READFIELD — Like the old lollipop commercial — the one that asks, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” — the Maranacook boys soccer team spent most of Tuesday night wondering how many shots it would take to crack Erskine and its goalkeeper, David McGraw.

The answer was 18.

On the Black Bears’ 18th and final shot of the match, Sam Wilkinson capped off a spectacular display of one-touch passing through the midfield with an absolute cracker of a finish to lift Maranacook to a 1-0 win over the Eagles at Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams. Though the 79th-minute goal likely did little to change things in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference or the Class B Heal point standings, the South-leading Black Bears (11-0-1) were thrilled to have the victory in hand after thoroughly dominating the possession statistics.

“It feels good. It’s always good to get a win,” Wilkinson, a senior, said. “They played a really good game and did what they wanted to do. We just nailed it in, I guess.”

Erskine (7-3-2) had posted four consecutive shutouts entering the match, the last goal they’d conceded coming in a 3-0 loss Sept. 20 to Maranacook in South China. Head coach Phil Hubbard said his team’s identity has begun to show on the back end, with McGraw and a 5-4-1 formation providing the Eagles’ backbone as the postseason looms.

Against Maranacook, Erskine made only three honest forays into the attacking third. Instead of forcing numbers forward into the attack, the Eagles were content to lock down the middle of the field and allow the Black Bears to have the ball in high and wide positions.

That made it very difficult for Maranacook to find teammates on the end of repeated services from the touchlines, despite outshooting the visitors by an 18-1 count over the 80 minutes.

“There’s no doubt in the last couple of games, we’re seeing our identity,” Hubbard said. “We hold to a defensive game. We have to.”

“They’re pretty organized,” Maranacook head coach Don Beckwith added. “It’s probably the best-organized team defensively that we’ve faced.”

The decisive goal was built like many of the Maranacook attacks, but Hayden Elwell’s decision to turn to the middle of the pitch before distributing to Wilkinson in the left side of the area was a nice change of pace. Wilkinson split two backs for possession of the ball, cutting it back onto his right foot and curling a fantastic finish that caught a piece of the far post on its way in.

“I was running in and I saw Hayden, and he just slipped the ball through and I tucked it in,” said Wilkinson, who moved between striker and outside midfield throughout the match. “Hayden made a really good pass to me.”

“The buildup to it was unbelievable,” Elwell said. “We were one-touching right up the field and through their team. I saw Sam running through, so I tapped it by and he had a nice finish off the post.”

Beckwith wasn’t surprised to see Elwell and Wilkinson link up for the only goal on the game’s final shot in the dying seconds.

“They’re the two best players, right?” he said. “It showed there.”

“We were a little bit snakebit there,” Hubbard added. “It kind of stinks with a minute or so left to give that one up there, but the effort’s there. We can’t be too disappointed with the effort.”

McGraw (14 saves) did his part to keep Erskine level for most of the night. In the 53rd minute, Elwell stood over a free kick from just inside of 40 yards and opted to shoot, forcing McGraw to make a diving save at the right post.

Twenty minutes later, Elwell found space for himself in the middle of the field, this time from much closer range. McGraw rose to the occasion on Elwell’s sizzling bender — completely stretching out parallel to the ground to get a hand on the shot and deflect it over the crossbar.

“It gets frustrating, but you’ve just got to sit back and trust your teammates to do the right thing,” Wilkinson said. “The ball’s going to slip out at some point, and you’ve just got to be ready.”

Erskine’s best chance of the night came in the 20th minute, off a set piece to the left of the penalty area. Alex Cleaves’ bending shot forced Maranacook keeper Justin Freeman (three saves) to time his leap and just barely tip the ball over the bar.

“It’s amazing, to be honest. It’s a really nice win,” Elwell said. “We really needed the win to try and get second or even first in our bracket, so this was really nice.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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