GARDINER — Erskine Academy went into Monday night’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B season finale hoping to improve its position for — and carry some momentum into — the upcoming playoffs.

Gardiner, understandably sore about the fact that it won’t be moving on to the tournament despite posting a winning record, went into its senior night hoping to prove to the Eagles and themselves that they belong in the company of playoff teams.

Erskine got the victory it wanted and Gardiner got the respect it deserved after the Eagles triumphed, 4-2, at Hoch Field.

Trevor Hubbard notched a hat trick in the first half for Erskine (10-4), which despite the win will still likely have to go on the road for a preliminary game this weekend.

“We haven’t lived up to our expectations this year,” Hubbard said. “I think we’re kind of disappointed the way we’ve played in some of the big games in the regular season. But it’s good to end on a relatively high note. (Gardiner) gave us a very good fight.”

Larsson Lunt and Peter Del Gallo scored and Kenneth Moore made 17 saves for the Tigers, who will narrowly miss the playoffs with a 7-6-1 record.

“That’s a tough pill to swallow,” Gardiner coach Nic Wallace said. “You tell me at the beginning of the year we’d win seven games and tie one, I would say we’re in the postseason, probably a 10 or 11 seed. This is one of those years where it’s kind of fluky. We’re the only team with more than six wins in the state of Maine that’s not going to make it in. I would take my kids over any team anywhere.”

The Tigers battled back after Hubbard scored two goals in a span of 2:25 to make it 2-0 a little over six minutes in. Hubbard followed up on a Luke Peabody shot off the left post for the first goal, then put home a Josh Reed through ball to double the lead.

“Josh Reed sent a beautiful through ball and I was there to connect the pass,” Hubbard said.

Gardiner was able to respond quickly after Erskine goalie Denver Cullivan (eight saves) was whistled for a push in front of the net to give the Tigers a penalty kick. Lunt fired the shot to the diving Cullivan’s right to make it 2-1 with 31:03 to go.

Del Gallo scored the equalizer with 11:39 left in the half off a nice touch pass out by Casey Bourque, lofting a long shot just over a leaping Cullivan.

“I think we got a little comfortable. We were moving the ball well and then we stopped moving the ball,” Erskine coach Phil Hubbard said.

Trevor Hubbard put the Eagles back in front by camping in front of the right post and beating his man and Moore with a turn-and-shoot with 8:04 left in the half.

Cullivan preserved the lead with 1:30 left by making a leaping save on a direct kick that was similar to Del Gallo’s game-tying goal.

“I thought I was a lot closer (on Del Gallo’s goal). That was my bad,” Cullivan said. “That was a close ball, too. Gardiner did a great job.”

Five minutes into the second half, a bank of lights on Erskine’s end went out, leaving Cullivan and his defenders to work in partial darkness for about 20 minutes of game time. The Eagles made it virtually moot, though, by dominating possession in the second half and out-shooting the Tigers, 14-3.

“In the second half, I thought we played soccer. We moved the ball around and passed it and found feet. We just didn’t finish,” Phil Hubbard said. “We held better composure to start the second half and we really did a good job of trying to spread the field, get the outside mids and the wingers open, which created some space for us.”

Moore did an outstanding job under Erskine’s pressure to keep the Tigers in it. Peabody was finally get an insurance goal past him with a chip shot that went off a Gardiner defender’s foot and over Moore’s head with 5:05 left.

“I’m just proud in how we fought,” Wallace said. “That team beat us 6-0 earlier in the year. We got down 2-0 and didn’t give up. We fought back to make it 2-2.”

“Erskine’s a great team. I wish them all the best of luck,” he added. “They’re coached very well and I think they can make a lot of noise. They’re going to be a 10 seed going in at 10-4 and I think they’re a much, much better team than a 10 seed.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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