It was not the death of a loved one that brought the girls’ lacrosse team together at Kennebunk High.

Years of playing together and the pain of consecutive one-goal losses in Western Maine finals already had turned the Rams into a tight-knit, highly motivated team. But when junior attack Carly Sandler’s father, James Sandler of Kennebunkport, died on Memorial Day at age 69, the strength of the team was tested.

“Carly came to practice that day,” junior midfielder Kyra Schwartzman said, “and that just goes to show how connected we are and the chemistry we have, and how close we are.”

The team provided solace and sanctuary for one of its own.

“I love lacrosse. I play lacrosse to get my mind off of it,” Carly Sandler said. “Really, my team is my second family.”

Two days later, Kennebunk played rival Falmouth at home. Carly Sandler was in the lineup. She said she knew her dad, the 1964 Maine basketball foul shooting champion, would have wanted her to play.

She scored one of her season-total 24 goals in that game, but the Rams were a distracted and emotionally wrung out team in a 10-7 loss.

They have not lost since, and beat Falmouth 9-7 in the Western Class B final Wednesday to advance to a state championship game for the first time since 2009, when they were in Class A.

Kennebunk (14-1) will try to win its first girls’ lacrosse state championship when it faces Yarmouth (11-4) – the defending champion – at 6 p.m. Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Kennebunk beat Yarmouth 10-7 on May 5.

When the Rams are at their best they move the ball crisply in the offensive zone, and get off hard, quick and precise shots.

Sandler is definitely in that mix. She scored two goals with two assists against York in the the 13-10 regional semifinal win and contributed three assists against Falmouth – two going to Schwartzman.

Sandler, Schwartzman (47 goals, 20 assists), Jenny Bush (52 goals, 16 assists) and Olivia Sandford (29 goals, 10 assists) are juniors who started since their freshman season. Goalie Bella Kudas is another junior three-year varsity player who has started the past two seasons.

“We’ve been playing together since we were young, so we all trust each other and I love that,” Sandler said.

“I’ve had these juniors for three years and there’s a ton of them so it’s like a big family,” said Coach Annie Barker.

The ‘family’ has continued to pay a silent tribute to Jim Sandler, a father of six, who loved going to his kids’ athletic events. They each wear a yellow sweatband inscribed with the initials JS on their left wrist (or left leg in the case of Kudas).

Families also know what to do when one of their own is hurting.

“As soon as it happened we knew that Carly was going to need us and that we had to be her backbone,” Schwartzman said. “I think the amazing thing about our team is that with anything that’s going on in anyone’s lives, you can come to the team and you can talk to anyone on that team about whatever it is.”

There are 12 juniors (seven of whom start) on Kennebunk’s varsity. The often unsung senior captains Hannah Pepin, Kristen Weiwel and midfielder Hayley Fecko provide defensive presence on the field and important counsel.

“Our captains keep us focused all the time,” Sandford said. “They keep our heads where they need to be and keep us composed. They’re just really good leaders.”

On Saturday in the state final, thoughts will at some point turn to Jim Sandler and his family.

“We’ve just been playing for him and their family, and I know it means a lot to the Sandler family,” Bush said.

An even more powerful motivator will be the goal the team has had since the season began: To avoid the disappointment of another final-game loss.

“I just remember that feeling and I never want to feel it again,” Sandler said.