GARDINER — Mikayla Bourassa earned her stickers on Tuesday afternoon.

The Gardiner Area High School defender cleared a ball off her own goal line in the second half at the west end of Somerville Field, preserving a 2-0 win for the fourth-seeded Tigers over No. 5 Foxcroft Academy in the Class B North quarterfinals. Gardiner (13-2-0) advances to meet No. 8 Nokomis, which upset top-seeded and previously unbeaten Winslow in the regional semifinals.

For a defensively-minded coach like Gardiner’s Sharon Gallant, Bourassa’s efforts couldn’t have been more apropos.

“We give stickers for outstanding defensive plays. Bourassa came up after the game pointing ‘two,’ and she said, ‘Two stickers,'” Gallant said. “I think (defense) is how you win games, in all honesty. It’s a focus for us. I was very pleased to see them respond as well as they did. I liked that. I like when the ‘D’ is doing their job.”

Maggie Bell scored late in the first half to put the Tigers on the scoreboard, while Madelin Walker padded the lead early in the second half. The two goals were more than enough for Gardiner.

It allowed for a nervous moment like the one saved by Bourassa, who with 14 minutes remaining, watched as Foxcroft’s McKenzie Beaudry ripped a low drive by Tiger goalie Avery Backus, with a chance to pull the Ponies (11-4-0) back into the contest. Bourassa was perfectly positioned to swat the ball clear and out of harm’s way.

“I saw it all the way. It’s actually happened quite a few times,” Bourassa said. “Me and (Backus) have a connection. If it goes by her, I’m talking to her all the time. I just saw the ball all the way and watched it hit my stick.

“I wasn’t letting it go in.”

The second half, in which Gardiner controlled play almost entirely — save for a few desperate minutes from Foxcroft — stood in stark contrast to the way in which the day started out. The Ponies were the aggressors for the better part of the first seven minutes of the opening half, prompting Gallant to call a timeout for a meeting with her team.

“Focus was an issue in the beginning,” Gallant said. “I hope it was nerves that they all of a sudden got a little silly. I had to remind them of what our jobs were and what our goals were for the day. We hadn’t done any of the things that we said we were going to do in the first six minutes.”

Walker said the message was delivered loudly and clearly.

“The first couple of minutes we always come out lackadaisical,” Walker said. “I think once we get a feel for the game, it kind of hits us. We can’t just play around, because this is a good team we’re playing against. We have to come out hard, and that’s what we did.”

The Tigers were determined to respond to their coach’s calling.

Less than five minutes after Foxcroft’s Sheryl Chase hit the left post behind Backus (seven saves) and nearly put the Ponies ahead, Gardiner’s Haley Brann’s centering pass from the left side of the cage popped up into the air — where Bell took a swing at it out of mid-air for the 1-0 lead.

The pressure continued after halftime, when Walker tipped home Hailee Lovely’s drive with 21:09 remaining.

“It was big. Being up by one, it isn’t that safe,” Walker said. “It can tie it up in, like, two seconds and then it can go off to overtime and be really unpredictable from there. The second goal really just locked us in and gave us a lot of confidence.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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