GARDINER — As he curled around from behind the right side of the cage, careful not to step into the goalie’s crease and forfeit possession, Tanner Hebert never hesitated. He knew what he was going to do the entire time.

“I had one buddy I was looking at in front, but he didn’t really open up, and I had the five-hole,” Hebert said. “I just let it go. The goalie had his stick up, so I went low. It worked, and it felt great.”

The sophomore midfielder’s third goal of the game came with just 28.3 seconds remaining in the extra session, lifting Gardiner to a 14-13 overtime win over Messalonskee on Tuesday afternoon at Hoch Field and completing the Tigers’ first undefeated regular season since 2103.

Hebert finished with three goals and three assists for Gardiner (12-0), which trailed three times by three or more goals, including an 11-8 deficit to begin the fourth quarter. Junior Sloan Berthiaume scored five goals and set up two other scores, while senior attack Michael Poirier scored four times and picked up two assists, two of his goals coming just 34 seconds apart early in the final period to give the Tigers life.

“We definitely weren’t going to give up. We were going to keep pounding to try and get that win,” Berthiaume said. “There’s so many guys that came out and played well today. I was pretty proud. I was pretty happy.”

Junior Austin Pelletier scored five goals for Messalonskee (7-4) in a valiant losing cause, while Connor Smith scored four times and Alden Balboni had three goals.

Pelletier put Messalonskee on top by a 12-10 count with 10:18 remaining in the fourth quarter. Berthiaume answered with two goals 40 seconds apart, the first with the Tigers up a man, to knot the score at 12-12.

The Eagles seemed energized after Balboni was stopped point-blank by Gardiner goalie Noah Keene (10 saves) with five minutes to play, turning that momentum into a tremendous individual effort from Balboni that handed the Eagles the lead once more with 3:44 left.

It only took 59 seconds, however, for Kyle Johnson to spot Poirier in transition for a goal that would eventually send the game off to overtime deadlocked at 13-13.

And in that extra period is where Johnson made his impact felt. The junior, whose play in the midfield helped Gardiner claw back from an early 6-2 deficit by nearly singlehandedly bottling up every Eagles’ clearing attempt, forced a big turnover with under two minutes remaining in overtime — thwarting an offensive design Messalonskee used coming out of a timeout.

That handed possession back to the Tigers inside the final minute of overtime, and it was Johnson who made the pass to Hebert behind the Messalonskee cage to set up the winning strike.

“Especially with the game on the line, we knew we had to shut it down (in the midfield) and get the ball by any means necessary,” Johnson said. “Coach really got on us about them having easy clears in the first half, so he made us clean that up. Our undefeated season was on the line if we didn’t lock down on their middies.”

“We kind of made some poor choices clearing the ball and got out of our game a little bit,” Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan said. “I think a lot of it is that maturity has to step up sometimes and take over.”

Hebert took a pass from Johnson well behind the goal on the left side, and carried the ball to the back of the cage. From there, he didn’t spot anyone cutting through seams in the Messalonskee defense, so he made the choice to shoot once he saw Eagle goalie Dawson Charles (11 saves) defending a potential pass with his stick held high.

“They don’t give up. They love the battle, and they’re tested every time. We need that heading into the playoffs,” Gardiner head coach K.C. Johnson said. “They get it. We talk in practice all the time about being poised and dealing with situations… The kids played well.”

Sheridan was happy with his team’s play offensively, but he was understandably less than thrilled with the manner in which his Eagles surrendered so many sizable leads.

“I think we made some poor decisions defensively that kind of hurt us,” Sheridan said. “We definitely did some good things offensively against a solid team out there. Unfortunately, we just came up a little short there against a good team.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC