READFIELD — The last time the Maranacook boys soccer team wasn’t in a regional final, every member of the current Black Bears was still in elementary school.

Maranacook heads to No. 1 Waynflete for Wednesday’s Class C South final having won 12 straight Class C tournament games, dating back to the opening round of the 2013 tournament. The Black Bears (14-2-0), who have won three of the last five Class C state championships after bowing out of the Class B tournament in the regional final in both 2015 and 2016, are back in a regional title game for the sixth consecutive season.

They haven’t been knocked out of a tournament this early since Falmouth beat them in the Class B South semifinals in 2012.

“It feels great,” said Maranacook senior goalkeeper Ryan Worster, one of the heroes in the Black Bears’ win over No. 2 Hall-Dale last week in a penalty kick shootout. “I wasn’t sure about this year, because we weren’t playing very great. We pulled it through.

“Now, let’s win it.”

Worster was correct in detecting reason to be worried about this year’s version of the Black Bears. With the losses of all-state caliber center backs in consecutive seasons in Hayden Elwell (2016) and Jackson McPhedran (2017), Maranacook doesn’t boast the same top-end soccer talent its had over the last few seasons.

The Black Bears lost to Gardiner on Sept. 27, losing a lead in the second half. It was their first defeat to a non-Class A school since falling to Yarmouth in the 2016 Class B South championship game. They followed that Gardiner defeat with a loss to Lewiston five days later.

Turns out, those were their only two lossess of the season, responding with a 7-0 win over Lincoln Academy to end the skid. Maranacook hasn’t allowed a single goal in any of its last five games since.

“After that (loss to Lewiston) we were lights out. We really were,” Maranacook coach Don Beckwith said. “Lincoln Academy was a decent team, but you’d never know it for them playing against us, I thought. This is a talented group. I like my team.”

What they don’t have in elite skill, the Black Bears more than make up for in athleticism and a commitment to defending well — both hallmarks of their impressive recent tournament runs.

Even after a Class C South quarterfinal win over Winthrop one week ago, a 4-0 shutout, senior striker Mitchell Root continued to hit the “defense first” talking point.

“Our defense needs to tighten up,” Root said of a team which has conceded six goals through 16 matches. “We know teams are going to capitalize on chances (others) didn’t. We’ve got to command the back, talk a lot more and play a lot better in the back overall.”

Undefeated Waynflete (13-0-3) played nine matches decided by two goals or fewer this season, including a 2-0 win in the semifinals over Mt. Abram.

Beckwith knows his team won’t be able to get away with squandering scoring chances against the Flyers they way it did in a scoreless 110 minutes against Hall-Dale.

“We blew a lot of wasted balls. We won’t be able to do that in the next round,” Beckwith said. “We won’t get that many opportunities. It’s going to be a lot like playing Lewiston.

“You’re just not going to have that many opportunities. You’re going to have maybe eight or 10 opportunities the whole game. If we get that many, great. But we’re going to have to put in two or three.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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