Having already faced — and beaten — Western titlist Leavitt of Turner during the regular season, Eastern champion Belfast knew what to expect heading into the Saturday afternoon, Oct. 27 state Class B field hockey championship game as the confident Lions  searched for their second straight state title.

Unfortunately for the Lions, the Hornets also knew what to expect and proved to learn from their 2-0 regular-season loss Oct. 2 in Belfast.

The Hornets (15-3) tallied a goal midway through the second half and held off a feverish Lion rally over the final three minutes to claim the state Class B championship 1-0 on the artificial surface at the Harold Alfond Sports Complex at the University of Maine.

Belfast, the top seed in Eastern Class B, ended its campaign at 13-2-2. Leavitt was the third seed in the Western Class B tournament.

On Saturday, Brianna DeGone scored the lone goal of the game for the newly-crowned state champion Hornets, on an assist from Emily Shaw, with 18:08 remaining in the second half.

Click for photos from the state championship game.

Sierra Santomongo made saves on all seven shots she faced in the cage for Leavitt, while Julia Ward made one save on two shots in net for Belfast. The Lions also held a 10-3 advantage in penalty corners.

“We knew it was going to be a game of a break, and they got the break and we didn’t,” said Belfast coach Allen Holmes. “But we had great effort at the end. We had three or four great opportunities and I’m very proud of the way they didn’t give up. They fought right to the end.”

BAHS senior Katrina Lapham said she thought the Lions played well, “but it just didn’t work out for us this time.”

Lapham, also a captain on this year’s team that boasted seven seniors, said the Lions benefited from getting the first-hand game experience and film footage from their earlier contest against the Hornets, but, at the same time, that earlier victory carried a burden for the team as well.

“We won 2-0 [earlier in the season] so there’s that extra pressure of having to prove yourself again,” she said. “And they have the momentum of being the underdogs.”

“They just had the advantage of scoring the goal. We had a few close [scoring] chances, but we just didn’t connect," Lapham said.

The game started with the Lions on the defensive for the first five minutes before flipping the script on the Hornets to the tune of four penalty corners in a three-minute span, though Leavitt’s defense bailed out Santomongo for much of the series.

The two teams battled back and forth for the remainder of the first half and into the second 30-minute half, while the Hornets scored off one of their three penalty corners.

Leavitt’s Sadie Royer inserted to Shaw at the top of the circle, and Shaw fired a shot on Ward. DeGone then cleaned up the rebound in a scrum in front of the cage and beat the Lion keeper to the left side with 18:08 remaining.

The Hornets seized momentum for much of the remainder of the contest, though the Lions made a valiant run at tying the game in the waning minutes.

Belfast got a penalty corner and Lapham stopped the ball on the insert and found Maddy Cummings in the middle of the circle, and Cummings fended off several Leavitt defenders in an attempt to get a shot, to set up a second penalty corner with two minutes remaining in regulation.

Lapham then found Cummings again on the second penalty corner insert and the ball bounced off a Leavitt player and out of bounds.

The Lions then got the ball in and found an open Lexi Nelligan on the far post and Nelligan looked to use a reverse stick to beat Santomongo, but the Hornet keeper made a terrific diving save to preserve the shutout.

The Hornets then used a defensive clear with less than a minute remaining to hold off the defending state champs.

Belfast defeated No. 8 Gardiner 3-0 in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Mount View 1-0 in the semifinals and No. 3 Foxcroft Academy 2-1 in the regional tournament to earn a berth in Saturday’s state final.

Leavitt won all four of its postseason games by 1-0 scores, besting No. 6 Falmouth, No. 2 Fryeburg Academy and No. 4 York (the defending regional champion) in the Western Class B tournament to advance to knock off the Lions.

Holmes concluded his 40th season as Belfast's coach with a record of 433-162-43 (not including this year’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game). He has guided the Lions to 13 regional championships and seven state Class B crowns during his illustrious four-decade tenure.

With that in mind, Holmes and his players, while disappointed, kept the game — and the season — in perspective.

“We got on a bit of a roll and we beat a couple really good teams [in the playoffs] to get here,” said Holmes. “Mount View played tough and we were able to hold them off in that one and then Foxcroft [Academy], we hadn’t seen them all year, and they had a good team. We were very fortunate, we were where we wanted to be at halftime [of the state game] and they just got a bounce. It wasn’t for lack of effort [on our part].”

“We were ranked first coming in [to the regional tournament] and that’s amazing for coming back after winning a state championship [last year and] despite losing so many seniors,” said Lapham. “We did really well to come this far. We did great.”

The Lions won regional crowns in 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1989, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012 and state titles in 1979, 1985, 1989, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

Courier Publications Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.