ORONO, Maine — All season long, the Leavitt High School field hockey team demonstrated the ability to prevail in one-goal games.
The Hornets went into Saturday’s Class B state championship game having won eight of 10 one-goal games in 2012. That pressure-packed experience came in handy.
Junior Brianna DeGone blistered a shot past Belfast goalkeeper Julia Ward from about 10 yards out with 18:08 to play, lifting Leavitt of Turner to a 1-0 victory over Belfast at the University of Maine’s Morse Field.
“We don’t win by much,” DeGone said. “We’re used to holding onto that one-goal lead. Once you get ahead 1-0, you know the other team wants it more than they did at 0-0.”
Coach Wanda Ward-MacLean’s 15-3 Hornets claimed the program’s second state championship and its first since 1996.
The Western Maine champion Hornets avenged a 2-0 regular-season loss to the Lions on Oct. 2.
Eastern Maine titlist Belfast (14-2-2), the 2011 state champ, wasn’t able to get the ball past Hornets goalkeeper Sierra Santomango, who made five saves.
“We went right at them and played to the end and that’s been one of our [trademarks] in the last 40 years,” said Belfast coach Allen Holmes.
“It’s a funny game,” he added. “You outshoot them, you out-corner them. If you don’t score, it’s hard to win.”
Holmes, who has coached the Lions for all of their 40 seasons and has amassed more than 400 victories, would neither confirm nor deny that he is planning to step down.
“I’ll let you know in a while, but we’re getting closer to the end, yup,” Holmes said. “My wife [of 43 years, Ruth] told me not to say anything yet, so I’m not saying either way.”
Holmes led his teams to 12 regional titles and seven state championships, but the Hornets spoiled what might have been the final game for Holmes and his seven seniors.
Leavitt came out in a higher gear to open the second half. Its collective motivation stemmed from its first meeting with the Lions.
“They came out in the first five minutes of the second half, scored twice on us, so that was huge motivation for us to not back down [this time],” DeGone explained.
Less than two minutes into the half, Emma Martineau flipped a shot from 25 yards out that deflected off the stick of a teammate in front of the goal, then ricocheted past another teammate stationed near the far post.
Belfast threatened less than eight minutes later when Maddie Cummings stole the ball from a Leavitt player in the corner and made an end-line push toward the goal. Her shot was rejected by Santomango.
Exactly two minutes later, the Hornets converted shortly after their fourth and final penalty corner.
“I had it at the top of the circle,” said Emily Shaw. “I hit it through the [defender’s] legs and Bri DeGone was there and she just drilled it into the net. It was a perfect shot.”
The thigh-high blast beat Belfast goalie Julia Ward (4 saves) to her right.
“That’s a move that we just learned two days ago,” DeGone said of the shot. “We shoot off the back foot, so it [the ball] gets in that area between [the opponent’s] stick and her foot, and it worked.”
Belfast responded with some hard-charging offensive pushes later in the game, but Santomango made two crucial stops on shots by Belfast senior Katrina Lapham during a flurry with less than two minutes remaining.
“At Hampden [against Foxcroft Academy] we were down by one and it really made the difference trying to get back in the game],” said Belfast senior Logan Blood. “That was our motivation, to come back. They held strong, though.”
Belfast outshot Leavitt 9-7 overall.
Senior Morgan Shaw, who was shifted to the back after a recent injury to Annie Castonguay, along with tenacious freshman Kierstin Leclerc and Emily Shaw, were key performers for the Hornets.
Cummings, Kelsey Grass, Lexi Nelligan and Blood carried much of the action for the Lions.