Field hockey playoffs: No. 3 Spruce Mountain turns back No. 6 Poland in penalty corners

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JAY — Nicole Hamblin’s stare was nearly enough to draw a card.

Involved in a physical battle near midfield, the Spruce Mountain sniper echoed her team’s sentiments of frustration. Quickly, the coaching staff noticed it, and pulled her onto the sideline for a breather and a pep talk.

About an hour later, Hamblin was the hero.

After neither team found the cage through a pair of overtime periods, it was Hamblin who collected the ball on the backhand and lofted a reverse stick shot into the top left corner to give Spruce Mountain a 1-0 win over Poland in their Western Class B quarterfinal match on Tuesday.

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“I like to go to the reverse stick a lot,” Hamblin said. “I just don’t usually have the time to get my feet around, so it’s much faster. I just took a step and I flicked it. There wasn’t much room at all. I was just trying to get it to that left corner, and I was a little lucky it went right there.”

“We’ve talked about it before, how she’s a go-to player for us,” Spruce Mountain co-coach Jane DiPompo said. “She did what she needed to do. She was determined today. She really wanted it, and you could tell.”

Poland, the No. 6 seed out of the Western Maine Conference, had the first crack at the cage in the penalty corner round, but the Knights pushed the ball wide left after just a few seconds of digging down low.

“It was such a great field hockey game, not only to coach in, but to watch,” Poland coach Amy Hediger said. “It was like a state game I went to a couple years ago. It was just fast paced, ball-to-ball, hit-to-hit, back and forth.”

That the game reached penalty corners at all was a testament to the teams’ abilities on defense and in the cage.

In regulation, the Poland defense — in particular keeper Tia Lowndes and fullback Abbie L’Italien — held strong. The Spruce Mountain attack fired six shots on Lowndes in the first half, and another 12 in the second. The first-year keeper turned back 15 shots in all, while L’Italien saved at least three sure goals off the back line behind her.

“Abbie is just all-in, 100 percent all of the time,” Hediger said. “She’s tenacious and driven, and she throws herself wherever she needs to be to stop the ball when she’s back there.

“And Tia is just a first year goalie who came to us in the spring and wanted to strap on the pads,” Hediger continued. “She has really evolved since then. We worked with her a lot in the past few weeks to become more three-dimensional, to play more aggressively. It all came together for her today.”

Lowndes turned back two 2-on-0s in the extra sessions, both times ranging far from the cage and appearing to startle the Spruce Mountain attackers.

On the other end, Grace Ryan faced just one shot in regulation, but was busy in the OT sessions.

“I knew I just had to save them all,” Ryan said. “No matter what. I’m just thankful for my defense for being there with me and getting back to help out.

“It was great the offense and defense kept it out of our end all game, but I think we got a bit tired closer to the end, and I got more shots because of it,” Ryan added.

“She’s such a focused individual,” DiPompo said of Ryan. “Her work ethic is second-to-none. Even during practice, when we’re on the other end, she’ll be busy doing drills that we’d talked about by herself.”

The win advanced the third-seeded Phoenix to the Western Class B semifinals, where they will face the Leavitt Hornets, 4-0 winners over Freeport on Tuesday. Leavitt came from behind to top Spruce Mountain in Jay late in the regular season.

“We’re really excited to play them again,” Hamblin said. “We know they’re a good team, a tough team, and we’re happy to get another chance to play them.”

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