GARDINER — Sometimes it only takes one big play to settle a close game, and the Gardiner field hockey team made one Saturday against rival Cony.

With the visiting Rams controlling most of the first 15 minutes of the second half, Gardiner junior Maggie Bell began a sequence that led to the game’s only goal and a 1-0 victory for the Tigers.

Dribbling out of her own end of the field, Bell crossed midfield and was momentarily stopped when the Rams were called for a foul. Senior Madeline Walker took the free hit and lofted an accurate aerial pass to the left of the Cony goal. Bell collected the pass and fed sophomore Maddie Farnham for the score.

“I just looked up and saw the goalie and tried to shoot away from (her),” Farnham said

Gardiner improved to 12-1 in Class B North with a showdown for first place coming Tuesday at home against Belfast. Cony (10-3) remains in second place in Class A North with a big game looming Tuesday at home against Mt. Blue in the regular season finale.

Cony lost 1-0 to Gardiner in a preseason game but the Rams have come along way since, reeling off 10 straight wins coming into Saturday’s contest.

“I’m not surprised this was a close game or a hard game at all, because they wanted it just as much as we did,” Walker said.

Statistics were relatively even with the Rams holding a 5-4 edge in shots on goal and 11-9 advantage in penalty corners.

“Overall I feel like it was a really evenly matched game,” Cony coach Holly Daigle said. “It was a competitive game from start to finish We had some really good looks at the cage … it just didn’t go our way today.”

The Tigers were coming off a big win against Winslow and coach Sharon Gallant said her team let down a little Saturday.

“The first time we put a complete game together was Thursday and then today I didn’t think any half was much to really talk about,” she said.

The Rams registered the only one shot on goal in the first half but came out strong in the second, getting three quick penalty corners to put pressure on sophomore goalie Lindsey Bell, who was making just her second start of the season.

“It was exhilarating,” Bell said. “I was really excited.”

Bell was at her best during the early penalty corners, making three straight saves inside of 10 feet.

“That was tough but we got it out of there,” she said. “They kept putting pressure on us and we kept stopping them. I think they came out ready to win.”

The battle for midfield was hotly contested with Cony’s Kami Lambert and Julia Reny fighting for possession against Gardiner’s Aimee Adams and Walker, among others.

“They have incredible ball-handling,” Walker said “And Kami is just amazing. She completely dominates that whole field.”

Walker’s aerial pass to set up the game-winning goal is the product of several years of practice. It was perfectly placed away from the defense from about 25 yards out.

“In practices (Coach) Gallant will set up little cones and she’ll say ‘put you aerial in those cones,'” Walker said. “So we practice our aim as much as air and length.

Cony goalie Emily Douglas finished with three saves including a breakaway from Farnham late in the first half while Bell made five stops.

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