ORONO — Belfast held an advantage in shots, penalty corners and time of possession.
Leavitt had Sierra Santamango.
The junior goalkeeper stopped eight Belfast shots — several by lunging to the right or left with her outstretched pads — and helped direct a defense that prevented the potent Lions' offense from scoring, helping lift the Hornets a 1-0 victory over Belfast in the Class B state championship field hockey game at Morse Field at the University of Maine on Saturday.
"Sierra made some awesome saves," Leavitt coach Wanda Ward-MacLean said. "When we went up to Belfast earlier this season, and she gave up those two goals, she took it a little personal, and she wasn't going to let them have those again. She made some terrific saves tonight."
Particularly frightening for the Hornets was a sequence of shots and penalty corners in the Lions' favor in the closing minutes of regulation.
"With a minute-twenty-four to go, we had that corner play, and we figured that was the best one we'd run so far," veteran Belfast coach Allen Holmes said. "We just lacked a little bit of communication ... We'd like to have that one over again. But then we got another corner, Katrina Lapham had a nice stop, fed it to Maddie Cummings and from my angle it was going right in the corner, and the goalie made a nice lunging save."
Santamango and the Leavitt defense held tough.
"It is nerve-wracking because there's always that second chance," Santamango said. "There's definitely a lot more pressure in the second half, and if they score in the first half, we have another half to make that up. But in the second half, there isn't that time."
Belfast forwards Madison Cummings and Lexi Nelligan had two of the better chances against Santamango late in the game, but couldn't find the cage.
"We didn't let up a bit, came right at them and played to the end," Holmes said. "That's been one of our trademaks in the past 40 years. We like to win, but we're happy to be here."
Santamango is only in her third year of field hockey — all in goal — and in her first year at the varsity level. But she learned from one of the best, former Leavitt keeper Taylor Eells.
"I think Taylor did a great job of helping to make me the goalie I am today," Santamango said. "She taught me everything that I know now, she's kind of been like my Yoda. It was my goal this year to step up and fill in her shoes."
And then there was the matter of scoring a goal, something Leavitt has been particularly good at in the second half of games this season.
As she did in the West regional final, Bri DeGone played the part perfectly. Working on a play the Hornets devised in the week leading up to the game, DeGone took a pass from Emily Shaw, wheeled and fired off the back foot, driving the ball into the back of the cage with authority.
"Especially with all those people there, I was surprised I had enough power," DeGone said. "That was a move we just learned two days ago. We've been working on shooting off the back foot so it gets in that open area between her stick and her foot, and it worked."
From that moment, Leavitt went into prevent mode, clamping down in a scenario that helped them win each of its other playoff games by a similar 1-0 count.
"Once we get that one goal, we're pretty confident we can hold it," DeGone said. "That's what we've been doing all year. But with 20 minutes left on the clock, it's no guarantee."
And it wasn't. The Lions continued to batter the Leavitt defense and Santamango.
"When we got behind, we had to open it up a bit," Holmes said. "Once we got the ball over the 50, we were cutting onto it, giving us a chance with those penalty corners at the end. It's a funny game. You outshoot them, you out-corner them, you don't score, it's hard to win it."
Ultimately, the Hornets held on, earning their first state title since 1996.
"It is very nice to be back on top, it's been a long time coming," Ward-MacLean said. "We've had some tough breaks the past two years, but this group of kids, they're so in tune with each other, it's just great to see."