LEXINGTON, Va. — After losing twice to Bowdoin earlier this fall, Middlebury figured its best chance of beating the Polar Bears in the NCAA Division III field hockey championship was to maintain possession as much as possible.

The Panthers’ strategy worked perfectly, as they captured their first NCAA championship since 1998 with a 1-0 victory Sunday over previously undefeated Bowdoin.

Bowdoin (21-1), a four-time NCAA champion, was in the title game for the third straight year. The Polar Bears beat Salisbury in 2013, then lost 2-0 to the College of New Jersey last year.

Proving the best defense is a good offense, Middlebury (19-2) maintained possession in the Bowdoin end for most of the last 10 minutes, brushing aside three offense pushes by the Polar Bears, then taking their time to set up on a pair of corners and a 16-yard shot.

Bowdoin had chances, but they were few and hard to come by.

The best chance came with 8:45 left when Liz Znamierowski collected a rebound and sent a hard shot to the right side that hit the post and bounced away.

That shot came after a scramble in front of the goal. Emily McColgan took a feed from Mettler Growney on a penalty corner and sent the ball into the circle, where it was bounced around toward the goal. As players from both teams scrambled for the ball, goalie Emily Miller got caught out of position, but the ball was finally cleared by Middlebury’s Jillian Green.

The Panthers didn’t score in the second half, but they didn’t need to. An unassisted goal by Grace Jennings with 9:15 left in the first half was enough for Middlebury to avenge a pair of 2-1 losses to Bowdoin – one in the regular season and another in the New England Small College Athletic Conference final.

“We didn’t get the bounces today,” said Bowdoin Coach Nicky Pearson. “We didn’t have as many chances offensively as we had in previous games. The ball got behind the goal keeper, it hit the post. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”

It was a frustrating day for the the Polar Bears, who had scored at least two goals in every game.

“I thought we played a great game,” Pearson said. “The defense was strong. We just didn’t get a good bounce.”

Bridget Instrum, a senior who switched positions during the season, was the key to Middlebury’s victory, said Coach Katharine DeLorenzo.

“I think we were at an advantage because we match up really, really well with them,” DeLorenzo said. “We moved Bridget (Instrum) to the center midfield position after we played them the first time. The second time she was only two weeks into that new position. It turned the tables today because Bowdoin had to spend a lot of energy trying to neutralize our middle, which they had not had to do.”

Middlebury was content to keep the ball in the middle of the field.

“Bowdoin is the toughest team we have to guard once they get inside their 25-yard zone,” DeLorenzo said. “They’re really quick, make really good decisions and pass stick to stick to stick.

“I thought if we could play much of the game outside that zone, we’d have a really good chance to win. I thought if we could control the game in the midfield, it makes them uncomfortable. Once we got the ball up above the 30-yard line, I thought we really dictated the game to them. Along with the circle defense, that’s what won the game.”

While the loss was disappointing, Pearson said making it to the final again is an indication of another successful year.

“I can’t speak highly enough about this team, their dedication and their commitment to the program,” Pearson said. “You couldn’t wish to coach a better group.”

It was the last game for five Bowdoin seniors, including Rachel Kennedy, who set school records for goals in a season (33) and a career (101).

“We get so much support from our alumni, and now I’m going to be part of supporting them through the alumni, keeping this going,” Kennedy said.