Gardiner goalkeeper Lindsey Bell and Amanda Cameron embrace after defeating York 3-2 in the Class B state championship last Saturday at Deering High School in Portland. Portland Press Herald photo by Ben McCanna

The Gardiner field hockey team hadn’t even won a regional title when coach Sharon Gallant revealed the Tigers were gunning for even more.

“They have a plan, and they’ve had a plan since Day 1,” Gallant said after her team beat MCI in the B North semifinals. “They have talked about hardware since Day 1.”

On Saturday, they got it. Gardiner won its first title since 2009, beating York 3-2 at Deering High School.

“We’ve been working so hard this season,” said senior forward Sarah Foust, who scored in the victory. “All through this year, we were joking ‘We’re going to be going to states,’ and it actually happened.”

Hours later, another seemingly pre-destined run was completed. Winthrop, which lost to St. Dominic in double overtime last year, got the trophy that had eluded it, topping Spruce Mountain for the Class C championship.

The loss last year hurt, but according to coach Jess Merrill, she knew her team was going to get another chance at the title.

“Oh yeah. We have a really talented team,” she said. “We knew we had the pieces to come back, and we knew we were talented enough to come back. It was all about making sure we did the right things in the offseason and preseason to get to where we are now.”

Still, destiny wasn’t fulfilled without some challenges. Gardiner initially trailed, going down 1-0 with 14:38 left in the first half. But just as they did in the regional final against Winslow, when they erased an early 2-0 deficit, the Tigers battled back, scoring the next three goals to take command for good. Both rallies featured a game-changing goal before halftime; Gardiner scored Winslow at 2 with 34 seconds left in the half, and pulled even with York with 0.5 seconds to go.

“We bounce back real quick,” senior captain Madelin Walker said. “We come out a bit slow in the first half, and I mean, that’s not good. But then we bounce back in the second half, especially after we’ve been scored on. Then we’re like ‘Okay, we’ve really got to (pick it) up and put some in.'”

No one tallied a bigger goal in that endeavor than Walker, who scored on a penalty stroke with 15 minutes left, giving her team a lead at 2-1 it wouldn’t surrender. The senior shot with conviction, sniping a shot knee-high into the left side of the netting.

“It was a lot of pressure. I was shaking,” she said. “I was like ‘I’ve got to make this.’ … That was my spot. I go bottom-left corner, every time.”

York was making its sixth straight final, and had won four of the last five. But while the Wildcats have had their moments, Saturday was always going to be the Tigers’.

“They’re here every year, and we beat them,” senior Aimee Adams said. “We know if we play our game, we can do anything.”

Winthrop celebrates their 3-1 win over Spruce Mountain in the Class C state championship game last Saturday at Deering High School in Portland. Portland Press Herald photo by Jill Brady

That was a sentiment shared by Winthrop, but the Ramblers had to play from the opposite side of the momentum swing, seeing a 1-0 lead disappear when Spruce Mountain scored with 6:31 to go in the first half.

At the break, Merrill could sense her players wondering if heartbreak was coming again.

“I told the girls, ‘This might not end the way you want it to if you don’t get yourselves mentally in check,’ ” she said. “A spark went off. Their attitudes were totally different.”

With the game in the balance, Winthrop put it away. There would be no overtime this season; the Ramblers got a goal from senior Breonna Feeney with 10:58 remaining, then another from junior Gia Francis only 1 minute and 44 seconds later.

“They realized they only have 30 minutes left … and if they don’t do it, it’s over for them, and we’re going to walk off just like we walked off last year,” Merrill said. “It was just amazing to see them step up the way they did.”

This time, there were no tears — just a trophy that, for the Ramblers, was a year in the making.

“We only had one senior graduating, and we just thought this would be a really good year,” Feeney said. “We’ve had so many good opportunities, and we executed.”

“Just to see it happen is the most amazing thing ever,” Francis said. “It just shows how much we’ve grown.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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