GARDINER — The Cony and Gardiner field hockey teams have always been rivals, but that rivalry had always been missing an ingredient. The Rams were Class A and the Tigers Class B, and though they met once a year, there was never a chance for both programs to meet later on in the season.

That’s not the case anymore. After Cony’s move down this season, both teams are part of the same Class B competitive picture, and their first matchup under those circumstances was as tight as one would expect. Maci Freeman and Bri Madore had back-to-back goals in the third quarter, allowing the Rams to rally for a 2-1 victory at Gardiner’s Somerville Field Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to being annual nemeses, the Tigers (0-3) and Rams (2-1) are now teams that could stand in each other’s way, which Cony senior midfielder and captain Madison Veilleux said adds another layer of drama to the matchup.

“We were really looking at who’s going to be in our division for playoffs and stuff like that, since we haven’t been in this class,” she said. “And we were like ‘Oh, we could play Gardiner easily in the playoffs.’ … There’s definitely a lot of competition between the two of us.”

Gardiner senior midfielder and captain Leah Pushard, who had the Tigers’ goal, agreed.

“There’s more pressure,” she said. “(Before), when we just played them once, it was Drive Out Cancer, fundraising, stuff like that. It was more spirit. … Now it’s competition.”

The Drive Out Cancer game will be the teams’ rematch in the regular season finale. This is their first time playing twice in the season since Gardiner was still Class A in 2008. The Tigers won the state championship in their debut season in Class B a year later.

“Everybody in B is good, so it just adds another good team to what I think is the best conference in the state,” Tigers coach Sharon Gallant said. “Our KVAC B is very deep. … Nobody’s a cakewalk.”

Tuesday’s game changed shortly after Pushard put the Tigers ahead during a corner with 12:57 remaining. Cony immediately upped the pressure, and tied the game at 1 on a corner of its own. The Rams got the ball over to Freeman on the right side, and the sophomore slipped a shot past Cassidy Clark (nine saves) with 8:28 left in the period.

Cony’s Maci Freeman, left, and Gardiner’s Dewey Clary go for the ball during a field hockey game Tuesday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The ball goes to the top, we send it low and I just had a good angle,” Freeman said. “It felt amazing to get us back in the game, because just one goal can change the whole game. Right after that, we scored again.”

Indeed, Cony was back at it minutes later, with Madore, another sophomore, following up a pair of Clark saves with a goal from the left side with 5:45 remaining in the third.

“It felt really good. It really boosted our energy and really kept us going in the game. It felt like we had a little bit of an edge, but it really made us want to keep pushing,” Madore said. “We really didn’t want to let them have that energy going forward. We just kept pushing ourselves, we wanted to get it back.”

Cony held on from there, withstanding back-to-back Gardiner corners at the end of the third and then four more in the span of a minute and 20 seconds in the fourth. The Rams denied 11 of the Tigers’ 12 corner attempts, thanks in part to goalie play from Taylor Prebit (five saves).

“You hate to get behind, and it’s like ‘OK, now we’ve got to answer.’ The concept is pretty simple, we just need to outscore them,” Cony coach Holly Daigle said. “When we fall behind by a goal, we’ve got to work that much harder to get it back. I’m really proud of the way the girls responded to that. I think that fired them up.”

Cony celebrates tying it up 1-1 during the third quarter of a field hockey game Tuesday at Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Gardiner broke through first on a corner, with Bri Smith inserting up to Dewey Clary, who sent it back down to Pushard on the left near the cage for the score just over two minutes into the third.

The lead didn’t hold, but Gallant said her team is still learning.

“We have a number of newbies, and I think we’re making strides,” she said. “This is going to be a teaching year. … I’m happy anytime we match up well with teams that are going to be in it.”

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