WATERVILLE — Whether it was accurate or not, the Waterville girls believed they were considered the underdogs as they prepared to face Hermon on Wednesday afternoon in the Eastern B girls soccer final.

There were certainly reasons to favor Hermon, even though Waterville had earned the No. 1 seed in Eastern B. Hermon was undefeated, and in fact had allowed only one goal over 16 games. Plus, Hermon won the regional title last fall.

Whether it was an upset or not, the Waterville girls won anyway. The Purple Panthers took the early lead, watched Hermon tie the score in the second half, and finally won 2-1 on Sarah Shoulta’s goal with 6 minutes, 52 seconds to play in the second overtime.

“We had so many doubters from our school,” Shoulta said. “We looked on the sidelines, and we looked at each other and said, ‘There’s so many doubters over there. Let’s prove them all wrong.’ “

Waterville will now play Western B winner Cape Elizabeth in the state final Saturday at the Weatherbee Complex in Hampden.

The Panthers were hardly a pushover, having outscored their opponents 91-3 coming into the game. Still, Hermon played like a favorite in the first half, despite trailing 1-0 at the break. The Hawks kept offensive pressure on Waterville, forcing the Panthers to make a radical adjustment.

“We were getting beaten through the center pretty hard for the first 15, 20 minutes or so,” Waterville coach Ian Wilson said. “We made an adjustment to a formation that we’ve never played before. We went to a 4-3-3 to counteract what they were doing in the center. Our girls, they just did an awesome job of very calmly learning on the fly.”

Hermon had a good chance when a pass from Savannah Allain got Kaitlin Saulter free on the left side. Saulter had a step on the defense, but Waterville keeper Fotini Shanos came out with a feet-first slide to knock the ball away.

About six minutes later, Waterville had the first corner kick of the game. Pilar Elias found the ball in a crowd and drilled it home for her 45th goal of the season, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead with 19:42 left in the half.

“It kind of got bounced through, and one of the defenders on Hermon lost control,” Elias said. “I just kicked it right in,”

Waterville controlled the beginning of the second half, and only the play of Hermon keeper Bryanne Crouse and defender Sierra Snow kept the Panthers from extending their lead. Snow booted the ball away after it got past Crouse, and about two minutes later, Waterville’s Lydia Roy came in alone on a breakaway, only to have Crouse deflect her shot out of bounds. About a minute after that, Roy had another great chance, this time from the left side, but her shot went off Crouse’s outstretched hands and then banged off the crossbar.

The Panthers were forced to settle for maintaining their 1-0 lead, and then they were forced to settle for a tie game when Hermon tilted the field with a rush by Claire Petersen down the left side. Petersen aimed a shot for the far corner, and Shanos dove and got her fingertips on the ball, but could only deflect it. Allain hustled in on the right side and knocked in an easy rebound to make it 1-1 with 20:07 left.

“Our girls were incredibly mentally tough there, because that’s pretty deflating,” Wilson said. “You feel like you have a lead, and you’re controlling play, and things are going your way, and to give up a goal on their counter-attack was pretty tough. I was really impressed that there was no deflated sense of, ‘Oh no, we just gave up a goal.’ So I’m very proud of our mental toughness today.”

The playoff format calls for two 15-minute, sudden-death overtime periods. The first came and went without a score, although Saulter and Petersen each had shots go wide right within a span of about 20 seconds. In the second overtime, Petersen collided with Waterville defender Cody Veilleux in the box, and the Hermon fans were furious that there was no call.

Less than 30 seconds after play resumed, Roy got free for Waterville alone on Crouse, but her shot sailed over the crossbar as Wilson and assistant Ed Worcester both crouched down and slapped the ground in agony.

Finally, Elias got the ball from a midfielder and came down the left side. She noticed Shoulta on the right, and noticed there was an opening to get her the ball.

“Sarah Shoulta screamed for it,” Elias said. “There was a slot open, and I passed it right through to her.”

Shoulta got the pass, and sent the ball into the right side of the net. For a split second, it seemed like all the Waterville players froze instead of celebrating, but then they realized the game was over, and acted like it.

“I was running through, and I saw a perfect opportunity for Pilar to slip the ball through the defense,” Shoulta said. “I took one touch, and I looked up and saw the goalie was on the left side of the net. I hit it with the outside of my right foot, into the back corner.”

The calm fall day had turned brutal by the time the game was over and the players were all announced to receive their ribbons. It was nearly dark. As the players celebrated together and with their families in the cold, Elias was asked if this was the scene she was hoping for when she transferred to Waterville and joined the soccer team.

“Yes. Yes. Big yes!” Elias said. “I mean, this is unbelievable. I’m loving it.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243[email protected]Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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