TOPSHAM — A small change in strategy paid off in a big way for the Maine Central Institute field hockey team.

Gracie Moore and Ella Bernier tallied goals, and the top-ranked Huskies defeated No. 2 Foxcroft Academy 2-0 in the Class C North final at Mt. Ararat High School on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s back to the state final for MCI (15-1-0), which won a Class C title in 2015 and B title in 2017 while making three straight championship game appearances.

“It’s amazing. All the hard work is paying off,” said Moore, who added an assist on Bernier’s goal. “Right from the beginning of the season, we knew we could do something big this year.”

MCI never lost command of the game, but it took the Huskies a little while to gain it. Two shots on goal were all MCI mustered during a scoreless first quarter, and coach Nancy Hughes knew an adjustment was needed for the Huskies’ potent offense to reach full power.

“We preach and preach and preach to play the small-passing, pass-with-a-purpose kind of game,” Hughes said. “We got caught a little bit in the first quarter trying to make the big hits, and that just doesn’t work on turf. It just doesn’t work for the style of team we are.”

Things changed in the second quarter, as MCI began to consistently work its way into the Foxcroft end. The Huskies got their first corner early in the period, and Moore got the insert from Ella Louder and fired a shot on net. Bernier was standing right by the post and redirected the shot in with 9:13 left, putting MCI up 1-0.

Maine Central Institute’s Gracie Moore fires a shot on Foxcroft Academy goalie Destiny Weymouth during the Class C North field hockey championship game Wednesday afternoon in Topsham. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I just had a tip after the hard drive at the goal, and it went in,” Bernier said. “I try my best to move around and position myself to put the goal in. … It felt awesome to score so early and be ahead.”

Moore got the goal on MCI’s next score. The Huskies crashed the net, and a shot by Trinity Leavitt found its way to Moore, who knocked the ball into the cage with 6:43 left in the quarter.

“It bounced off the goalie’s pads, and I was just there with my stick down,” Moore said. “Being aggressive in the circle has definitely been a big (emphasis), always going to the ball and always being aggressive.”

Moore almost had a second goal later in the quarter — she got the insert on MCI’s second corner and smoked a shot that slammed into the back of the cage, but was denied a goal because she didn’t get the ball back over the line before shooting.

“She scored two like that against Spruce Mountain, and then they just stopped coming out on her,” Hughes said. “It’s a weapon. And the thing about her is she gets so focused on it. She goes into another zone.”

Maine Central Institute coach Nancy Hughes reacts after her team scored a goal during the Class C North field hockey championship game against Foxcroft Academy on Wednesday afternoon in Topsham. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

No goal, but no matter — MCI had the game under control.

“That’s the thing for us, the first quarter is kind of this feeling it out (process),” Moore said. “And then we really go after it.”

Foxcroft couldn’t get enough counter-attacks going. MCI kept the ball in the Ponies’ side of the field, and when Foxcroft did get its offense in gear, a Huskies defense that has now allowed 12 goals in 16 games held steady.

“I think MCI was a very skilled team, and they outplayed us today. We didn’t play our best,” said Foxcroft coach Stephanie Smith, whose team got eight saves from Destiny Weymouth. “They went to the ball and tackled very well. They’re a strong team. … Unfortunately the girls were nerved up. I wish they had come back and worked hard on it, because they have the ability. They just didn’t bring it today.”

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