OAKLAND — Two weeks ago, the Messalonskee field hockey team’s ruthless attack did to Cony what it did to many of its opponents this season: It piled up some gaudy offensive numbers in a second half so one-sided that some mothers in attendance chose to cover their children’s eyes to shield them from the carnage.

In Thursday afternoon’s Class A North semifinals at Messalonskee, a repurposed Cony defense forced the second-seeded Eagles to be much more clinical in their approach. Quality trumped out over quantity, as it often does, and Messalonskee advanced to the regional finals with a 3-0 win over the No. 3 Rams.

Messalonskee, awaits the winner of No. 4 Skowhegan at No. 1 Mt. Blue, tentatively slated for Friday afternoon.

“They really protected that goal and that circle well,” Messalonskee coach Katie McLaughlin said. “They made it very hard to penetrate into the circle and get any open shots. They played that really well. Typically, we’ve really peppered the goalie, but we didn’t have that opportunity today. We definitely had to maximize on whatever tiny chance they did give us.”

Messalonskee (14-2-0) managed just six shots on goal over the course of 60 minutes, despite producing the three goals.

The two things the Eagles do best, namely passing and positioning, helped them capitalize on the opportunities that did come their way.

“That’s all we’ve been stressing this year,” Messalonskee senior midfielder Ally Corbett said. “Because of how different our team is (from past seasons), we had to work on fundamentals — passing and spacing. Today, the passing in the second half really paid off.”

Messalonskee grabbed the early 1-0 lead just 8:06 into the first half, after a combination of passes created havoc in the circle. Kaitlyn Smith one-timed home the rebound of a shot that rang off the left post, the second Messalonskee shot to rattle one of the posts in a span of less than two minutes.

From there, the rest of the half resembled a chess match. The Eagles were on the ball more, but they could not sustain the type of pressure they’d enjoyed early in the game as the defense for Cony (10-4-2) kept play on the perimeter through a combination of effective marking and clean clearances.

“Our defense was outstanding today. We did a really good job marking them,” said Cony coach Holly Daigle, who opted for a man-marking system in the back instead of more traditional zone defending against the Eagles. “We obviously know that they’re a team that can score goals under pressure. They’ve been doing that all season, but we didn’t want to go in with the mindset that we were going to be playing defense all game.”

It remained a one-goal game until the second half, when Messalonskee started to find the pace to match its structure. That speed in transition eventually began to wear down the Rams’ defenders.

Ally Turner chased down a long clearing pass from Haley Lowell, held onto the ball long enough to pull Cony goalie Jackie Carlton off her line and then pushed her shot into a nearly empty cage at the 24:17 mark.

“The first one in the second half (was big),” Cony senior captain Delaney Keithley said. “I look at the final score, but I don’t think that really depicts the game. Once they keep adding goals, though, it’s just another thing to come back from. Once they start digging the coffin a little bit lower in the ground, it becomes harder to come back from that.”

Turner set up a third goal with less than a minute and a half to play, centering from the right side for Corbett, whose redirection from along the goal line cemented the final 3-0 scoreline.

After forcing just three penalty corners in the first half, Messalonskee generated 12 in the second half while not conceding a single Cony shot, testament to the Eagles imposing their will as the minutes wore on.

“The girls really picked up their intensity, cut onto the ball well, and really worked as one whole unit,” McLaughlin said. “Once that happens, it’s tough to stop. I thought we did a really good job adjusting in the second half.”

“They pass so quickly,” Keithley said of Messalonskee. “They’re efficient with the ball. Their off-ball movement is amazing. They cut to the ball like no other team I’ve seen before. They’re smart. They see the field both when they have the ball and when they don’t have the ball, and that’s the difference.”

“It’s bittersweet, for sure,” Daigle said of the season-ending defeat. “This group of seniors played great all season long. But we’ve seen Messalonskee three times this season, and this was by far the best that we’ve played them. We’re sad, obviously it’s disappointing, but I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”

For Messalonskee, Corbett still believes the best is yet to come for the Eagles.

“It was a very good game, but I definitely think that we can play at a higher level,” Corbett said. “This game was very important. This was do or die. We either win and go on to the next one or we lose and we’re done.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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