SOUTH CHINA — During the preseason, Erskine girls soccer coach Ryan Nored said he’d be happy to challenge any team in the state to a game of keep-away. On Saturday afternoon at home, the Eagles put Nored’s theory to the test.

Peyton Houghton and Kayla Hubbard each scored first-half goals, and No. 6 Erskine let its possession game do the rest in a 2-0 Class B North preliminary round win over 11th-seeded Maine Central Institute. With the win, the Eagles (11-2-2) advanced to the regional quarterfinals at No. 3 Oceanside on Wednesday.

“We worked really hard for this,” Houghton said. “We knew that we had it in us, and we got it. I’m really proud of our team.”

The game wasn’t the prettiest on a soggy pitch that was inundated by varying degrees of rain throughout the match. Erskine was adept at playing short, quick passes along the floor, however, and its patience paid off with a 23-8 advantage in total shots.

“Especially in these conditions, it was what we tried to do. Today, it wasn’t about hitting the long ball into space,” Nored said. “It was about nice, short, easy passes to our feet. The girls are tremendously good at it.”

The Eagles’ willingness to shoot whenever they had a sightline to the goal, from virtually anywhere within 25 yards, produced both goals.

In the 22nd minute, Houghton took a throw-in from Jordan Jowett, cut it back against the grain and ripped a low, skipping shot inside the near post.

Just before the half, on 38 minutes, Hubbard — well-known for her powerful right (and left) foot — uncorked a cannon that deflected off an MCI defender to beat Huskies’ goalkeeper Leah Bussell (11 saves).

“We have a lot of girls that can shoot really hard at really long distances,” Hubbard said. “The girls that we have are really talented at that. Once we open things up, we’re able to take those shots. We’ve just got to work on opening that up more.”

The second half was more of the same for Erskine, but the Eagles weren’t able to connect for a third goal despite enjoying possession for more than 20 minutes.

“Welcome to our whole season,” Nored said. “Our finishing is a big concern. We’ve got girls that can shoot, but we’re making things too complicated sometimes. We’re looking for the perfect shot or the perfect through ball, when we’ve got girls with power who can hit that shot.”

The Eagles didn’t burst out of the chutes to begin the day. In fact, MCI (5-9-1) nearly put itself on track for the upset just three minutes in. Ciera Hamlin and Alanha McCarron combined on a nifty little build into the attacking third that ended with Hamlin’s shot clanging off the crossbar.

The Huskies matched their hosts stride for stride over the next 10 minutes or so, but eventually Erskine started to take control and wrestle the contest away. Over the final 37 minutes of the first half, MCI managed just one shot.

“Kicking it and just sending (the ball) really hard wasn’t going to work,” Hubbard said. “We had to make the passes. It was just so slippery out here. About halftime, we started to figure that out and we started just making those passes.”

“I think they kind of identified what we were doing and they started switching a lot,” MCI head coach Autumn Pepin said. “We had to track that and catch onto what was going on, and I think it took us a little bit to adjust.”

The freshman Bussell did her best to keep MCI in it until the end, though ultimately set pieces off the foot of Paige Lord in the second half proved to hold the most promise.

“She’s outstanding. You couldn’t ask for more out of a kid. We have a lot of freshmen on the field, and that’s a lot of pressure,” Pepin said. “We have high expecations for ourselves without a senior on this team. We expect to be back again (in the playoffs) and play a lot harder. But it was in our grip, and 2-0 is not a bad score.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC