SOUTH CHINA — The Waterville girls soccer team might not be the same as it’s been in years past, but that certainly won’t make it any less dangerous in the postseason.

The Purple Panthers parlayed a goal midway through the first half Friday into a 1-0 win at Erskine in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B regular-season finale for both teams. Aly Drew made four saves for the shutout, the fifth of the season for the senior goalkeeper, to back a strong effort from a depleted back line.

“We knew what this game meant to us,” Drew said. “We felt like we had to win. It was definitely a hard one. We’ve had a rough couple of games, but we pulled it together.”

For Erskine, it was a disappointing bookend to its regular season. The Eagles (9-2-3) enjoyed a 12-game unbeaten streak, one that began following a season-opening loss to Waterville in September and ended on Friday. Both losses were in one-goal games.

“We came into this game thinking we can swing with them,” Erskine coach Ryan Nored said, “versus sitting and taking their punches and trying to wear them down like we did in the first game. I thought we did a good job. It’s just unfortunate.”

Waterville (10-3-1) took the lead through junior Anika Elias’ expert 28th-minute strike.

In the type of on-pitch chess match that saw two different formations battle throughout the 80 minutes for midfield superiority, both sides tightly locked down on any scoring opportunities for either attack.

Elias, though, who is part of any short conversation for the best player in the KVAC this season, needed only a yard of space — or less — to convert one of the few good looks she had at goal. Taking a pass in the center of the park from Sadie Garling, Elias held play up enough for the Eagles to drop back into their defensive posture. She continued to hold the ball, eyes scanning for a runner wide, before reluctantly releasing a 30-yard bid on goal.

That shot curled into the top left corner, leaving Erskine keeper Taylor Shute (nine saves) with no chance of retrieving it.

From there, this defensively-minded Waterville team — not the one of years past that would look to tack on five or six goals with ease — took over.

“I didn’t know if one goal would hold up or not, but the way we defended, it did,” Waterville coach Mark Serdjenian said. “I don’t think teams necessarily fall back defensively intentionally, but it always seems to happen. I did think we were really well organized, so I did feel good about the way we were defending. … We didn’t allow too much danger in the flow of play, so it was good. I was pleased.”

Waterville then went to work at defending, particularly early in the second half. Center backs Lilyan Foster, a junior, and Nadia Khan, a freshman called into duty with senior captain Rebecca Beringer injured for the last two games, shut down every Erskine attack through the middle of the field, when the Eagles could find space to operate behind holding midfielder Mackenzie St. Pierre.

And when Foster and Khan faltered — as they did in the waning seconds of regulation following an intercepted goal kick when Erskine’s Liz Sugg went driving through the back line and straight onto goal — Drew bailed them out. Drew flew off her line and dove at the ball on Sugg’s foot to make sure there wouldn’t even be a shot.

“I really have on and off days, and today I woke up and said I needed to be on my game today,” Drew said. “I’m not an aggressive goalie. It’s hard to be aggressive when you’re a goalkeeper, but you get there eventually.”

“I was definitely glad she was there,” Foster added. “That was the play I was supposed to have.”

If there was an anxious moment for Drew, it came in the 20th minute when Erskine sophomore Morgan Presby challenged Drew for a 50-50 ball in the 18-yard box. Drew’s clearing attempt deflected off Presby’s body, straight into the air and toward goal — which Drew dove to keep from bouncing over the goal line behind her.

“That was a scary moment,” Serdjenian said.

In all though, there were few of those scenes for the Waterville defenders.

“It was definitely hard, but I feel like we did a good job,” Foster said. “We played well defensively. This was a big game for us.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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