OAKLAND — Mt. Ararat perfectly set up its win over Messalonskee on Friday afternoon.

The visiting Eagles essentially scored all four of their goals off set pieces in a convincing 4-1 win over Messalonskee in a battle of two Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A heavyweights. Junior back Nick Merrill scored twice in the second half to secure the victory.

If Mt. Ararat were a slightly overlooked contender in Class A North, it is no longer after victories over defending Class A state champ Lewiston and now Messalonskee.

“I think we’ve gotten better but we may have been overlooked, too. I’m fine with that,” Mt. Ararat coach Jack Rioux said. “Everyone talks about Lewiston, they’re a great team. Bangor’s a great team. Camden’s a great team. Messalonskee’s a great team. Nobody really talks about Mt. Ararat. We just used that to fuel the fire.”

Not unlike Messalonskee (6-2-1), Mt. Ararat placed its emphasis Friday on winning balls in the air and winning 50-50 balls in the midfield. It made for a difficult game in that part of the field, where there was little space to be had. Through 30 minutes, neither team had generated much in the way of dangerous scoring opportunities.

But once Mt. Ararat started tilting the field toward Messalonskee goalkeeper Chase Warren, set-piece play turned the match in its favor. In the 33rd minute, two bad clearing attempts allowed Cole Kelly to open up a 1-0 lead for the visitors with his far-post finish.

One minute later, Warren (eight saves) made the initial save off a long delivery into the 18-yard box but couldn’t keep hold of the ball. Travis Nadeau was there and, with Warren out of position, he made it a 2-0 game into the half.

“Everything was compact out there,” Rioux said. “We knew if we were going to score, it was going to have to be off of our set pieces.”

“A lot of it was definitely the set pieces they ran,” Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan added. “We’ve done a nice job with defending those this year but there’s definitely some things we saw we need to work on. But they did a nice job with those. Those four set pieces were definitely the difference.”

Two more goals followed in the second half, both from Merrill, who had advanced into attacking positions out of the back. He was left unmarked in the left side of the box after a long throw-in from teammate Dalton Streeter on the far touchline in the 51st minute, and he ripped home a volley of Jason Halliday’s corner kick in the 64th minute.

Messalonskee leading scorer James Kouletsis pulled one back in the 69th minute but there were far too few cohesive attacking stretches for the home team.

Mt. Ararat improved to 8-1-0 on the strength of another outstanding defensive effort, too. In nine matches this season, the Eagles have allowed only six goals. Two of those came in a season-opening loss to Edward Little.

Merrill has been a big part of that stinginess, and he clearly left his stamp on Friday’s match at both ends of the pitch.

“Our defense has been solid,” Merrill said. “We always try to be right on their backs and not let them turn. We’d like to force teams to make back passes, so we can lock it in and play good defense that starts with our attackers and follows all the way through.”

“Nick stepped up huge today,” Rioux said. “He had it tough defensively today. On all of their restarts, set pieces, long throws, he was on (Kouletsis), and he’s really good at finishing balls in the air. He had his hands full on that one… but as they’re trying to play him long, he just clears everything.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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