WATERVILLE — As Thursday afternoon’s game wound down, Waterville field hockey coach Ashley Pullen consistently urged her team to play hard until the game was over.

To that end, the Purple Panthers were successful. But they couldn’t stop Gardiner freshman Nickyia Lovely, and they couldn’t quite get through Gardiner’s last lines of defense.

Lovely’s two goals built Gardiner a lead and the Tigers’ defense held it during Waterville’s second-half surge. The Panthers had the advantage in the statistics, but Gardiner came away with a 3-1 victory.

“They are a gutsy, gutsy, gutsy team,” Gardiner coach Moe McNally said of Waterville. “There’s not a single, ‘I’m gonna say die’ in that team. They’re obviously a very well-coached team, a very good passing team. They were passing circles around us the first 10 minutes of the first half, and then for about 20 of the second half.”

Waterville (3-3-0) went up 1-0 with 6:51 elapsed when Jena Nawfel fed Jenna Gagnon on a penalty corner, and Gagnon whacked in a turnaround shot from the left side. Gardiner (4-1-0) tied it with 14:10 left in the half when Brooke Davis gathered a clear off the pads of Waterville goalie Valerie Spaulding, and sent it home to make 1-1.

Spaulding stoned Davis three times over the rest of the half, but Gardiner went ahead with 9:18 to go when Lovely converted a nice pass from Courtney Moulton. Lovely, whose first name is pronounced na-KY-uh, was on the junior varsity at the start of the season, but has scored four goals over Gardiner’s last two games.

“She’s a freshman, a very aggressive freshman, who’s making the most of an opportunity,” McNally said. “She made it perfectly clear this summer that she wanted to play with the big kids — through actions, not through words. She’s made the most of her practice time, and she’s earned a shot, and she’s taken advantage of it.”

“I was mostly excited,” Lovely said about joining the varsity, “but not really nervous.”

Waterville opened the second half with five penalty corners in a span of eight minutes, and at the end of that stretch, Nawfel just missed tying the game when her beautiful wrist shot went wide left by a few inches.

The Panthers kept up the pressure, and Gardiner back Camden Cone and goalie Emalee Couture responded.

“Emalee Couture made some great saves in the back end,” McNally said. “When it gets by Camden, usually it’s going to get by both of them. We’re pretty darn solid (in our) deep defense.”

The last goal of the game looked like a Hail Mary in football. A Gardiner clearing pass went about 50 yards, hopping at just the right time over the sticks of three Waterville defenders, and then off the stick of a fourth. The ball deflected to Lovely, who was behind the defense and pounded in the open shot for a 3-1 Gardiner lead.

Waterville ended with advantages of 11-9 in shots and 11-8 in penalty corners. Those numbers bode well for the many big games the Panthers have over the rest of the season.

“I hope (our players) don’t take away from this, ‘Oh the score was 3-1 and they won solidly,’ ” Waterville coach Ashley Pullen said. “I don’t think it was that kind of a game. “We take it as a learning experience, as a bump in the road, and hopefully a game that we can look back on and say, ‘You know what? We played really well and didn’t do the little things right, so next time around, we need to do the little things right.’ “

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]


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