HAMPDEN — It hasn’t been too often this year that the Bucksport girls’ soccer team has had to grind out victories.
With only a few exceptions, most of Bucksport’s games this season have been over before halftime. Entering Tuesday afternoon, in fact, the Golden Bucks had outscored their opponents by an average of 8.2 goals per game this season with all but three of their 16 wins coming by five goals or more.
Playing for a Northern Maine championship, though, Bucksport found itself locked in the tightest contest of the entire season against a team with strong passing, organization and speed. Yet while the pace, energy and competition were different, the Golden Bucks got what they needed to win the program’s second regional title.
Bucksport defeated Fort Kent 1-0 in Tuesday’s Class C North championship game at Hampden Academy. The Golden Bucks got a goal from Natasha Monreal against the run of play and fended off the Warriors’ scoring chances to bring home a gold-plated plaque and cement a place in this weekend’s state final.
“This was such a tough game,” said Monreal, whose team’s win denied Fort Kent a third straight regional championship. “To win a game like this and be the [Northern Maine] champions, it’s just amazing. I can’t put it into words, honestly.”
No. 1 Bucksport (17-0) produced two scoring opportunities in the opening quarter-hour, the latter of which came when Ella Hosford forced a great save from the goalkeeper on 13 minutes. Second-ranked Fort Kent responded by firing just wide moments before the midway mark in the half and just high with 17 minutes remaining.
Those chances were part of a spell in which Fort Kent (15-2) controlled the ball in the Bucksport half over approximately 15 minutes. Yet for all of the Warriors’ possession, it was the Golden Bucks who went ahead when Monreal got the ball on the left flank, bolted past the Fort Kent defense and found the right side of the net with 7:09 left in the half.
“I just happened to be in a great spot, and my team did a great job of clearing the ball up the field so I could make a run toward it,” Monreal said. “I just took the opportunity to sprint by the defender and shoot it.”
After Fort Kent sent a great scoring chance off the football crossbar with three minutes left in the first half, the two teams found themselves on even footing over the first 20 minutes of the second. Bucksport then got a clutch block from Nettie Fox before goalkeeper Jetta Shook made a pair of key saves with 16 and 13 minutes to go.
“This is a girl who didn’t play middle school goalie at all, and she came out with us in the summer and said, ‘Oh, you need a goalie? OK, I’ll play goalie for you,’” Bucksport head coach Garcelon said of Shook. “She has been amazing for us ever since. She has the most focus I’ve ever seen in a keeper.”
Bucksport regained its footing in the final minutes and melted the clock by passing the ball around the middle and attacking thirds and winning a series of throw-ins and corners. By the time Fort Kent moved the ball into the attacking half, there was too little time for the Warriors to mount a serious threat on goal.
The 1-0 win was the second by that scoreline this year for Bucksport, which had previously defeated Central by such a count Oct. 8. The Golden Bucks had done plenty of scouting on Fort Kent, but the Warriors’ strong effort over 80 minutes still posed major challenges for Garcelon’s squad.
“Their speed was a little bit better than I thought it was going to be, and their defense was a little bit better than I’d seen in a couple of their games,” Garcelon said. “They played an excellent game. They’re a very focused, well-disciplined team.”
The regional title win was the second for Bucksport, which previously won the Class B East championship in 2002. Garcelon and several assistant coaches roamed the Hampden turf sidelines wearing jackets commemorating that Eastern Maine triumph.
Bucksport will make the long jaunt to Presque Isle this weekend for the Class C championship game. The state final, which will pit the Golden Bucks against Class C South No. 3 Maranacook (15-1-1) is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, at Presque Isle Middle School’s Gehrig Johnson Sports Complex.
If Fort Kent was a challenging opponent for Bucksport, Maranacook will be even more so. The Black Bears, who have also conceded just nine goals all season, have amassed their impressive record despite playing a schedule loaded with some of the state’s top teams.
Still, undefeated Bucksport certainly boasts an impressive résumé of its own. Faced with what will easily be their longest road trip of the season, the Golden Bucks are aiming to ensure the 180-mile trip back from Presque Isle is a celebratory one.
“[We’re concentrated on] winning,” Shook said. “We’re absolutely focused on winning and destroying, and our girls can do that.”