The Lakers’ leaders pose with their new State Runners-Up award. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

YARMOUTH—Lake Region assembled a fantastic run at the end of their regular season, allowing them to sneak into the bracketing in the last available slot: ninth. They then rode their newfound fire all the way to the State Final, a contest they won last year.

Alas, this time around, the Lakers would come up a bit short. They surged beautifully to defeat North Yarmouth Academy in the semifinals, but fell too far behind St. Dominic in the State Championship and couldn’t catch up before time ran out – though they sure tried like hell.

Lake Region vs. NYA

Down 4-0 at NYA on Wednesday afternoon, June 12, Lake Region head coach Dave Keenan called timeout.

Whatever he said to his players in that time – well, it lit a fire under at least one girl, Shauna Hancock, because when the teams returned to the turf, Hancock wasted no time in scoring. She finished the contest, in fact, with a pair of hat tricks to her name. Six goals of 11, in a razor’s-edge, 11-10 triumph.

Leah Brogan tracks the action for Lake Region. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

“We couldn’t get draw control, which we always struggle with in the first half,” Hancock said. “We had to find ways to switch up draw control, so we could actually get possession and let our offense go to work.”

The Panthers seized control of the action from the get-go. LRHS netminder Emily Lake stood strong to start, but she – and the defenders out front of her – couldn’t withstand NYA’s pressure for very long. 37 seconds into the uphill half, Catherine Reid put the Panthers on top 1-0; 21 seconds after that, Reid beat Lake again for 2-0.

NYA freshman Alev Yilmaz then bested Lake at 22:36 and again at 21:49. The Panthers were so thoroughly dominating every aspect of the game in the early going that the 4-0 tally looked like nothing but the start of ugly things to come.

Bella Russo whips the ball on-net for the lakers. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

That’s when Coach Keenan called timeout.

“It’s just young players, on a big stage, not used to it, getting nervous,” Keenan said of his girls’ early deficit. “We just had to calm it down, go back to playing our game, and get one goal at a time. We eventually did – it took us a while.”

When the Lakers took to the turf once more, they looked like a different team: They immediately seized possession, crashed upfield and launched into an extended attacking stretch. At 18:54, Hancock notched the first of her six from the right side after receiving a feed behind the net.

It wasn’t just Hancock who found a groove: Her teammates did as well. Two and a half minutes after Hancock broke the scoring ice, she assisted Emma Brown in shoveling the 4-2 strike past NYA keeper Ally White.

“Defense did a great job after that timeout, with Coach motivating them,” Hancock said.

The action turned back-and-forth after that, ping-ponging up and down the field. White rejected Hancock twice on consecutive free-positions, frustrating LRHS’s efforts to pull closer on the scoreboard. Worse (for the Lakers), the Panthers made it 5-2 with 7:21 to go.

Paige Davis drives upfield for the Lakers in the State Final. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

That goal, though, didn’t go unanswered for long. At 6:44, Laker Katie Keenan dished across behind the net for teammate Mackenzie Siebert, who fired a low shot to the far side, beating White. 5-3. NYA pressed their attack in the ensuing minutes, but the Lake Region defense had settled in as thoroughly as their offense, and rebuffed the Panthers’ efforts.

“We know we’re better than we started,” Katie Keenan said. “We started off really slow. Coach called a timeout, and he was like, ‘We’ve just got to connect and play our game.’ As soon as we play our game, we’re able to go out and do our thing.”

Hancock struck again at 4:10, zig-zagging through the NYA defense and pulling the trigger on a low bullet. 5-4. A minute and a half later, Hancock fancily footworked inside the Panthers’ d once more, firing hard and low under heavy guard for 5-5.

“She’s a crazy athlete,” Coach Keenan said of Hancock. “And she had her best game of the year. This is the time to do it.”

NYA did add one more before halftime, but could not have felt as happy with their position at the break as they had in the opening minutes, the 4-0 minutes.

Still, the Panthers surged again to begin the downhill half, going to 7-5 and then 8-5.

That bit of breathing room wouldn’t be enough, though: LRHS methodically suffocated NYA’s lead as time ticked off the clock. Brown made it 8-6 on one free position and Hancock made it 8-7 on another. The Panthers then earned 9-7.

“Calm down, do what we do,” Coach Keenan reiterated, asked about coming back from a second deficit. “We were missing some ground balls; they were outhustling us – that was the big problem. They quite frankly out-hustled us for three-quarters of the game. We, really, at the end, turned it up, got the ball back. And this game is all about possession.”

Around 13:20, Hancock picked up yet another free position; her shot availed her nothing, but a Panther infracted on the play, and the officials handed Hancock a second go. This time, she converted: 9-8.

Hancock demurred, asked about her fiery play. “It wasn’t necessarily me; it’s all the teammates. It’s not that I’m playing for me to get to a State Championship, it’s them too. It’s not a one-person sport; it’s all of us working together. I know how bad everyone else wanted it, and I know how hard the attacks had to work to get everyone else that opportunity.”

Finally – with 8:26 remaining – Lake Region evened things out. Katie Keenan did the honors, curling around the North Yarmouth net; just off the left post, a Panthers defender knocked the ball from Keenan’s stick, but Keenan snapped it up again lightning-quick and flipped it home.

9-all.

“Shauna is an amazing player,” Katie Keenan said. “She always looks up at the field; we knew they were going to key in on her, so we just made it work so that I could pop up. I was able to get it and able to shoot it in, but it’s all because of her. She’s always looking up and passing amazing passes.”

Keenan remarked on her chemistry with Hancock. “We’ve played together ever since elementary school, and we’re always really close. We’ve always had a strong connection, and you can tell on the field. We just feel comfortable with each other.”

A minute later, following a long LRHS offensive stretch, Hancock assisted Katie Keenan in making it 10-9 – the first Lakers advantage of the afternoon. Lake then showed her stuff in the cage, repelling a pair of Panthers’ shots and allowing her girls to regain possession.

“Oh my God, she’s amazing,” Keenan said, asked about Lake. “She’s literally my favorite person right now. She comes in when we need her the most; when we’re down, she makes those key saves that are able to help us out.”

Keenan capitalized on the control, making it 11-9 from in close with 4:47 to go. Lake Region’s strategy thenceforward had to be careful, conservative – basically, they needed to play keepaway. They did so successfully for quite a while, but a desperate NYA managed to wring the ball from Katie Keenan, then to beat Lake at 2:53. 11-10.

“She did, she got the last three,” Coach Keenan said of Katie Keenan. “She does a lot of feeding from behind, and one they started keying on Shauna, that opened up her to do her thing.”

The Panthers got physical in the waning minutes with both Hancock and Bella Russo – evidently, however, they didn’t break any rules, because no whistle blew and they nabbed another possession. But they couldn’t turn that possession into one final goal, the one goal they needed to force OT. At the buzzer, the LRHS sideline rushed the field, victorious.

“They beat us, the first game we played,” Hancock said. “But I think we were prepared through practice. Coach Keenan helped us get prepared this week for them. The drills we did, working on what NYA would do on defense really helped the attack, and vice versa with defense.”

Lake Region vs. St. Dom

The action in the opening minutes of the State Championship seesawed from one end of the field to the other. Lake plied her prowess in goal for LRHS, snatching the ball during a St. Dom’s attack stretch, and Katie Keenan worked her midfield magic, scooping up a ground ball after a Saints clear.

It took more than five minutes for either side to find its way onto the scoreboard. At 19:19, though, Hancock did the honors. Her stuttering attempt to whirl in close on St. Dom netminder Simone Long finally got her where she needed to be, and she pulled the trigger on a low shot for 1-0.

Rebecca Roy defends for Lake Region in their State Final vs. St. Dom. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

But the Saints answered Hancock’s strike threefold: Mia-Angelina Leslie beat Lake at 17:57, then again a couple minutes on. At 14:57, Avery Lutrzykowski – who heaped up the day’s biggest offensive take, with eight goals and an assist – scored on a free position.

Draw controls hobbled the Lakers in the bout. “We tried everything,” Coach Keenan said. “We have four girls that can take the draw. So it was a matter of trying to match up. And it wasn’t so much that the draw person wasn’t winning it in our area, we were getting beat on the wings.”

Coach Keenan called timeout. Hancock picked up a solid shot upon the sides’ return to the turf, but Long was good for the save. At 8:54, Siebert beat Long for 3-2, but a mere minute later, St. Dom responded in kind. 4-2.

At that point, the game began to slip away from Lake Region. Lutrzykowski made it 5-2 with 5:03 to play before the break, and Emma Theriault made it 6-2 with just 30 seconds to go. 6-2 is where things stood, then, at the intermission.

“They were out-hustling us,” Coach Keenan said, “beating us on the ground balls and winning all the draws. And it’s all about possession.”

The Saints barreled further ahead through the start of the second half, reaching all the way to 11-5. Roughly 11 minutes waited on the clock – waited for Lake Region to make use of them. And the Lakers did: To their great credit, LRHS found a way to begin clawing back from six down. It wouldn’t be enough, but they gave it their all.

“You have to press out, but we usually don’t press that far out,” Coach Keenan said, asked what risks his girls needed to take, if they hoped to put together a comeback with time waning. “We knew we could score quickly. But it was really matter of winning the draws.”

Katie Keenan kicked off the push, circling around from behind to beat Long at 9:59; at 3:10 Hancock extended it, capitalizing on a free position following a St. Dom yellow card. But 3:10 isn’t much time. The Lakers were gaining ground on the Saints, but the Saints’ defense didn’t need to shut Lake Region out entirely, only hold them to a slow enough pace.

They did. Around 2:00, LRHS settled into heavy offensive pressure. Siebert took a shot, unsuccessfully. Hancock tried twice on free positions, unsuccessfully. Hancock did ultimately thrash up the middle for the 11-8 notch, but by then less than a minute remained in the game. So close they could taste it, St. Dom won the last draw control and merely whiled away the final seconds.

“They did a good job; they just outplayed us today,” Coach Keenan said of St. Dom.

As mentioned, the Lakers entered the postseason ranked ninth in Class C – they grabbed, that is, the last playoffs slot. They did so narrowly, too: Their 4-8 record matched No. 10 Wells’s, and LRHS only snuck past the Warriors into the bracketing by a little more than three Heal Points. Phew.

Lake Region knocked off No. 8 Lincoln 15-5 in the playoffs prelims, then No. 1 Winslow – a troop undefeated to that point – 9-6 in the quarterfinals. Yikes! Clearly the Lakers came on strong at exactly the right moment.

“We were struggling initially; we have a really young team,” Coach Keenan said. “We don’t have near as many upperclassmen as last year, but they’ve really rose to the occasion. And we’ve got a lot of talent in our young kids, and it just took a while. It took about three-quarters of the season, and now they’re playing like they’re capable of. I’m just glad we made it this far.”

Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.