GARDINER — Josh Caldwell stood at the top of the box and then charged the Maranacook/Winthrop net. The Gardiner sophomore midfielder stopped to the left of the net, shook a defender and then took a pass from attacker Keegan Smith.
There was only one thing left to do as the final seconds ticked away in overtime Wednesday at Hoch Field.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Caldwell said. “I got separation, took the pass and wanted to get it on net. I just wanted to end the game.”
Caldwell did just that, beating goalie Zach Bessette with a nice shot to the far post with two seconds left in overtime that gave Gardiner a thrilling 7-6 victory.
“We had the midfielders up top and then everybody crashed down low,” said Smith, who had three goals to go along with the assist on the game-winner. “We just finished it off.”
Caldwell had a goal and an assist for the Tigers (9-0), who led 5-1 late in the second quarter before the Hawks (6-2) rallied with four unanswered goals to pull even.
Dalton Sargent, Tyler Jamison and Austin Moore also scored for Gardiner, while JD Crocker had seven saves.
Zach Glazier led Maranacook/Winthrop with five goals.
“We came out with a game plan to out-hustle them,” Maranacook coach Zach Stewart said. “Gardiner is a great team. Everybody on that team has strengths. We had to just stay with them.”
The Hawks certainly did, thanks to a strong performance from goalie Bessette (14 saves) and an opportunistic offense.
Gardiner entered Wednesday averaging a whopping 17 goals a game. It had won every game by at least eight goals in its march toward what it hopes is a second straight Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B title.
The Tigers appeared well on their way to another rout when it took a 5-1 lead after Moore ripped a shot past Bessette with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the second quarter.
“We weren’t too concerned,” Stewart said. “We knew we could come back.”
And come back the Hawks did. Glazier and Dan Condon scored in the final minute of the half to pull them within 5-3.
Glazier then pulled the Hawks even when he scored late in the third period and again with 6:43 left in the fourth. The equalizer came after he scooped up a groundball and beat Crocker with a high shot as he was being hit.
“Maranacook is a good team,” Gardiner coach KC Johnson said. “They took advantage of their opportunities. They scored off turnovers, fast breaks and broken plays.”
Gardiner went ahead 6-5 when Smith scored an unassisted goal with 3:26 left in regulation.
However, Maranacook/Winthrop responded about 30 seconds later when Glazier took a pass from Toby Smith from out front and buried a shot past Crocker.
“It’s a good feeling to know that we can compete with them,” Glazier said. “We can play with them. It would’ve been nice to get the win but they are a great team. We kept it close.”
Johnson added that the Tigers needed a game like this as it gears up for the postseason.
“Everything had been flowing too easy for us this year,” he said. “The goals were plentiful and it seemed like everything was going in for us. It was too easy. As the season gets longer you can get a little stale. We wanted this kind of game.”
Caldwell agreed, saying, “this is definitely a wake-up call.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640