A strong move from Kierstin Leclerc at the top of the arc drew all of Spruce Mountain’s defenders from the goalmouth, though, and Leclerc relayed an Emma Martineau drive to Royer on the right side. Royer settled the ball and wristed it past Spruce Mountain goalie Grace Ryan with 9:04 to play in regulation, lifting the visiting Hornets to an important 2-1 win over the Phoenix in a KVAC and Western Class B field hockey showdown.

“This game was super important,” Leavitt coach Wanda Ward-McLean said. “They started the day second and we were in third, and if we wanted the chance to go to second, we had to beat them. These are exciting games. You like these games at the end of the season, when they mean something.”

When Royer caught the ball in the circle for the game-winner, she expected an immediate challenge. None came.

“I was kind of creeping up and hoping to a spot to cut to in open space,” Royer said. “When I got it, we had been told that their goalie is really quick when she comes out to challenge. I didn’t want to keep it on the ground. I wanted to try and lift it to the other corner. And no one came to me, so I still lifted it into the corner and it went in. I don’t know how, but it did.”

“She better not miss that,” Ward-McLean said with a smile. “Especially with her being a senior and all that. We had the ball in the middle and it popped out to the side, and they didn’t, I don’t know if they didn’t see her, or they were too concentrated in the middle, but she was wide open.”

The Phoenix pushed back in the final nine minutes, earning a pair of penalty corner opportunities, but Leavitt keeper Ashley Kelley and the defenders around her closed the curtain on a hard-fought, physical battle that meant a lot to both sides. Thursday was the first time the schools — which draw from neighboring towns — have squared off since Jay and Livermore Falls merged into Spruce Mountain. It’s also the first time in nearly two decades Leavitt has faced a team from Jay or Livermore Falls since the Hornets left the Mountain Valley Conference for the KVAC in 1999.

“Wanda kind of wrote the book on going from the MVC to the KVAC,” DiPompo said. “She and the team worked hard, and they made the transition, not easily, but they built a fantastic program, and we’ve watched that. It was kind of a blueprint for us. We’ve been paying attention.”

“We were definitely looking forward to this game the whole season,” Royer said, “because we’ve always played them in the summer, and they played a team or two that we played last year, too. But we were really excited to see how we’d do (Thursday).”

In addition to an inaugural meeting, Thursday’s clash was important in the Western Class B playoff picture. With the win, Leavitt is now in a dead heat with Spruce Mountain for second place behind unbeaten York High School.

“Everybody’s looking at Heal Points, everybody’s trying to figure out who they’re going to play,” DiPompo said. “It’s time for the tournaments to start, and it’s time for that intensity.”

The Hornets (9-3-1) started Thursday’s contest strong, but couldn’t solve Ryan or the Spruce Mountain defense. The Phoenix (10-3-0), ever the opportunists, struck first when Nicole Hamblin redirected a deflected ball out of the air and past Kelley with 11:02 to play in the opening half.

“She’s been our senior go-to, our captain all year,” DiPompo said. “We look to her to pull out a lot of tricks like that, and she does so, often.”

“We dominated early but couldn’t put it in, and the second part of the half, they kept the pressure on us,” Ward-McLean said. “They were more aggressive than we were toward the end of the first half.”

Leavitt hit the post behind Ryan in the eighth minute of the second half. Following a halftime pep talk from Ward-McLean, the Hornets were pressing hard.

“During halftime, coach was motivating us so much more, and we just wanted to come out and push through,” Royer said.

“There was a big swing there in the second half,” DiPompo said. “We couldn’t seem to regain that intensity.”

Kaitlyn Leclerc earned the tying goal when she tipped her sister’s shot from near the top of the circle. Kierstin’s shot pinballed off Kaitlyn’s stick in front and past a diving keeper to knot the game at 1-1 with 16:43 to play, setting the table for Royer’s winner seven minutes later.

“I was proud how we came out and brought the intensity,” Ward-McLean said. “Sometimes, at the beginning of the second half, we don’t. But we did this time, and maintained it through the half.”

The Hornets host East B No. 2 Oceanside (10-3-0) on Tuesday to cap their regular season, while the Phoenix travel to East B No. 1 Gardiner (11-1-1), also on Tuesday.

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