BATH — The nerves were gone. So were any lingering feelings of self-doubt about being on the sport’s biggest stage.

The Oak Hill High School field hockey team was happy to be at the Class C state final last year. The Raiders were back on Saturday. This time, however, they knew they belonged.

“In August, we put down what our goals were. And it was to get back,” coach Betsy Gilbert said. “They had their first taste of it, and they wanted to get back. … Our motto this year was ‘all or nothing.’ They were giving all, and we really were not stopping until we got here.”

There was a happier ending this time. The top-seeded Raiders flipped the script against the same Maine Central Institute team that denied them last year, getting goals from Lexi Fuller on a penalty stroke and Erika Hannigan en route to a 2-0 triumph, and the first state title in program history.

“(We) came in very headstrong, a lot different than what we did last year,” said Gilbert, whose team finished 17-1. “This year, they knew what to expect. They knew it was going to be loud, they knew it was going to be intense. You couldn’t let up for one second.”

And they knew they could play with — and beat — top North seed MCI, the team that beat them in last year’s final by the same 2-0 score.

“We knew that they were fast, we knew that they were very skillful players,” Gilbert said. “But so are we.”

Raiders players denied that payback against the Huskies (15-3) was on their minds going into the game. But they were aware of the symmetry.

“Not to say revenge,” Hannigan said, “but we definitely wanted that sweet victory.”

It didn’t come easily. The teams played through an even first half, buzzing around each other’s net but struggling to earn corners and land shots on goal. That changed with no time remaining in the first half, when Oak Hill was awarded only its third corner of the game. Pressure by the Raiders led to another corner, and Oak Hill crashed the net looking to knock in a loose ball until goalie Elspeth Taylor (six saves) covered it up to halt the chaos.

Officials noticed the move and called a penalty stroke. Gilbert called on Fuller — who had already missed two such shots this postseason — to put the Raiders in front.

“I said, ‘you’ve just got to be patient,’ ” Fuller said. “I was excited but nervous at the same time.”

Again, confidence prevailed for the Raiders. Fuller’s shot was perfect, sailing by Taylor’s right shoulder and into the net for the 1-0 lead.

“She’s missed a couple and she really gets down on herself,” Gilbert said. “Her stepping up to the line and making that shot was what the team needed.”

On the other sideline, the Huskies weren’t fazed. Coach Nancy Hughes’ team had plenty of firepower, having turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 win in the C North semifinals.

“I don’t think it impacted us at all,” Hughes said. “We still had 30 minutes.”

That confidence manifested itself in the Huskies getting a corner at the start of the second half, but Oak Hill turned the tide, earning the next four corners. On the fourth, the Raiders struck. MCI’s Victoria Friend swatted away a shot headed for the cage, but the ball eventually went from Hayden Spencer to Hannigan, and the senior drilled it home for a 2-0 lead with 18:38 to play.

“To be up a couple of points was definitely a relief,” Hannigan said. “It was huge. It really took the pressure off of everyone so we could calm down and really play our passing game.”

And its defense. The Oak Hill quartet of Fuller, Hannigan, Lindsey Wright and Alexis Faucher stymied Addi Williams, Madisyn Hartley and the rest of MCI’s talented forwards, letting the Huskies get close but rarely allowing shots to get through traffic.

“I knew we had it at that point in time,” Gilbert said of the 2-0 lead. “I feel that our defense is No. 1. There haven’t been a lot of scores on us this year, and our goalie hasn’t really had too many touches. It’s our defense.”

There were some close calls — Mackenzie Thibeault (six saves) had to dive to stop a shot with 14:14 left, and Hartley wove through the defense but couldn’t land a shot with three minutes to go. The goals never came, though, a rarity for a team that often made scoring look easy throughout a dominant regular season.

“They played a good game. They were aggressive and quick to the ball,” Hughes said. “We didn’t play our best game. I think we were flat. … But I’m so proud of my girls. They fought hard, fought until the end.”

Instead, it was Oak Hill’s time, one year after the Raiders had to see for themselves how tough it can be when it isn’t.

“We made school history,” Fuller said. “We’ve all played together for so long, and to be able to pull it off, it’s really amazing.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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