State-bound: Lions set to defend crown versus LeavittBAHS captures second straight regional championship, play for title Oct. 27
Hampden — The Belfast field hockey team so enjoyed last year's experience the Lions decided to repeat their fun in 2012 and promptly went out and won their second straight Eastern Class B title and now they have the opportunity to win another state championship.
All of that was made possible when the No. 1 Lions (14-1-2) forged a 2-1 regional championship victory over No. 3 Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft (14-3) on Tuesday night, Oct. 23 on the artificial surface under the lights at Hampden Academy.
It was the same venue that BAHS won the regional crown last year, that time over Nokomis of Newport.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Belfast coach Allen Holmes, in his 40th year guiding the team, of winning a second straight regional title. “If you’d told me this in June I would have said, ‘I’ll take it, but I don’t think so.’ It was a lot of hard work. Luck is interlaced with effort and we certainly had some of that tonight.”
With the victory, the Lions advance to the state Class B championship game on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. at the University of Maine in Orono. Belfast will face Western Class B champion Leavitt of Turner (14-3), the No. 3 seed in Western Class B.
The Hornets earned a 1-0 win over No. 4 York (12-4-1) in the Western Class B finals. York was last year's Western Class B champion and lost to Belfast 2-1 in the state title game.
The Lions defeated Leavitt 2-0 in their lone meeting of this regular season.
On Tuesday night in the regional final, Logan Blood and Maddy Cummings notched goals and Lexi Nelligan had two assists and Cummings one to key the Lions past the Ponies.
Monica Miles, on an assist from Lindsay Arno, scored for Foxcroft Academy.
All three goals came in the first 18 minutes of the first half, while the second 30 minutes of play was a scoreless battle.
Belfast held an 8-5 edge in shots and 4-3 advantage in penalty corners. Julia Ward made two saves in the Lion cage and Avery Carroll five in the Pony goal.
Cummings, who also scored the game-winning goal in last year's regional final against Nokomis, was excited to be going back to the state finals.
“We didn’t know how good we’d be this year after losing a lot of our starters from last year,” said Cummings. “The bench girls from last year really stepped it up and filled the spots really well.”
One of those girls was Blood, a key reserve last year promoted to starter this season, who scored the tying goal later in the first half against Foxcroft Academy Tuesday.
Foxcroft Academy took a 1-0 lead when Miles scored with 22:23 left in the first half on the second penalty corner in as many minutes for the Ponies. Arno inserted to Miles, who fired a bullet to beat Ward, to give the lower-seeded team the early lead.
Holmes called a timeout following the Foxcroft Academy goal, which helped hone the team’s focus.
“He’s pretty good at inspiring us once we get in those situations,” said Cummings. “We really listen to him.”
The timeout proved beneficial as the Lions responded minutes later when Cummings initially put a shot on goal that Carroll saved but the ball bounded back to Blood, who batted home the tying goal with 15:37 remaining.
“It was really exciting to tie it up and get us back in it,” said Blood. “It helped get us back on track.”
"It’s hard,” said Ward of giving up the game’s first goal. “It makes you start to think, ‘What’s the game going to come to?’ But when [Logan] scored that goal it was a fresh start.”
Cummings, a junior who has had a bundle of goals already in her young career, added one of her own minutes later, on an assist from Nelligan, that she fired from the top of the circle with 12:16 remaining to put the Lions up for good.
Holmes said Ward buckled down in front of her team's stellar defense after giving up the early goal to the Ponies.
“You can’t tell what’s going on behind that mask,” said Holmes of his senior goaltender. “She doesn’t like to get scored on. Her forte is once we’re tied or we get a lead, she shuts the door. When we tied it up I said, 'O.K., Julia’s going to be tough from here on in.’ Then we got the other [goal] and had a little momentum going for us in the first half.”
Holmes said Blood "was on tonight" not just with her goal, but with many defensive clears, including a few crucial hits in the game's waning minutes. The veteran coach also said Nelligan "was all over the field in the first half" and her performance was "the best I've seen her play."
Now the Lions are in search of their second straight state Class B championship.
And if the feeling of winning a second straight regional crown is any indicator, the girls feel it would be that much sweeter the second time around.
“Last year no one expected us to do anything, so its kind of more exciting this year I think,” said Cummings. “Last year we didn’t expect it and it was a great surprise. This year we had all the pressure on us throughout the whole season, so it was awesome to come out and get the win.”
“It feels great,” said Ward. “We worked really hard this season and we were hoping to make it [back to the state game] and we did. Our hard work paid off.”
Winning a second straight state crown would be a fitting tribute to Belfast coach Holmes in his fourth decade leading the Lions. Holmes has a career mark of 433-161-43 (not including this year's Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game). He has guided the Lions to 13 regional crowns (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1989, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012) and seven state crowns (1979, 1985, 1989, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011).
Belfast does not play Foxcroft Academy during the regular season but did play the Ponies in last year's regional playoffs in a game that was not decided until regulation and overtime play was finished and after 20 rounds of penalty corners. The Lions won 1-0.
Earlier in this year's playoffs, Belfast beat No. 8 Gardiner 3-2 and No. 5 Mount View 1-0. Foxcroft Academy downed No. 6 John Bapst of Bangor 2-0 in the quarterfinals and No. 2 Nokomis of Newport 2-1 in the semifinals.
This season, Belfast has outscored opponents 47-16 in 17 games, with five shutouts and has been shut out only once. The Lions lost to Gardiner 3-0 and tied both Oceanside and Mount View 1-1 during the regular season.
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