AUGUSTA — Messalonskee had a 1-0 lead at halftime of Wednesday’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A season opener against Cony. More importantly, perhaps, the Eagles had a steady supply of cold towels handy to put around junior goalkeeper Hannah Pinney’s neck.

Pinney was going to need all the help she could get as Cony’s attack started to heat up in the second half.

Early season rust and sultry summer weather can sometimes lead to young athletes cutting some corners in September. Pinney, Emily Hogan and Messalonskee’s defense buckled down — not under — in the heat, however, and held off the Rams’ consistent pressure in the second half for a 1-0 victory.

Pinney made five of her seven saves in the second half to help Messalonskee thwart a half-dozen Cony penalty corners and maintain the one-goal lead provided by Hogan’s first-half goal.

“Hannah played amazing today, didn’t get too shaken up,” Messalonskee coach Katie McLaughlin said. “They had a lot of offensive corners against us, so they really made us run and really made us earn this win today, for sure.”

“(Cony) definitely came to play,” Pinney added. “We have a great defense. We were prepared. Our defense has always been really strong.”

As stout as Pinney was in the cage she did need a little help from that defense, particularly Kirsten Pelletier, who picked an opportune time to have her goalie’s back when a rebound shot got behind Pinney and threatened to tie the game with a little over nine minutes left. Pelletier coolly got the ball on her stick about a foot in front of the cage and cleared it out.

“Our defense did a really great job back there of being strong and being low,” Hogan said. “Our main objective was just to get it out to the sides and try to set it up as fast as we could.”

The Eagles were more successful doing that in the first half than the second but had a hard time converting their opportunities at the other end against Rams goalie Jessica Lee, who had 11 saves.

“She made some outstanding saves. I’m very proud of her,” Cony coach Holly Daigle said.

There wasn’t much Lee could do to stop the game’s only goal, which came with 4:21 left in the first half. Autumn Littlefield fired a drive from the top of the circle to Lee’s right, where Hogan stood ready to tip it in to the far post.

“Autumn Littlefield had an incredible shot from the top,” Hogan said. “Everyone was really low, and it just hit my stick and went in. Right place, right time.”

“Autumn’s a freshman starter for us. She’s definitely proven herself every day,” McLaughlin added. “Emily did a great job of having her stick down and low in the circle and ready for that shot.”

Early in the second half, Lee made a couple of nice stick saves while on her stomach to keep it a one-goal game. That seemed to ignite the Rams, who controlled the ball for much of the rest of the half with their flurry of penalty corners.

“We saw some tired legs but I think they wanted to pull through. It was so competitive the whole game and played hard until that final horn,” Daigle said.

“The defense did a great job at stopping goals. We definitely need to get better at transitioning out of that defensive 25,” McLaughlin said.

Cony called a timeout with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining but couldn’t maintain possession long enough to get a good shot at tying the game.

“Obviously, we would have loved to walk away with a win today. But we have a lot of great things to build on going forward,” said Daigle, whose team has a grudge match on Friday at Mt. Blue, the team that knocked them out of last year’s tournament quarterfinal, 1-0, in overtime.

“The heat was a factor,” said Hogan, whose Eagles face rival Skowhegan on Friday night at Thomas College. “But I definitely feel like we have a lot of work to do, this being our first game of the season. I think both teams played well through the heat.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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