TOPSHAM — The Class A North final ended the way it always does for the Skowhegan field hockey team. Even if it started the way none of them do.

Freshman Sydalia Savage scored the game-winning goal with 3:52 to play, and the top-ranked River Hawks topped Oxford Hills 2-1 at Mt. Ararat High School on Wednesday night, earning their 20th consecutive regional championship.

“It’s amazing,” said Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty, whose team also got a goal from Layla Conway en route to improving to 17-0-0. “Our kids are young, and you can tell. When they get up, they get nervous. But they pulled it off. We had a sophomore and a freshman score today.”

The freshman scored as the clock was running down in Skowhegan’s toughest test in a regional final in five years. The River Hawks were stymied on their first 11 corner attempts, but as Conway inserted to start the 12th, she had a feeling this one was going to be different.

“As soon as I inserted it, I kind of knew ‘OK guys, we’ve got this,'” she said. “I knew that was our moment.”

The ball went to Samantha Thebarge, whose shot from the top of the circle was knocked down and over to Savage. Her follow-up found the net, giving Skowhegan its first lead of the game.

“It’s pretty crazy,” a beaming Savage said. “I just took a deep breath and I was like ‘I can do this.’ And I did. … I thought it wasn’t going to go in. I thought it wasn’t going to go in, I thought it was going to be off the goalie and Layla would probably hit it in.”

But to be the one that gets the game-winner for a trip to a state final? As a freshman, no less?

“It was insane,” she said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve used ‘amazing’ and ‘insane.'”

Skowhegan pulled it off, yet again, despite dealing with a scenario the River Hawks just don’t see in the regional final. When the Vikings’ Alison Slicer scored with 5:43 to go in the first half, Skowhegan found itself trailing an A North final for the first time in more than a decade.

It was a completely different situation for the River Hawks. But they knew right away how to handle it. Skowhegan went on the attack, generating five corners over the final minutes of the first quarter and first few minutes of the second, challenging constantly for the tying tally.

“When they scored, it was like ‘Whoa, what just happened?'” Conway said. “(But) we just kind of stayed calm. … It was like ‘OK guys, we need to kind of step it up.'”

The pressure paid off early in the second. Norrie Tibbetts brought the ball down the right side and slid a centering pass through the circle to Conway, and the sophomore got a shot past goalie Gabrielle Wright (nine saves) with 9:49 to go in the second.

“I knew she was going to pass to me. We work on that a lot, so I was really prepared,” Conway said. “I saw the open cage and I got it in. It took a couple of shots … (but) I pushed it in at the end.”

Oxford Hills didn’t wilt, managing to generate opportunities of its own over the next two quarters. On the Vikings’ third corner late in the third, a follow-up shot on a save by Lanie Vanedistine (four saves) went just right of the net, and on their fifth corner with 8:44 left in the fourth, Tristen Derenburzger got the ball past the Skowhegan flier but couldn’t get a shot through the crowd in front.

“Oxford Hills played the best game today I’ve ever seen them play, ever,” Doughty said. “They were quick, (Slicer) is just an amazing little player, their outlet passes, (Vikings coach) Cindy Goddard did a great job preparing for this game. It could have gone either way, it really could have.”

Goddard said Oxford Hills focused on taking away Skowhegan’s long passes and lifting the ball over the River Hawks’ sticks. It was nearly enough to snap the state’s most remarkable streak.

“I don’t think we could be prouder of how they played today,” Goddard said. “They executed the game plan that we had, they played hard. I thought it was evenly matched. Everything we asked them to do, they did.”


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