SOUTH CHINA — One might well be the loneliest number that we’ll ever know, but it certainly gave the Eagles reason to celebrate on Saturday afternoon.

Several times, in fact.

Erskine Academy cruised to a 5-0 win over Gardiner in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B boys soccer game, converting no fewer than four of the goals off of one-touch finishes.

Erskine coach Phil Hubbard said better finishing had been a talking point in practice all week for the Eagles (2-0-1).

“That’s all we did all week long, one-touch. We must have put 800 or 1,000 shots on goal in practice (Friday) because we’d not been finishing,” Hubbard said. “It was all one-touch soccer. Just hitting crosses and finishing, because we’ve been crossing the ball well but just not finishing.”

Sophomore Ethan Hammond scored twice for Erskine, while Michael Sprague, Gabe Gervais and Luke Wilson also had goals. Outside midfielder Grayson Petty, who made the left side of the pitch his personal playground at times, set up two of the scores.

“It all really revolves around how we play in the midfield,” Erskine captain and senior midfielder Nate Howard said. “We’ve got to pressure (the ball). We realized we had that pressure and we took control of the midfield, and that really opened things up.”

Howard should know. He was a focal point throughout the afternoon in central midfield, where Gardiner (1-2-0) had success in the first 15 minutes of the match before inexplicably yielding to Erskine with regularity as the match wore on.

Gardiner coach Nick Wallace was disappointed in his team’s effort.

“We gave up and stopped playing hard. We let them get into our heads,” Wallace said. “It’s frustrating as a coach, because I know we have the talent and the ability to be better. It’s all about work ethic for us.”

It was hard to be disappointed with anything Erskine did. Not only did they find their finishing touch after managing just three goals in their first two games, but the Eagles controlled possession and held Gardiner off the tally sheet with just nine shots, most of them from harmless areas.

Senior back Andrew Browne believed it was the Eagles’ best effort from start to finish this season.

“This is a game we really wanted to win. It’s a game we knew could help us going forward,” Browne said. “I think this was really a ‘starter’ game for us, where it’s one that can start our season and get us to where we want to be.”

The Tigers nearly started the scoring in the ninth minute, when Cam Bell’s drive from just outside the 18-yard box was thwarted on a diving save at the left post by Erskine goalkeeper Kevin Turner. But after the opening 15 minutes, the Tigers stopped winning 50-50 balls in midfield and Erskine closed down the space from which Gardiner had operated.

Those developments set the stage for good chances Erskine’s Brock Glidden (18th minute) and Alex Cleaves (20th minute). Cleaves’ bid was cleared off the line by Tiger back Ben Babcock.

But Erskine finally opened its account in the 28th minute, when Petty beat two Tigers off the ball and crossed in for Sprague’s first-time finish. Eight minutes later, the lead doubled on Hammond’s first of the day on a corner kick that wasn’t cleared.

Gervais made it 3-0 in the 53rd minute to all but seal Gardiner’s fate. Wilson and Hammond added late goals to salt the win away.

“Our goal is to get as much as we can, to go forward and go wide with width in the attack and play off the strikers,” Hubbard said. “We had good movement today, and when we move off the ball, we’ll be very good.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC