With the victory, the Shires (13-1-2) advanced to Wednesday’s Class C North championship against top-ranked Orono (12-1-3) at 2:30 p.m. Penquis ends its season with a 10-5-1 record.
Wednesday’s regional championship marks the third time on the season that Houlton and Orono have met. But unlike their previous encounters, this time a winner will be decided. Houlton and Orono battled to two stalemates during the regular season — a 1-1 tie at Houlton Sept. 17 and a 0-0 tie at Orono Oct. 15.
Shire coach Tim Tweedie knows all too well the feeling of coming out on the losing end of game decided by penalty kicks. Two years ago, in the Class C championship, Houlton lost to Fort Kent in a game that went to penalty kicks. Prior to that, the Shires lost to Calais in similar fashion six years ago.
Since that time, coach Tweedie has been determined to have his team prepared for a similar scenario for the postseason, by having players take multiple penalty kicks during the practices leading up to the playoffs.
So when Saturday’s Class C semifinal against Penquis went scoreless through regulation and two 15-minute overtime periods, the Shire coach was confident his squad was ready, but yet the nervousness remained.
“I think the kids were a little bit nervous in the first half because we didn’t play as well as we did in our quarterfinal game with Fort Kent,” Tweedie said. “We dominated, statistically, but couldn’t get anything to go.”
After two scoreless 40-minute halves, and two 15-minute overtime sessions, the Shires were once again faced with a playoff game decided by penalty kicks. Coach Tweedie then pulled something unexpected as he replaced Houlton goalkeeper Aspen Flewelling in favor of junior standout athlete Kolleen Bouchard.Flewelling served as Houlton’s goalie for the final three games of the regular season after starting goalie Tessa Solomon suffered a season-ending injury in a game against Madawaska.
“Aspen has done a tremendous job since taking over as goalie, posting three shutouts in the final four games,” the coach said. “We had started talking a few weeks ago, even if Tessa was healthy, that we would probably go with Kolleen in goal.”
The reason for the move was two-fold, he said.
“Kolleen is very well known [throughout the state] and we thought could make our opponent nervous and cause them to overthink things trying to be perfect,” he said. “Kolleen also has really long arms and is very athletic, but it was mostly psychological. We wanted them to think ‘Why are they doing this?’”
The coach also did something else unexpected in selecting which five players would take penalty kicks for the Shires. Coach Tweedie turned to senior Rebecca Mooers, who had not played a single minute in the game, and had her take the team’s fifth, and final penalty kick. The senior delivered as she produced what turned out to be the winning kick over Penquis.
“We thought she was solid in practice taking kicks and could handle the moment,” coach Tweedie said. “About a month ago, at the end of every practice, we started having most kids take kicks. You then get a feel for who is strong at it and who is not.”
In Saturday’s game, Bouchard, Tyra Gentle, Mia Hanning, Flewelling and Mooers were selected to take kicks. The Shires won the coin flip and opted to go first in the competition to put additional pressure on Penquis. Hanning, Flewelling and Mooers made their kicks to win the shootout 3-2.
In the first half, Houlton outshot Penquis 8-2, but a number of the Shires’ shots clanked off the goal post, while others were directly at Penquis keeper Jordan Durant.
“I feel we played much better in the second half, outshooting them 11-1, but we still couldn’t get one to go,” Tweedie said.
He attributed the lack of scoring to Penquis’ game plan of packing the defense, making it difficult to develop passing lanes for the speedy Shires.
In overtime, Tweedie said he tried to settle the jitters that popped back up in the game.
“I told the girls, ‘Don’t let the moment get too big. Just keep doing what we are doing.’” Tweedie said.
Considering the team lost nine seniors a year ago, making it back to the regional championship this year was a pleasant surprise for the Shires.
Members of the Houlton squad include seniors Mackenzie Hunt, Emma Peterson, Chloe Davis, Morgan Grant and Hannah Foley; juniors Kolleen Bouchard, Mia Hanning, Aspen Flewelling, Tyra Gentle, Alexis Miller, Claire Gilpatrick, Anessa Wilde, Rebecca Mooers and Carolyn Mooers; sophomores Jamie Brown and Tessa Solomon; and freshmen Amelia Ivey, Sierra Hoops and Samantha Condon.