GARDINER — The Black Raiders have been here before. Too many times for their liking, in fact.

After tripping into an early deficit, the Winslow boys soccer team clawed even by halftime and Landen Gillis punched home the go-ahead goal early in the second half as the Black Raiders posted a 3-1 win over Gardiner in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B match Tuesday afternoon. Gillis, Isaac Burbank and Andrew Poulin scored for Winslow, which got a seven-save performance from junior goalkeeper J.J. Carey.

Winslow improved to 6-2-1 and momentarily took over the top spot in the Class B North regional standings, having gone unbeaten in five of its last six outings (4-1-1). The Black Raiders have allowed an average of just one goal per game against over that stretch.

Winslow’s Levi Olin (17) and Gardiner’s Casey Paul go for header during a game on Tuesday in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“We were really bringing the intensity,” Carey said. “In a lot of games, I felt like defense was our weakest spot, but we’re really turning it up. We’re playing a lot harder.”

Tied 1-1 in the 51st minute, Gardiner (4-4-1) appeared to have a Poulin cross from the left wing well covered, but the ball landed in front of Tiger keeper Sean Doyle (eight saves) and was never dealt with. A pair of defenders failed to connect on clearing attempts, leaving Gillis to collect the ball inside the 6-yard box. He touched it to his right and finished into an empty net for the lead Winslow would not relinquish.

“There was nothing special about it. (Doyle) was kind of fumbling with it, and his teammate wasn’t helping. So, I just kind of took it,” said Gillis, a sophomore striker. “I feel like (falling behind early) happens to us a lot, so it’s just nature for us now to have to fight back in games.”

From there, Winslow did what it’s done very well of late. It defended.

For a team that once scored goals at an alarming rate in previous seasons, these Black Raiders are forging their identity as a relentlessly stingy group. It didn’t hurt that senior center back Austin Soucy returned Tuesday after a two-game absence due to injury.

“We’ve gotten better. It seems like someone new steps up every game, and maybe the contributors aren’t the ones scoring goals — it’s the ones leading to the goals or stepping up defensively,” Winslow coach Aaron Wolfe said. “I think we feel pretty confident that we’ll get a goal or two, so it’s just a matter clamping down defensively and not allowing teams to do anything else. It’s having confidence that we’re going to find the net eventually in some way.”

Gardiner took a 1-0 lead 17 minutes in when Cam Kokernak was cleaned out in the box, and senior Jackson Tweedy converted the spot kick cleanly.

The Tigers carried the play for the next several minutes, but the tide began to turn once Burbank pulled the Black Raiders level in the 31st minute. Poulin’s centering pass from the right side found Burbank unmarked at the top of the 18, and the senior midfielder made quick work to tie things at 1-1.

“When we play wide, we look great,” Gardiner coach Nick Wallace said. “We just didn’t execute what we were supposed to do. We adjusted to them (in the second half) to try and control the midfield, and they took us out of our game plan a little bit.”

Gardiner’s Tucker Boudreau, left, knocks the ball away from Winslow’s Andrew Poulin during a game on Tuesday in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

There was little in the way of an equalizing chance for Gardiner once the Tigers trailed, with Winslow dropping deep into coverage in all areas of the pitch. Even Gillis, a true target-type presence, could be seen hounding the play all the way to his defensive touchline.

The freshman Poulin cashed in on a counter-attack with Gardiner pushing forward in the 78th minute.

“Defense is a major part of the game,” Gillis said. “I completely believe that defense wins games.”

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