PITTSFIELD — Class B North reaffirmed its reputation as the most competitive division in the state Saturday morning as Maine Central Institute knocked off previously unbeaten Gardiner, 1-0.

The top six teams in the division are separated by less than 20 tournament points and each has at least one loss to one of those teams.

Senior Madisyn Hartley scored the game-winner with 12:30 left in the first half with the assist going to Gracie Moore.

“That was a big win for us,” said MCI coach Nancy Hughes, who graduated six starters from last year’s Class B state championship team. “We know what a quality program they have and how good they are and what their record was. We didn’t think our record really reflected our talent.”

MCI (8-3-0) remained in sixth place following the win but has point-worthy games remaining on its schedule against Class A Messalonskee and once-beaten Winslow.

Gardiner falls to 10-1-0 and likewise has big games remaining on its schedule against Class A Cony, Winslow and Belfast. The host Huskies controlled most of the first half despite holding just a 3-2 edge in shots on goal. As they’ve done all season, the Tigers came on strong in the second half.

“We have all year long,” Gardiner coach Sharon Gallant said of the slow start. “I’m not sure how to remedy that yet. We’re into game 11 and we haven’t played a decent first half yet.”

Some of the credit for the Tigers’ slow start goes to MCI, which is still establishing its identity after the graduation losses.

“This is a huge win,” center back Victoria Friend said. “And I think it really boosted our confidence up a lot, too. We knew that last year we had a great team and graduated a lot of seniors but this year we wanted to come back with the same energy.”

Each team got a big defensive save, just seconds apart, early in the game. Christa Carr cleared the ball in front of the MCI goal while Gardiner’s Jaz Clary got a stick on a hard airborne shot off an MCI stick. Gallant called timeout to slow the Huskies momentum but a minute later Hartley scored.

“It was crossed over to the stroke (line) and I put it in,” Hartley said.

Hartley is considered one of the top players in Class B and the plan was to limit her as much as possible but she often found room to stick-handle through traffic and set up plays.

“We were supposed to (shadow her) but it wasn’t very effective,” Gallant said. “She has real good stick skills. We practiced some things yesterday but didn’t seem able to do what we had practiced.”

The Tigers came out strong in the second half and it was the Huskies who found themselves on their heels. Hughes called timeout with 18:57 but Gardiner’s momentum didn’t subside until the final few minutes.

“That’s a team that’s not going to give up,” Hughes said.

First-year goalie Ashley Souliere helped alleviate some of the pressure, making five of her six saves in the second half, including back-to-back stops following a Gardiner penalty corner with 7:30 left. Assistant coach Greg Hughes has been mentoring Souliere since the season began.

“Greg’s worked really hard with the goalie, spent a lot of time learning how to coach that position,” Nancy Hughes said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in her.”

The Tigers held a 7-6 edge in shots on goal and the same advantage in penalty corners. Gardiner goalie Alyssa Gould made four saves.

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