of our [half] so they wouldn’t have any chances to take shots,” Chase said.
Despite their second-half dominance, the Ponies were kept to the outside by the Tigers, who got numbers behind the ball and defended tenaciously and effectively.
Speedy junior left wing Ava Rayfield had numerous dashes down the flank and routinely maneuvered past Tigers, but they kept her from penetrating the circle for the most part.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Rayfield said. “They always marked us in the circle which definitely made it a lot harder to score.”
Abbie Moore finished with three saves for Foxcroft Academy on five shot attempts while McNally wound up with five saves on 16 shots.
FA generated 12 penalty corners and Dexter had three, all in the first half.
“We did what we had to do to contain them,” Dexter coach Brittany McAllister said. “Our defense stayed strong. The penalty stroke was unfortunate but we held them to one open-field goal and I’m really proud of that.”
Foxcroft coach Stephanie Smith said her team was disjointed effort in terms of passing and moving the ball up the field.
“The girls did play hard and went after every ball,” she said.