WATERVILLE — The Waterville boys soccer team may not be peaking just yet, but it’s getting close.

“If we win at John Bapst, we’ll be at our peak,” said Purple Panther senior striker Justin Wentworth. “But we’re definitely on our way there, for sure.”

Wentworth scored a pair of goals and assisted on a third, leading No. 8 Waterville to a 3-0 blanking of No. 9 Hermon in a Class B North preliminary round game Friday at Webber Field. With the win, the Panthers earned a date with top-seeded John Bapst on Tuesday in the regional quarterfinals at the University of Maine in Orono.

Ethan Cayer also scored for Waterville (10-4-1), which has won seven matches in a row.

“It’s really turned around,” Waterville head coach Kerry Serdjenian said of the team’s surge in the second half of the season. “I feel like you obviously have to respect a first-place team that we have to see next, but we’re healthy and we’re as good as we get right now at this point. I’m happy about that.”

From the opening kick on Friday, Waterville appeared on its game. Two things made life much easier on the Panthers against Hermon (5-9-1) — first, their commitment to contesting every 50-50 ball either in the air or on the ground, and second, their ability to turn winning those balls into possession at their feet in the midst of Hermon’s midfield-clogging 3-5-2 formation.

Between Wentworth, Cayer, Nick Dufour and Peter Mayhorn, the Panthers had the ball at their feet with options throughout the run of play. The best example of Waterville’s ability to turn possession into attack came in the 50th minute, when Mayhorn collected a throw-in on the corner of the 18-yard box before turning and laying the ball off to Wentworth in the middle. Wentworth’s brilliant heel flick sprung Cayer to within 10 yards of goal, and Cayer finished the play off easily.

That handed Waterville, which had to stem a Hermon surge to begin the half, a 2-0 lead.

“We’ve been playing as a team and moving the ball around. That’s what’s helping us,” Wentworth said. “We really focused on possessing in the middle and then moving on to that open space. It really paid off today.”

Waterville controlled the opening half and was rewarded for carrying the play in the 23rd minute. Once again, a midfield win allowed Dufour to play a long ball down the right touchline for Wentworth, who ran onto it and cut to the box with the ball on his feet. Hermon goalkeeper Garrett Trask overplayed the pass in the middle of the field which Wentworth recognized, and he opted for the shot that opened the Panther account for the afternoon.

“We played more long balls over the top to Justin today than we have in any game all season,” Serdjenian said. “It was open and it was available today.”

There was no second goal to be had before halftime, but the Panthers did need to defend. With plenty of speed wide, the Hawks did produce through balls into space which the Waterville backs were forced to deal with. Sophomore Ben Danner on the right side and freshman Zaharias Menoudarakos on the left made sure that Hermon’s counter-attack couldn’t find footing through the middle of the field. It made life easier for keeper Jackson Aldrich, who made eight saves, including more than a few early in the second half when the game’s outcome still hung in the balance.

“When the ball comes into the back, we really just support each other,” Danner said. “I think the way we communicate is the biggest thing. We’re staying positive, and it’s really nice.”

In the 67th minute, Waterville put the game away, again off the foot of Wentworth.

The Hawks sent numbers into the box on a throw-in deep in the Panther third, but a clean clearance to Mayhorn in the middle of the field allowed him to play an aerial ball down the middle for an on-running Wentworth.

Wentworth headed the ball ahead to himself and won a one-on-one footrace to the goal, slipping the ball past a sliding Trask, who’d come well off his line to challenge.

“We noticed right at the beginning that the outside wing was going to be open most of the game, so we looked to play balls there,” Wentworth said. “We had a lot of space, and we have speed over there. We played the ball there and it paid off.”

Wentworth’s production Friday only served to validate how much the Panther attack missed him early in the season, when he was called into duty in the back for a depleted lineup. He just missed a chance at a hat trick in the 56th minute when Trask turned in his best save of the afternoon.

“The first half of the year we struggled because, not to make excuses, we just didn’t have all the guys,” said Serdjenian, whose squad battled the injury bug for most of the month of September. “Worse than not having certain players was having to put certain dangerous players in back, in positions where they weren’t able to generate offense for us up top. Having those couple of missing seniors who are able to possess the ball made a huge difference in the second half of the season.

“The games leading up to this, we’ve been peaking.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC