AUGUSTA — Its starting lineup was one the Messalonskee field hockey team had only used once before. It didn’t take long for the players to look like they’ve been at this all season.

The Eagles’ new lineup couldn’t have looked much smoother in a key late-season Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A matchup, cracking Cony’s tough defense for a 5-0 victory that — with Skowhegan’s loss to Mt. Blue — moved Messalonskee into second place in the Class A North Heal point standings.

“It’s a good gauge to have this game, especially prior to going into Skowhegan (Tuesday) and know we feel like we’ve improved. How much have we improved?” coach Katie McLaughlin said. “How do we look against those stronger teams? … This game definitely makes us feel good.”

The Eagles (11-2-0) have been a picture of success, but McLaughlin insists it hasn’t been easy. Not with injuries that have sidelined key players since the start of the season, forcing Messalonskee to constantly swap players in and out and move them back and forth between forward and defense.

“This is only our second game with all the starters in. We finally are coming together at the perfect time of the season, luckily,” McLaughlin said. “They’re finally getting used to each other and knowing where we are and not even having to look.”

A close first half ended with Messalonskee leading Cony (8-3-2) only 1-0, but the Eagles took off in the second. Kaitlyn Smith doubled the advantage just over five minutes in, scoring in the fray following a corner with 24:53 to go off an assist from Ally Corbett, who’s been working her way back to full strength after a broken foot suffered earlier in the season. The lead was stretched to 3-0 with 19:13 left when Ally Turner wove her way through the right side of the defense, then knocked a pass over to a wide-open Lydia Dexter — a former defender pressed into playing forward — for the goal and a commanding lead.

“We’re definitely a second-half team,” McLaughlin said. “They came together a lot better as a team and as a whole unit. Passing was much stronger in the second half, along with our speed and recovery. I think that made all the difference in the world.”

The surge became a barrage as the second half wore on. Haley Lowell made it 4-0 when she took the pass on a corner, brought it up toward the goaltender, carried it around and fired it home with 16:25 to go. There was 7:34 to go when Emmy Warren took the ball around the goal and was able to score on a tight angle from the left side.

“(It was) on a pull around the goalie,” Lowell said of her goal, her second of the game. “I saw that there was no one there, it was just me and the goalie, so I was like ‘Alright, I have it, it’s open, I’m going for it.'”

Lowell said it was the same look she had on her first score, when she was clear in front and fired a hard shot past the goalie for a 1-0 lead with 24:34 left in the first half.

“We are all so blessed to have Haley on the team,” McLaughlin said. “She’s a huge part of our transition game, strong dribbler, strong shooter. Just a very, very smart, mature player.”

The goals were the first Cony allowed since a 2-2 tie with Skowhegan on Sept. 13, a span covering six games — and coach Holly Daigle didn’t like the way the Rams finally buckled.

“It was a great first half. … We played them tough,” she said. “I think in the second half, we had a tough time transitioning it out of our defensive end and they capitalized on that. They kept the pressure on.”

The stats told the story of the possession disparity. Cony had three corners within the first 11 minutes of the game, and then none in the next 43. Meanwhile, Messalonskee finished with 13 corners for the game.

“We certainly don’t want to dwell on a loss,” Daigle said. “We certainly try to learn from a game like this, but we look forward to the next one. And some of those improvement areas we’ll focus on for the next game.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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