Unbeaten regular seasons are nice, but the Maranacook boys soccer team has its sights set on one goal — a state championship.
The Black Bears were unbeaten for the second regular season in a row heading into Thursday night’s finale against Erskine at 11-0-2. Last year they were 13-0-2 before falling to eventual Class B state champion Falmouth in penalty kicks in the semifinal round. Falmouth has since moved to Class A while the Black Bears have dropped to Class C while maintaining their Class B regular season schedule.
Maranacook is in first place in Western Maine Class C, three points ahead of North Yarmouth Academy. A win against Erskine should guarantee the Bears home field throughout the playoffs. Tuesday, Maranacook preserved its unbeaten mark with a 1-1 tie at Camden Hills, also unbeaten.
“I think both teams had their chances,” Maranacook coach Don Beckwith said. “We just didn’t have many. It was a little more physical game than I expected. It was a good test for us.”
Conventional thinking has Maranacook as the Class C favorite, both because of its schedule and its tradition. But Beckwith has seen most of the top Class C teams play and believes any of them could win the regional title.
Of NYA he said, “they’ve got some offensive punch. They’re the real deal. And I don’t think anybody should overlook Hall-Dale.”
St. Dominic, Waynflete and Mt. Abram are all Class C teams that could challenge the unbeaten top three as well.
Beckwith said just about everyone on his team this season has met expectations, citing defender Christopher Beckwith and goalie Brad Worster as two players who have come a long way this season. Worster is a senior playing his first year of varsity soccer. He decided to come out for the team when there was an opening in goal.
Maranacook has outscored its opponents 49-3 this season which has allowed Beckwith to play as many as 25 players in a game. In the tougher games the Black Bears have developed a solid rotation of six substitutes.
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The Gardiner girls soccer team is assured a trip to the Eastern Maine Class B playoffs following its 2-1 upset against Morse on Tuesday. The Tigers were 3-6-2 and in 10th place in Eastern Maine Class B entering Thursday’s regular-season finale at Leavitt.
The Tigers lost 4-0 to Morse at home last month, registering just three shots on goal. Coach Chad Kirk has since changed his formation, moving junior Morgan Carver up front and freshman Lauren Chadwick to center mid. Carver and sophomore Marisa Quirion each scored a goal against Morse.
“We’re finally getting it,” Kirk said. “They just try to have fun and play the game. There was too much thinking involved.”
Effort also played a key part in Tuesday’s outcome.
“We’ve been preaching heart and winning the 50/50 balls,” Kirk said.
The coach as also employed a double stopper and is putting junior Emma Hickey on the opposing team’s top scoring threat. Senior goalkeeper Ally Day has been solid all season and was a key in stopping a late surge by the Shipbuilders on Tuesday.
“I consider us a scary team in the playoffs,” Kirk said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
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The Cony boys are 3-8-1 heading into Saturday’s game against Brewer on the turf at Husson University in Bangor. The Rams are one spot out of the Eastern Maine Class A playoffs in 10th place but wins over Brewer and Tuesday at home against Oxford Hills would get them in the tournament. A win against Oxford Hills alone might also be enough.
“We’ve got to win the Oxford Hills game no matter what,” Cony coach Jon Millett said. “We’re taking the approach we need to win two games.”
Despite their record the Rams are an improved team this season. They’ve developed an effective short passing attack and nearly all their games have been close.
“If we show up and play we can play with anybody,” Millett said.
The improvement this season has been a total team effort, Millett said. The Rams have played well front to back. Senior transfer Bronson Kieltyka has been the catalyst up front while sophomore Connor Perry has helped control midfield. When Perry missed four games with a bruised kidney, sophomore Tyler Sproul stepped in and played well.
Senior Brandon Elwell has played well in goal while Millett said senior stopper Peter Ackerman “has been huge for us in the back.”
The Rams beat Brewer 3-2 at home and lost 1-0 to Oxford Hills on the road. They play the Vikings Tuesday under the lights at Alumni Field.
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The Erskine boys were 10-2-0 heading into Thursday night’s game at Maranacook. The Eagles have only lost this season to Winslow and Maranacook, both of whom are unbeaten. Erskine lost 1-0 to Winslow in double overtime last week.
“Their keeper made some unbelievable saves,” Erskine coach Phil Hubbard said of junior Alex Berard.
The Black Raiders scored the game-winner when they intercepted a pass and sent a long cross to a player who one-timed his game winner into the net.
“They were in the right place at the right time,” Hubbard said.
The Eagles only have four seniors, led by goalkeeper Jared Gartley who has seven shutouts this season. They recently got freshman and second-leading scorer Sam Wilkinson back in the lineup after he missed two weeks with a concussion. And junior midfielder Gage Currie returned two games ago after missing the first part of the season with a broken collar bone.
“He’s a huge valuable player for our team,” Hubbard said. “He gives you a lot of leadership. He scored a goal his first game back.”
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The Mountain Valley Conference playoffs will be held Wednesday at Thomas College. The boys will play at 3 p.m. followed by the girls game at 5. The boys game will likely pit Hall-Dale against St. Dom’s.
Last year, St. Dom’s beat Hall-Dale 2-1 for the title while Hall-Dale beat the Saints 2-0 two years ago in the championship game. Hall-Dale beat Dom’s 1-0 last week at Thomas in their regular-season meeting.
St. Dom’s and Madison are the current Heal point leaders in line to meet in the girls game. The Saints handed Madison its only loss in the regular season, winnng 3-0.
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638