WATERVILLE — It was a lucky break that gave the Messalonskee High School field hockey team the upper hand in a game against Maine Central Institute on Thursday evening.

The Eagles didn’t need much fortune the rest of the way.

Autumn Littlefield and Kaitlyn Smith scored first-half goals, Ally Turner netted a pair of insurance tallies in the second and Class A Messalonskee upended Class B MCI, 4-1, at Thomas College.

“MCI’s a great program, they’ve got really skilled players, and it’s a great crossover game. I don’t think we could have asked for a better crossover matchup,” Littlefield said. “It was awesome, a well-coached team, so to be able to control the game like we did I think is really good going into playoffs.”

The Eagles came in with a chip on their collective shoulder rarely seen from a team so well positioned in the standings. Messalonskee suffered its first defeat of the season in the previous game against Mt. Blue, and coaches and players alike were eager to see the team’s reaction to the season’s first hint of adversity.

“This was a big momentum game for us,” coach Katie McLaughlin said. “First loss of the season, losing your undefeated title, can definitely be devastating and change a team in lots of different ways and different dynamics. I think they did a good job of pulling together today.”

The Huskies (8-3-1) saw it for themselves. The Eagles took control of the pace of the game early and didn’t let up, finishing with an 11-3 advantage in corners that McLaughlin said reflected both on the offense’s ability to apply pressure and the defense’s ability to deny it.

“I think that’s one thing our team does really well. That offensive pressure, really forcing those corners to be called,” she said. “It’s such a great advantage to get those corners, and then execute them.”

Still, Messalonskee needed that advantage to show itself on the scoreboard. With 18:35 to go, the Eagles got the moment they were looking for. Littlefield ripped a shot from the left side off a corner that deflected off MCI goalie Elspeth Taylor (12 saves)…only to roll right back to where she had taken the shot.

Littlefield didn’t rush her second chance, nor did she miss it, burying the shot for a 1-0 Messalonskee lead.

“I try to just stay pretty calm on those corners,” Littlefield said. “Just being able to, when you get the ball back to you, collect it and get a nice lift over the goalie. Just try to stay calm and execute the fundamentals.”

Messalonskee kept up the pace, but MCI appeared poised to head into halftime only down one goal until the Eagles went on the attack in the final minute. Smith hit a hard shot from far back left of the net, and the ball skipped across the turf and into the cage for a 2-0 lead with 20.9 seconds left.

“It gives us a little more confidence, and I think it definitely makes it harder for the other team coming out in the second half,” McLaughlin said. “They have a much deeper hole to climb out of.”

Turner made it 3-0 with 14:28 to play, tipping in a Haley Lowell shot off Messalonskee’s 10th corner. MCI responded only 34 seconds later, with Addi Williams bringing the ball up the field after taking a pass from Victoria Friend and flicking a shot past goalie Julia Vigue, who had come up to challenge.

That made it 3-1 with 13:54 left, and the team that reached the Class C state final last year had all the confidence that it was on the verge of a rally.

“We always feel that way,” coach Nancy Hughes said. “We have a lot of weapons, and we know that we’re strong in the circle. We play right until the very end.”

The comeback hopes were dashed with 6:12 to go, when Turner got the ball up close, made a move around Taylor and stuffed in the shot for a 4-1 lead. Even with the final margin, however, Hughes was happy with the way her team matched up with the Class A contenders, and optimistic about what it could mean for the Huskies in their own playoff pursuit.

“I thought it was a great game. The game’s meant to be played on turf, it raises the intensity level and I thought we played really well,” she said. “You always want to play the best competition. We’re happy we get to play teams of that caliber because it just gets us ready for the postseason.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM