YARMOUTH—Two of the most storied girls’ lacrosse programs in state, strangers in countable games for six years, showed everyone Saturday morning why crossover contests are such a good idea for all concerned.

The two-time defending Class A state champion Brunswick Dragons, from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, traveled to North Yarmouth Academy, a Western Maine Conference stalwart and the best squad in Eastern B each of the past two springs.

The high-powered, talented teams produced 27 goals, countless thrills and almost went to overtime before the visitors eked out a 14-13 triumph to stay perfect on the season, improving to 5-0 in 2010 and extending their three-year winning streak to 36 games. The Panthers fell to 4-2 with the loss.

“Hopefully this means we can do this some more,” said Dragons coach Beth Caputi. “We know (NYA) well. We scrimmage them every year. It was fun for us to be competitive for 50 minutes and to come out on top.”

Seems like old times

Brunswick has run roughshod over Eastern A since the sport went to two classes in 2006. The Dragons have lost just twice in the regular season in that span and have won the region four straight years, losing to Scarborough (in overtime) in the 2006 state final and to Massabesic in the 2007 state game, before bouncing back to defeat Kennebunk in each of the past two championship games.

So far in 2010, it’s been more of the same for Brunswick as it’s cruised to easy victories over Oxford Hills (16-3), Cony (15-7), Messalonskee (13-1) and Morse (18-3).

NYA has been as good as anyone in recent years, but has had no answer for nemesis Waynflete in the state game, losing all six meetings over the past nine seasons, including both 2008 and 2009. So far this spring, the Panthers have been solid. They opened with an 11-4 victory at Freeport, lost 12-8 at Yarmouth, then ended Waynflete’s 22-game win streak with a 7-6 home triumph. Wins earlier this week over Falmouth (13-10) and Greely (12-6) followed.

Earlier in the decade, Brunswick and NYA were no strangers, meeting four years in a row in the playoffs.

The Panthers beat the Dragons in the 2001 regional final (5-4) and the 2004 semifinals (13-4), while Brunswick enjoyed a victory in the 2002 quarterfinals (11-4) and a breathtaking win in the 2003 regional final. In that one, Dragons standout Jenna McCabe (ironically, now an NYA assistant) went nearly the length of the field to tie the score as time expired in regulation and won in overtime, 14-13.

Saturday’s rainy affair finished with the same score and almost went extra time as well, but the squads were able to cram all the excitement into a 50-minute span.

Junior Jacki Kelly got the scoring started three minutes, 24 seconds in when she beat NYA senior goalie Ashley Salerno. The hosts got on the board with 20:05 to play in the first half when standout senior Courtney Dumont (who would have her best game to date this season) took a pass from senior Hayley Bright and scored a goal to tie the score.

The Panthers took their first lead 46 seconds later when sophomore Katie Cawley scored (from classmate Kylie Dalbec). With 14:49 left in the half, Brunswick forced a 2-2 tie when sophomore Suzannah Smith took a pass from senior Leila Mills and scored a goal. NYA went back up with 14:08 remaining when junior Lily Wellenbach scored from freshman Molly Strabley, but with 12:57 left, junior Maggie Caputi scored unassisted to make it 3-3.

Wellenbach scored unassisted four minutes later, but senior Eliza Halmo answered for the visitors, forcing the fourth tie of the game.

The Panthers then ran off three straight to seemingly take control as Dumont (from Wellenbach), Dumont (unassisted) and senior Rebecca McKelvy (from Wellenbach) all beat Brunswick sophomore goalie Molly Herman and found the net.

But late goals from Halmo and senior Anna Holmblad (from senior Sarah Croston) drew Brunswick within one and it appeared the Dragons would be in good shape at halftime before Dumont (perhaps in a karmic payback for that playoff goal seven years ago) took a pass from Wellenbach and found the net with 0.1 seconds remaining, making it 8-6 NYA at the break.

Just 13 seconds into the second half, Dumont scored unassisted to restore the three-goal lead, but Brunswick rose of the deck and rallied.

Nineteen seconds later, Kelly scored to make it 9-7. Then, with 21:56 to play, Mills took a turn and beat Salerno to make it 9-8.

The Panthers answered by scoring twice in just over a minute (Dumont unassisted and Wellenbach unassisted) and suddenly it was a three-goal game again, 11-8, with 18:33 to play.

This time, the Dragons unleashed a three-goal flurry and tied the score as Kelly scored once and Mills twice to make it 11-11 with 16:55 to go.

“We didn’t fold when we were down by three goals,” Beth Caputi said. “Honestly, it’s probably been three years since we were behind by that much.”

NYA took the lead once more, 12-11, when Strabley scored unassisted with 16:10 left, but with 10:53 to go, Mills scored to tie the game. Then, 34 seconds later, Croston (from Caputi) scored and Brunswick was ahead to stay. When Mills scored with 4:45 to go, the Dragons appeared home free, but Dumont (unassisted) answered with 2:18 left, making it 14-13 and setting up a frantic finish.

The Dragons got possession and run the clock under a minute before the Panthers had one final chance. They’d get a couple good looks at the goal (including a Dumont rocket that went just wide), but a last-ditch shot went wide and Brunswick was able to run out the clock and celebrate its 14-13 victory.

“The last little bit there freaked me out a little bit, but the girls kind of sucked it up and buckled down,” coach Caputi said. “Molly made some nice stops in the second half. The defense stepped it up in the second half. It was fun to see some young kids step up. We had a freshman faceguard Lily and a sophomore, who’s a swing player, faceguard Courtney. They did an excellent job, I thought. I feel like our team came alive emotionally in the second half.”

Mills led the way for Brunswick with five goals and one assist. Kelly added three goals, Caputi and Halmo had two apiece and Holmblad and Smith both had one. Croston had two assists. Herman stopped seven shots.

For NYA, Dumont had a game-high seven goals. Wellenbach finished with three goals and three assists. Cawley, McKelvy and Strabley (one assist) each had one. Bright and Dalbec also had assists. Salerno made five stops.

“We were ahead most of the way,” said Panthers coach Julia Sterling. “It was probably the best game we’ve had and one of the toughest teams we’ve had. It was great for us. It was exciting to be this close to the state champion from Class A. We really played well. Courtney had her best game. It showed us how good we are.”

NYA gets to exhale a little bit next week as it goes to York Wednesday and Messalonskee next Saturday. The Panthers still have games remaining with Yarmouth and Waynflete as they jockey for homefield advantage in the playoffs.

The Dragons, meanwhile, have a showdown at rival Mt. Ararat Wednesday and play to host to up-and-coming Falmouth in another crossover Friday. Brunswick is still a work in progress, but can make the argument that it might be the best team in the state, regardless of class.

“I think we’re seeing things we can make adjustments to,” coach Caputi said. “We need to work on locking up in the midfield. Falmouth will be a nice challenge for us and so will Mt. Ararat on Wednesday. We have a nice stretch of competitive games.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]

Brunswick senior Eliza Halmo finds plenty of pressure from NYA junior Lily Wellenbach Saturday. Halmo and her teammates extended their three-season win streak to 36 games.

Brunswick senior Anna Holmblad does her best to cradle the ball while NYA senior Hayley Bright hounds her Saturday. The Dragons hung on for dear life and stayed unbeaten.

NYA sophomore Kathryn Millett races past Brunswick junior Maggie Caputi during first half action.

Sidebar Elements

NYA senior goalie Ashley Salerno plays the ball upfield while Brunswick senior Sarah Croston looks on during Saturday morning’s showdown in Yarmouth, won by the Dragons, 14-13.

More photos below.