LEWISTON — It was an eye-opener and reason enough to change strategy.
When the Messalonskee boys’ soccer team saw Lewiston play in the KVAC Championship game last weekend, the Eagles knew just what a daunting challenge it faced in Thursday’s Eastern A quarterfinal. They also knew some changes needed to be made.
“We watched them in the KVACs, and they looked pretty good,” said Messalonskee junior forward Nate DelGuidice. “They beat Bangor pretty handily. We knew we were in for a tough game. We practiced hard all week, and we were ready.”
The Eagles certainly were. Messalonskee’s defensive effort shutout second-seeded Lewiston and stunned the Blue Devils by winning the game in penalty kicks by a score of 4-2. Seventh-ranked Messalonskee advances to Saturday’s semifinal against Brunswick while one of the tourney’s favorites end their season.
“We just couldn’t finish,” said Lewiston coach Mike McGraw, whose team scored 41 goals and won 11 straight in the regular season before taking the KVAC title. “This game is not for the feint of heart. The kids remained positive all the way. Messalonskee is a very formidable opponent. They finally had everybody for once, and they’re just a great team and played with a lot of heart.”
The Eagles, who battled injury all year and faced must-win games down the stretch, saw Lewiston’s offensive prowess in the KVAC game. It prompted the Eagles (8-6-1) to shore up the defensive game plan in front of keeper Zach Sutherland, who had never played goal until this year and had been moved up to varsity just five games prior. Messalonskee moved players from the midfield back to defense in an effort to counter Lewiston’s speed and scoring punch.
“They’re strength is their offense and our strength is our defense,” said Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan.
Though Lewiston (12-3) had some great chances in overtime, the game remained scoreless after two 15-minute overtime periods. McGraw said he felt confident with his team when going to penalty kicks, but the Eagles hit their shots and Lewiston didn’t.
“When you go to penalty kicks, you throw everything out,” said McGraw. “It’s a matter of luck. It’s too bad it has to be that way. You’ve got to end the game somehow, especially with two teams playing well defensively and playing tough.”
Messalonskee missed its first shot when Jacob Erskine hit the right post. Shobow Saban drilled in his shot to put Lewiston ahead. The Eagles answered with a low shot from Wyatt Omsberg inside the right post. Lewiston’s Ali Hersi put his shot wide.
The Eagles took the lead when Chris Hall’s shot went in off goalie Scott Ouellette after a diving save. Lewiston tied it, 2-2, when Caleb Leino chipped one in off the keeper’s hands. Cameron Douglas put the Eagles ahead with a nice shot to the top right corner. Then Jon McDonough hit the crossbar for Lewison, leaving it at 3-2.
Del Guidice stepped up with a chance to win it. He hit a low shot that found the net inside the left post.
“I was trying not to think too much,” said Del Guidice. “There’s a lot of pressure. I just tried not to think about it and tried to place it. The rest of the shooters did a great job to get me there.”
Lewiston started out slowly in the game and was chasing Messalonskee for the first 15 minutes. The Blue Devils picked up the pace late in the half and played a strong second half.
“We started out a little flat, but we held strong and towards the end, we started to build a little momentum,” said McGraw. “It just wasn’t there. It just didn’t happen.”
Lewiston had some of its best chances in overtime. Eric Hall had a shot that got past the keeper, but Billy Blake saved the game by kicking the loose ball away. Jon McDonough, Hersi and Benji Saban all had great chances in overtime as Lewiston outshot the Eagles 7-3.
“The momentum was going against us right there,” said Sheridan. “They definitely had some chances there, and we were playing some boot ball, and that’s not how we like to play.”
In the second overtime, the Eagles got their wind back and levelled out the play again. Showbow Saban had a shot go just wide late in the period.
“We felt pretty good,” said Sheridan about the penalty kicks. “We won last time we were in the quarterfinals in penalty kicks two years ago against Edward Little. My seniors and juniors had been through it before and knew how to attack it.”