GARDINER — Her team was ahead and the game was only minutes old, but Maine Central Institute field hockey coach Nancy Hughes had a message for her team.

“That’s too many corners!” she yelled.

Her team listened. The Huskies had already permitted six penalty corners by that point late in the first quarter. They gave up only four more the rest of the game. And in a close game, one that ended 2-1 in double overtime in favor of MCI over Gardiner, it made a difference.

“We talked about what we need to do to clear the ball out, and not continue to give them opportunities,” said Hughes, whose team got a pair of goals by junior forward Gracie Moore. “All defense comes down to communication. You have to listen to the person behind you, you have to make sure you let your teammates know when it’s your ball instead of just assuming they will know. … That’s part of it with all defense, but (particularly) corner defense.”

It’s the key in any close game. Corners in field hockey can be like penalties in football or turnovers in basketball. One team can be outplaying the other, but if that team is losing the corners battle, it can translate directly to a loss of the game.

“Absolutely. One of the things with multiple corners is you get the kids who are sprinting back from the 50, so you’re exhausting them every time,” Hughes said. “Plus you get the kids here who are rushing out, and then feeling all that pressure. That can be a real momentum changer.”

Gardiner keeper Kassidy Collins, left, blocks a shot by MCI’ s Gracie Moore during a game Tuesday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Case in point, Gardiner saw MCI get the bulk of offensive opportunities but hung tight down 1-0 and in position to eventually tie it late in the fourth quarter on a Lindsey Bell goal. How? Withstanding the Huskies’ attack without allowing them to rack up corners — MCI had two in the first half and seven altogether — had a lot to do with it.

“We’ve worked really hard on circle defense. At the beginning of the year, we were terrible,” said Tigers coach Sharon Gallant, who not even two weeks ago saw her team surrender 14 corners in a loss to Cony. “We were giving up corners left and right. … I thought they were great today. I’m so proud of my kiddos.”

Corners are such a prime scoring chance — often eight attacking players against four defenders and the goalie — and it’s easy to commit an infraction in the circle to set one up. All a player has to do is have the ball hit her foot or get lazy with her stick or with her positioning.

The keys to preventing corners are the same as defending them once they’ve been called: Discipline, hustle and being on the same page.

“I think our communication needs to be on point,” said Moore, who in addition to leading the offense serves as the Huskies’ flyer, the player who charges from the cage to break up the initial shot. “(At first), the ball was hitting our feet, or we weren’t moving in time. But after those few, we knew we needed to clean it up.”

MCI’s Gracie Moore, center, is hugged by teammates after scoring the winning goal in overtime against Gardiner on Tuesday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Hannah Robinson was part of MCI’s corner defense that also included Moore, Olivia Ward and Janessa Foster. She said a key is making sure everyone knows who she’s covering, so no one ends up alone with a good look at the cage.

“The key is to talk to each other, and to mark those on the post especially,” she said. “That’s my job, to mark the girls down by the goalie. And you want to keep your stick down obviously, and carry out wide before you go to the top of the circle. Otherwise, it’ll just keep causing more corners.”

It helps to be fast, and in the case of the flyer, fearless. MCI had two good looks at the top of the circle on back-to-back corners at the end of the first overtime, but Gardiner’s Maddie Farnham raced out to disrupt both shots — the second of which was hit hard enough to knock her stick from her hands.

“It’s a special person that holds certain specialty spots, and the fly is definitely one of them,” Gallant said. “Like your goalie has to be a little bit of a sicko, the flyer has to be a little bit of a sicko as well.”

And sometimes, good defense isn’t enough. Late in the fourth on the Tigers’ ninth corner, the insert went straight to Bell, who immediately fired a hard shot that skipped in.

There’s a reason they say every corner is a goal. And why the best way to defend corners is to not face them at all.

“Everything is communication,” Hughes said. “That’s what we really try to stress, and that’s one of the key things we’re working on.”

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