SOUTH CHINA — Two teams featuring new-look lineups this fall entered the week trying to forge identities.

While the visiting Gardiner Tigers looked comfortable with who they’re growing into, holding on for a 4-3 win over Erskine Academy in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B boys soccer game, the host Eagles were left with as many questions as answers.

“No, we haven’t found our identity yet,” Erskine’s third-year coach Carrie Larrabee said, even after Erskine (0-2-0) rallied from three goals down in the second half to make for some nervy final moments for the Tigers. “We’re trying to build of what we’re doing well.”

Erskine senior Bryce Goff, left, follows up on shot as Gardiner keeper Sean Doyle makes the save during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B game Tuesday in South China. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

That rally wasn’t enough to undo a pair of goals from Gardiner senior striker Cam Kokernak, a goal and an assist from left back Chase Fossett and a clinical finish from sophomore Cam Rizzo, all but Kokernak’s first coming inside the first 20 minutes of the second half. The pace up top from Kokernak and Jackson Tweedy was simply too much for a young, inexperience Erskine squad through the center of the park — particularly along the back line.

“In my opinion, it’s all about pace,” said Gardiner coach Nick Wallace. “I thought we played great for about 60 minutes. We got up 4-1, thought we were in cruise control, so we still have a lot to learn when it comes to finishing games and putting teams away. If you can play with pace, and when you get him and Cam up top, they just know how to play together. They’re both quick, they’re both big bodies and they don’t get pushed off the ball easily.”

That Kokernak and Tweedy wreaked so much havoc on Erskine was a good sign for Gardiner (1-1-0), a team with some veteran leadership and plenty of untested starters trying to fill the gaping hole left by the graduation of last season’s KVAC player of the year, Casey Bourque.

For one afternoon at least, Kokernak and Tweedy looked comfortable with being the centerpieces of the Tiger attack.

“There’s a lot now on us, because Casey was our main guy on the field,” Kokernak said. “Now it’s up to Jackson and I to move the ball around and score. We know that we have to come out strong first and then just play how we play. That’s what I think we have to do.”

Erskine opened the scoring just six minutes in, benefitting from a new wrinkle on restarts with a dropped ball just above the 18-yard box that resulted in Nick Howard’s opening goal. The Tigers then turned the game in their direction to a considerable degree, knotting the score before the break and then picking up three goals within 13 minutes to make it 4-1. The final goal of which came from Fossett, with a lobbed cross from the left sideline that fooled Erskine keeper Wes McGlew (10 saves) at the far post, deflecting off his hand into the goal in the 64th minute.

The Tigers, though, didn’t keep their collective foot on the gas — they were more concerned with verbal sparring on the pitch than with seeing out a one-side victory.

Aidan Larrabee and Yanic Boulet pulled goals back for Erskine, both from distance and both from above the left corner of the 18-yard box. By the time the 72nd minute rolled around it was a one-goal game.

“We’ve got to work hard, play hard,” Fossett said. “We just have to play.”

It was not lost on the Erskine coach that both of the second-half goals resulted from individual effort and willingness to put chances on goal, not from build-up through the midfield.

“We’re struggling with transitioning, back on defense and then forward when we have possession,” coach Larrabee said. “A lot of it is inexperience. That’s part of it, I think. But we’ll get there. We played better today than we did against Medomak (last week), and that’s all I ask is that we continue to play better.”



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