BRUNSWICK – Elizabeth Clegg’s timing was perfect.

With 1:48 remaining, Clegg picked up a loose ball off a penalty corner and fired in the winning goal as the Bowdoin field hockey team beat Middlebury 2-1 to win the NESCAC championship Sunday.

The win likely protected the Polar Bears’ (17-0) No. 1 ranking in the nation and assured them of a top seed in the NCAA Division III tournament, which starts this week.

Defending national champion Bowdoin has won three of the last four NCAA titles. The Polar Bears will host an NCAA second-round game Saturday against Keene State or Endicott.

Though Clegg is just the fourth-leading scorer on the team, that’s perfect in its own way. Anybody is capable of scoring a winning goal for the Polar Bears.

“Both teams were looking for somebody to step up and decide it,” Bowdoin Coach Nicky Pearson said. “Liz was fired up and really determined to get a goal there.”

She needed to be. Ninth-ranked Middlebury (14-3) tied the game with 18:25 remaining in the second half. Catherine Fowler, a freshman, came up with a loose ball out of a crowd and took a shot toward the right side of the Bowdoin goal. The ball rolled under the foot of Polar Bears goalie Kayla Lessard.

It was a rare slip-up for Bowdoin, which did its best to keep Middlebury’s possessions boring. The Panthers had just two shots on goal in the second half.

“I think we knew Middlebury was an offensive team,” said Lessard, who had nine saves. “We knew they had a lot of offensive weapons but we were able to slow them down.”

They needed to. Middlebury won 11 straight games, entering the NESCAC tournament by at least two goals. The Panthers beat Bates 10-0. They even managed two goals in their 3-2 loss to Bowdoin on Sept. 24. By contrast, the Polar Bears hadn’t allowed two goals since that win.

For a while, though, it looked as if the Polar Bears were missing their chances. During one 20-minute stretch in the first half, the Panthers weren’t able to take a shot on the Bowdoin goal while Bowdoin fired away on penalty corners.

Kassey Matoin even clanged a shot off the left post with 7:45 to play in the first half.

Still, it was 0-0 at halftime.

Bowdoin finally broke through on a pretty set play with 25:25 to play in the game. Clegg knocked a penalty corner to Matoin, who set the ball up for Ella Curren, who blasted her shot in for a 1-0 lead.

When Middlebury tied the game seven minutes later, there was potential for Bowdoin to watch its perfect season slip away.

“Instead of getting down and doubting ourselves, our team responds by getting very mad at themselves,” Pearson said. “If anything, it motivates them.”

Obviously. Bowdoin’s Cathleen Smith got a turnover and charged directly at the Middlebury goal but was stuffed with 3:05 to play.

“I think everybody on this team thought we needed to get this job done,” Clegg said.

The next job is the NCAA tournament. And if Bowdoin manages to defend its NCAA title? That’d be perfect.