Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Matt DiFilippo email@example.com
WATERVILLE — Messalonskee’s Sydney Gagne limped off the field in tears, and tried gamely to return. Mt. Blue goalie Rileigh Blanchet and teammate Mikayla Oswald had a tearful embrace on the sidelines after the game.
There was emotion everywhere, and why not? No. 2 Messalonskee wanted one more chance to represent the East in the state championship game. Third-seeded Mt. Blue was trying to complete an improbable run from missing the playoffs in Class B last year to making the Eastern A final this fall.
Emily Hogan scored less than four minutes into the second half, and Messalonskee won, 1-0, in an Eastern A field hockey semifinal Saturday morning at Thomas College. The Eagles will face No. 1 Skowhegan in the regional final Tuesday at the Weatherbee Complex in Hampden. The rotation for Tuesday’s games will be decided Monday morning.
Messalonskee (14-2-0) outshot the Cougars 16-3, and had a 13-4 advantage in penalty corners. Yet because it was a one-goal game and Mt. Blue made a run in the second half, there was never the sense that the Eagles were running Mt. Blue off the field.
“We need to play stronger,” Messalonskee coach Katie McLaughlin said. “I have to give Mt. Blue all the credit in the world, though. Jody (Harmon)’s an amazing coach. She’s coach of the year, and you can see it. We knew we had to work very hard coming into this game. They were a really tough team, and defensively, I think they did a great job. And their goalie really is incredible.”
One thing that hurt the Eagles was an injury to Gagne, their right midfielder. After stopping everything in sight and making numerous smart passes over the first 12 minutes, Gagne tripped and went down, reportedly with a bad ankle and a dislocated finger. She came back late in the first half, but exited for good less than a minute into the second half.
“That was a tough injury to overcome,” McLaughlin said. “I think that was tough on team morale. There were a lot of injuries throughout this game — both teams.”
But Messalonskee’s defense was also solid, and that was a big reason the Eagles had such a clear advantage in the statistics. Fittingly, Messalonskee’s goal was set up off a defensive play, as Kassi Michaud stole a pass deep in Mt. Blue’s end of the field. Michaud’s shot was stopped by Blanchet, but Hogan fired in the long rebound just 3:52 into the second half.
“They had a free hit, and I knew we had to be up on the ball, and we had to cut onto anything that they hit,” Michaud said. “My first thought was to try to get a pass off. I didn’t see a pass, so I shot at the goal, and then Emily got the rebound and had a nice shot in the goal.”
Mt. Blue fought back and controlled the game for about an eight-minute stretch during the second half. The Cougars had three penalty corners in that span, but were held without a shot on all three.
“We worked a lot on that corner defense, and really taking away and pass, any shots,” McLaughlin said. “They did a great job, and the rest of our team hustling back from the 50 did a great job getting in there.”
“We had our chances,” Harmon said. “We didn’t get a shot on corners. The plays didn’t seem to happen.”
One year after finishing 8-6-0 and barely missing the Eastern B playoffs, Mt. Blue went 12-4-0 in Eastern A. Harmon said the transformation started this summer, when the Cougars worked hard on conditioning. That meant she could start preseason with drills, instead of getting the players in shape.
“To come where we were last year to now is a whole different team,” Harmon said. “Our season overall, I couldn’t really ask for anything more, besides a win today.”
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243