GARDINER — One long wait for the Lawrence field hockey team is finally over.

Now, after surviving a furious rally in a game they dominated in the early stages, the Bulldogs will look to end another.

Lawrence won the first regional title in program history Wednesday with a 4-3 victory over Belfast in the Class B North final at Gardiner’s Hoch Field. The win saw the Bulldogs withstand a late charge from the Lions to reach the state title game, where they’ll face Freeport (13-3-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

“This moment is just so amazing,” said Hope Bouchard, one of 11 Lawrence seniors. “This is what we’ve worked for all of last season and all of this season. … (Belfast) kept fighting, but we knew we could get it done if we calmed down and stuck with it, and that’s what we did.”

After Belfast controlled the ball in No. 1 Lawrence’s half over the first 10 minutes, the Bulldogs (17-0-0) scored first against the run of play with 4:34 left in the first quarter on a goal from Bouchard. Two and a half minutes later, Lawrence found itself up 2-0 as a strike from Ali Higgins doubled the lead.

Lawrence’s onslaught continued into the second quarter as Elizabeth Crommett poked one just over the line with 10 minutes left in the half to make it 3-0. Second-ranked Belfast (14-2-1) would have a couple of opportunities just before the break, but a first shot went just wide of the cage before a save from Gabbie Nickerson with a minute left kept the Lions scoreless.


Four minutes into the second half, though, Belfast broke through as Kara Richards buried a penalty stroke to give the Lions a lifeline. Although Jia Kao would score with five and a half minutes left in the period to restore the three-goal lead, Ava Markham would answer for Belfast five minutes later to cut it back to two.

“At 3-0 at half, we knew that it wasn’t going to be that easy; that wasn’t what was going to happen,” said Lawrence head coach Shawna Robinson. “We knew they were going to keep coming at us, and we were going to have to find a way to keep fighting and see it through to the end.”

Lawrence’s Maddie Niles, right, gets away from Belfast’s Mia Winslow in the Class B North field hockey championship game Wednesday at Hoch Field in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Lawrence would do so, but not before Belfast gave the Bulldogs a mighty scare. Despite going down a man after a penalty early in the fourth quarter, the Lions continued to push the ball inside the Lawrence 25. With Belfast at full strength, Breanna Shorey scored with 3:40 remaining to make it a one-goal game.

To Lawrence players and fans, the next three and a half minutes might as well have been a lifetime. Belfast kept pushing for the final goal, but the Bulldogs ultimately got through the final three minutes without allowing a major scoring threat to secure an elusive regional title.

“I was so scared; you have no idea,” Crommett said of the game’s final minutes. “I was just rushing back on defense to defend as fast as possible. I knew (Shorey) for them was going to keep on going, and if we didn’t give it our all, no one was going to stop her.”

The game was the second of the season between Lawrence and Belfast, who previously met back on Sept. 3 in Fairfield. That game was also a one-goal contest with the Bulldogs earning a 2-1 victory over the Lions in only the second game of the season.


Lawrence improved significantly after that game, going its next seven without allowing a goal. Yet the Bulldogs were also well aware that Belfast, which hadn’t lost since that meeting two months ago, had taken a massive leap forward of its own since that early-season showdown.

“We knew we were a better team than then, but they’re a better team than then, too,” Crommett said. “They’re very aggressive, and they’ve been that way for as long as I can even remember. We just had to battle through it, make passes for each other and work together as a team.”

Despite giving up the three second-half goals, Nickerson made some key plays after the break as she made a trio of saves to assuage the Belfast attack. Nikki Shorey recorded four saves in the cage for Belfast, which saw a 10-game winning streak snapped with the loss.

The win marked the first time all season that Lawrence, which had allowed only five goals this season entering Wednesday night, had given up more than one goal in a game. The Bulldogs had conceded three goals in the 15 games since the prior meeting with Belfast, which had been averaging 5.2 over the 10-game streak.

As is often the case in state championship games, Robinson acknowledged, it’s hard to know what to expect when Lawrence battles a Freeport team with which it’s played zero common opponents this season. After falling short in the regional final last year, the Bulldogs made it their goal not just to make amends in this game — but to add an 18th win in the one after that.

“We thought we had it last year after working so hard all season, so it means a lot more this year,” Bouchard said. “We came back and worked hard all this season to do this, and we still have one more to go.

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