AUBURN — With each near-miss, Caroline Gastonguay made an adjustment.
The St. Dom’s freshman had a pair of prime chances early in Saturday’s Western C preliminary game. When she didn’t score on those, she didn’t fret or dwell on what could have been. She prepared herself for the next opportunity.
“I adjusted each time,” Gastonguay said. “I turned my body a different way than I did before. The first time, I was turned not facing the goal. Then I turned toward the goal.”
When a loose ball bounced around the goalmouth and worked its way back to the left side, Gastonguay was ready. She buried it to give the Saints the early lead and St. Dom’s went on to a 3-0 victory over Dirigo in a Western C preliminary game.
“I definitely liked the pressure,” St. Dom’s coach Alicia Pelletier said. “When you have a freshman up front taking those chances, it’s going to take some time to get her to click. She made some adjustments and finally finished that one off. She’s been coming on strong all year and been working hard.”
Senior Faith Grady netted two more for the Saints while the defense in front of keeper Nicole Robitaille was stellar in producing a fifth shutout. Sam Ladd was superb in back while freshmen Madison Leslie and Madison Richard, along with veteran Kym Johnson, provided support.
“I was starting two freshmen because of injuries,” Pelletier said. “Both my little defenders did a great job. They’ve really come on strong all year. Those freshmen are stepping up and filling some big shoes.”
The Saints advance to Wednesay’s semifinal and host Maranacook (11-3-1), which defeated Mt. Abram on Saturday.
The Saints had a number of quality chances in the first few minutes of play. Grady had a bid, but Dirigo keeper Mariah LaFleur made back-to-back saves on her. Grady later beat a pair of defenders and put a shot over the net. Grady also had a cross that found Gastonguay open at the left side of the net with an open goal. It glanced off Gastonguay but went wide. Gastonguay had a similar opportunity a few minutes later and just missed that one as well.
Then after a shot hit the left post, Dirigo struggled to clear it. Three different Cougars had a chance to kick it away but couldn’t. The ball eventually made it’s way back toward Gastonguay for a 1-0 lead at 9:59.
“I wasn’t sure where it was going,” Gastonguay said. “I just tried to run onto it and it went in.”
Dirigo (6-9) struggled to get much of a counter attack going against the Saints (12-3). Though the Cougars were still within striking distance, they got some good rushes from Sabrina Daoud and Ellie Jasper but couldn’t produce the kind of pressure it needed.
“It’s a little harder to get things rolling against a team like that,” said Dirigo coach Dave Buck. “I thought, for the most part, we got the chances that we made, which wasn’t a lot. Toward the end, we had a few opportunities.”
Dirigo picked up its pace in the second half and started to possess more, but the Saints didn’t let down.
“We wanted to play for the seniors,” Grady, the MVC Player of the Year, said. “We didn’t want it to be our last game. So we knew we had to come out with intensity. Even when we did get the lead, we knew we couldn’t sit on it.”
Grady made it 2-0 at 10:45 of the second half. She gained possession of the ball, made a quick move past a defender to the right and fired it into the net.
“Coach has been telling me that I’m very predictable,” Grady said. “I try to use my speed to my advantage. I try to work on my foot skills. So when I get open space, I try not to just pass around them. I’m trying to work on footwork.”
Dirigo had some shots from Daoud and Jasper later in the half and even had a shot hit the crossbar late in the game.
Grady made it 3-0 with 10:02 left. She was tripped in the penalty area and chipped in a penalty kick to the right.
Dirigo had lost four straight before back-to-back wins secured the final playoff spot in Western C. The Cougars have just five seniors and a wealth of juniors and sophomores coming back.
“All in all, I think we’re rebuilding in our image and trying to get back to being more of a control-type team,” said Buck. “They need to play more together. We’ve just a bunch of juniors. So next year should be good.”