ASHLAND – In the minutes leading up to Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class D championship, Van Buren coach Steve Lapierre preached to his team the importance of keeping fouls to a minimum.
The message didn’t appear to register immediately, but over the final 70 minutes, the Crusaders certainly paid attention and it helped translate into a 1-0 victory over No. 1-ranked Ashland.
“We told the kids that we can’t give them direct and indirect kicks,” Lapierre said. “That’s a free shot on goal or a setup for a play, and if we [fouled], they are going to end up getting plays and something is going to happen.
“I think in the first 10 minutes we gave up five or six of them, but the rest of the game we may have given them two. That was the difference.”
Ashland junior striker Tyler Cote was on the receiving end of one of those early indirect kicks, but his shot attempt from in close three minutes into the game was far right. The Hornets made a couple of other offensive surges before Van Buren began taking over.
Crusader striker Alex Martin scored the game’s only goal with 13:38 to play in the first half to send second-seeded Van Buren, 15-0-2, into Saturday’s state final vs. Richmond, which defeated Greater Portland Christian 5-0 Friday in the Western Maine final.
Martin lined a hard shot from the 18-yard line toward the left side of the goal, past the diving attempt for the save by Ashland goalkeeper Kevin Baker, to put Van Buren ahead.
“I got a pass to the middle and I just turned and got away from my defender and drilled one,” said Martin, who received the pass from halfback Craig St. Pierre.
Meanwhile, Van Buren dominated in all phases, from 15 minutes prior to the winning goal to the final horn. The Crusaders enjoyed a 26-3 advantage in shots on goal by using the stellar play of center halfback Riley Lizotte along with his fellow midfielders and defenders to keep the home team in check.
“Riley did a great job of covering both sides of the field,” Lapierre said, “and the rest of the guys back there were solid.”
Andrew Taylor made just three saves in recording the shutout for the Crusaders, who last year fell to Bangor Christian in the Eastern Maine title game.
Ashland, which had a loss and a tie against Van Buren in their regular-season meetings and finished 13-2-2, was unable to mount a consistent attack in Saturday’s defeat.
“They were able to bottle up our scorers,” said Hornets coach Kevin Paradis. “We didn’t get any really good looks at it.”
Ashland’s day was highlighted by a supreme effort from its goalkeeper. Baker turned away 25 shots, many on fine athletic plays, to help keep the Hornets close.
“He’s a very good goalie,” Martin said. “We hit the ball hard at him several times and he always came up with it.”
Ashland was appearing in its first regional championship since 1997, when it went on to claim the state title.