GARDINER — The final seconds ticked off and the Gardiner Area High School field hockey team started the celebration at midfield, all smiles after punching its ticket to the Class B North regional final.

It didn’t come without a final scare.

Fourth-seeded Gardiner prevailed after a final Nokomis scoring chance was ruled to have come up empty, preserving the Tigers’ 1-0 B North semifinal victory over the eighth-seeded Warriors on Friday afternoon.

“I’m just so excited, and I’m so proud of my team,” said junior midfielder Aimee Adams, who scored the game’s lone goal. “Words can’t explain how proud I am of them.”

It’s the third trip to the B North final in four years for Gardiner, and the first since losing to Winslow, 3-1, in 2015.

“This was by far the best they’ve played so far, offensively and defensively,” said coach Sharon Gallant, whose team improved to 14-2-0. “They were clicking, captains took over right from the get-go and said ‘This is ours, and this is what we’re going to do.’

“In the first half, we were all over them. And really, except for that last little sort-of-like flurry, I thought we really controlled the tempo.”

That flurry almost changed the game. Gardiner was dominating, taking its sixth corner in a span of 4:31 with 2:25 to play when the ball escaped the Tigers’ control, first being sent toward midfield before going downfield the other way, where Nokomis (9-6-2) freshman Lauryn Anderson had a breakaway toward the Gardiner cage.

“I was having a coronary,” Gallant said.

Avery Backus (five saves) took charge, rushing out to cut off the angle and getting a pad on Anderson’s first shot. She got her own rebound, however, and this time got one by Backus, knocking a shot that headed toward the cage.

From there, though, it became a matter of dispute. Nokomis players reacted as if the ball had crossed over the line before being cleared out, while Gardiner’s side played it as if it had run along the line. Officials huddled to discuss the play, and ended up awarding Nokomis a corner with 1:47 to go but no goal on the board.

It was the final threat for the Warriors, as Gardiner got the ball back into the Nokomis end and kept it there for the rest of the game. Nokomis coach Taylor Lovley declined to opine on the call, but said the referees’ decision was that the ball never went over the line.

“They said they just didn’t think it crossed the line,” Lovley said.

The loss cut down the Warriors’ Cinderella run, as Nokomis came in riding wins over Morse (2-0) and Winslow (2-1), the second of which bounced the top-seeded Black Raiders.

“We’ve come a long way this year. We started this year with new coaches, it was fresh for everyone,” said Lovley, coaching her first season after playing at Husson University. “But they’ve come a long way, that quarterfinal win was huge for us.”

Gallant cautioned her team against approaching the Warriors as a typical eighth seed — a particularly pertinent lesson after the Tigers lost as a second seed to No. 7 Winslow last year.

“You know about last year?” Gallant said. “No, no, no, we don’t take anything for granted.”

The Tigers showed as much with their play, taking control early and finally breaking through with 15:55 left in the first half. Freshman back Lindsey Bell got the ball off a corner and found Adams with a pretty pass up near the cage for the 1-0 lead.

“Lindsey hit in to me, it went between the goalie’s legs,” Adams said. “It was a really good pass.”

Nokomis goalie Chelsea Crockett didn’t allow anything else, making 17 saves to help withstand the Gardiner push that included 16 corners (versus eight for Nokomis) and 18 shots on goal (versus nine). All she needed was one goal to work with.

Gardiner was happy to see she didn’t get it — even if there was some fortune involved.

“I don’t know how they got No. 8. They’re good,” Gallant said. “We keep saying we’re going to do it one game at a time, take it one game at a time, and see where that gets us.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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