GARDINER — Top-seeded Lawrence looked well on its way to a convincing Class B North championship victory on Wednesday night, Nov. 2 against Belfast.

And while the unbeaten Bulldogs of Fairfield took a 3-0 lead a mere 20 minutes into the contest, the No. 2 Lions nearly clawed the entire way back and trailed by a single score with less than four minutes to go in regulation.

Belfast’s Audra Faulkingham, facing, and Halle Tarbox (13), among others. Photo by Mark Haskell

In the end, the early deficit proved too great to overcome as Lawrence nabbed its first regional crown with an exciting, down-to-the-wire, 4-3 victory over Belfast under the lights at Gardiner High School.

With the high school stick win, the Bulldogs (18-0) advanced to the state Class B championship game, where it beat Freeport (13-4-1) 1-0 on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Messalonskee of Oakland.

Belfast, which defeated No. 7 Oceanside of Rockland 7-0 and No. 3 Nokomis of Newport 3-1 earlier in the playoffs to advance to Wednesday’s regional final, saw its campaign conclude at 14-2-1, with its losses being one-goal defeats to the Bulldogs.

Belfast’s Halley Tarbox, left, among others. Photo by Mark Haskell

Team members for Belfast, coached by Jan Holmes-Jackson, include Grace Woods, Emily Friel, Allison Friel, Lawless Desrochers, Sophia Taylor, Mia Winslow, Audra Faulkingham, Jocelyn Valleau, Lauren Hall, Ava Markham, Kara Richards, Kali Knight, Halle Tarbox, Danielle Hicock, Brynne Sawyer, Breanna Shorey, Payton Wadsworth and Nikki Shorey.

Team members for Lawrence, coached by Shawna Robinson, include Mia Dixon, Alicen Higgins, Maddie Niles, Hope Boucher, Addie Goggin, Alohna Battis, Taylor Leclerc, Jazmin Johnson, Maylie Knox, Addie Battis, Elizabeth Crommett, Makenzie Nadeau, Kiera Day, Ashtynn Stewart, Payton Goguen, Jia Kao and Lexi Morgan.

In Wednesday’s championship, which started about 30 minutes later than scheduled, Boucher, Higgins, Crommett and Kao caged goals for the Bulldogs and Niles one assist, while Richards, Markham and Bre Shorey scored for the Lions and Faulkingham added one assist.

Belfast’s Bre Shorey, among others. Photo by Mark Haskell

Lawrence held a 16-13 advantage in shots, while Belfast led 10-7 in penalty corners.

Nikki Shorey made five saves in the cage for the Lions and Nickerson six stops in goal for the Bulldogs.

Wednesday was the first time the Bulldogs had given up more than one goal in a game as, overall, they outscored opponents 91-8, with 11 shutouts in 17 games. Belfast outscored foes 74-14, with 10 shutouts. Of Lawrence’s eight goals allowed in 2022, four came against the Lions.

“I think that we really stepped up to the plate,” said Richards, one of five seniors on this year’s Lion squad. “Our goal was to be here today and we showed that we wanted to be. Coming back in the second half was a big thing for us. And to come together again shows who we are and that we don’t give up.”

Belfast’s Mia Winslow, middle, and Kara Richards, left, along with Lawrence’s Hope Boucher (4) and Elizabeth Crommett. Photo by Mark Haskell

The Bulldogs, which defeated No. 8 Old Town 9-0 in the quarterfinal and No. 5 Cony of Augusta 6-1 in the semifinal, got on the board with 4:34 to go in the first quarter off a penalty corner from Boucher as she slapped the ball through a host of players and past Shorey.

Lawrence put Belfast further back on its heels minutes later with 1:57 left in the quarter when Niles fired a ball in front of the cage that redirected off the stick of Higgins and into the cage for a 2-0 advantage.

The Bulldogs extended that advantage to three goals off a penalty corner with 9:54 to go in the half off a score by Crommett and took that same edge into halftime.

Belfast’s Ava Markham, middle, as well as Lawrence’s Addie Battis, left, and Elizabeth Crommett. Photo by Mark Haskell

At the half, Holmes-Jackson gave her team an ultimatum:

“At the half we were like, ‘We’ve got to come out, we’ve got to put them in the cage like we have been all season and make our minds up that we’re going to be in this game,’ ” the veteran coach said. “And we did. We fought hard and I’m very proud of them.”

Richards said it felt as if the game was turning in the Lions’ favor in the third quarter “when we started to shut them down together as a team and not individually.”

“That’s when we learned that we need to come together as a team and play,” she said. “And score. Not giving up on each other is what kept us in this game today.”

The Lions, who lost to the Bulldogs 2-1 in a regular-season game, nearly scored on a penalty corner early in the third quarter when the ball was inserted to Richards — who put a quality shot on goal — but a Lawrence player put her foot on the goal line to stop the ball, which resulted in a penalty stroke.

Belfast Area High School field hockey team members travel by bus through the city on Nov. 2 before hitting road to Gardiner for the Class B North title game with Lawrence of Fairfield. The No. 1 Bulldogs beat the No. 2 Lions 4-3. Photo by Jim Leonard

Richards buried it with 11:01 to go in the third quarter to but Belfast on the board.

The Bulldogs looked to put distance between itself and the last Lion score moments later when they caged another goal off a penalty corner — this time by Kao with 5:30 to go in the third quarter — but the Lions would not go away.

Belfast scored off a corner with 36.9 seconds to go in the third after Markham cleaned up a rebound in front of the cage and the Lions came within a single score with 3:40 to go in the game when Breanna Shorey took a pass from a teammate at midfield and, with a sensational individual effort, evaded several defenders and scored to put the Lions within striking distance at 4-3.

The Bulldogs were able to bottle up the Lions just long enough over the game’s waning minutes to secure the team’s first regional title.