Nov. 5—OAKLAND — Sports don't always allow for second chances.
The Lawrence High field hockey team got one. And the Bulldogs took advantage.
Sophomore Maddie Niles scored with just over a minute left in the second quarter, and the Bulldogs withstood a final Freeport threat to beat the Falcons, 1-0, for their first Class B state title.
"It's all about leadership," said Lawrence Coach Shawna Robinson, who had 11 seniors on a team that finished 18-0. "They don't get any better than those seniors. Heart, determination, they had a checklist of things they wanted to accomplish this year and they've accomplished every single one of them."
Last year, the Bulldogs were undefeated until the Class B North final, when their quest for a championship was derailed by Old Town.
This year, Lawrence had a great team again. And this time, the Bulldogs proved how great.
"It feels amazing. It feels like redemption," said senior Ashtynn Stewart. "The one thing that we said last year after (losing) was 'I never want to feel like this again.' We did it."
Stewart, along with fellow seniors Hope Bouchard and Taylor Leclerc and sophomore Addie Battis, led a midfield that shut down the potent Freeport attack and helped Lawrence dominate possession, leading to a 19-3 advantage in corners.
Lawrence had a chance to go ahead when Bouchard was awarded a penalty stroke with 4:51 left in the first half, but the senior didn't get enough on the shot to challenge Freeport goalie Piper Williams. Instead, the Bulldogs went ahead minutes later when Niles got a loose ball and flicked it into the cage with 1:13 left in the half.
"It was a back flick. I've always been practicing that a lot with my mom," Niles said. "It was a great feeling to accomplish that in a game. ... The crowd just goes wild. It's a great feeling overall, especially to accomplish it with my team."
Robinson said the goal gave Niles a program-record 38 goals for the season.
"Maddie's amazing," Robinson said.
Lawrence continued to control play, but the Bulldogs still had to sweat at the end. With time running out, Freeport senior Liv Christensen took the ball toward the circle, with Stewart closely defending her.
"We sent all our forwards back, and we did everything we could to keep that ball out of the 25," Stewart said.
The Falcons (13-4-1) were awarded a corner, giving them a chance to tie the game with no time remaining. Bouchard defended the ball and broke up and initial try to move it toward the net. The ball ended up on the stick of Freeport's Lizalyn Boudreau, but the officials blew the whistle, ending the possession and the game.
Lawrence surrendered a corner goal at the end of the first half against Old Town last year. Robinson felt the similarities.
"I was like 'Deja vu,'" she said. "But I had faith in Hope, and I had faith in my defense back there. They were amazing."
Freeport Coach Marcia Wood, whose resilient defense was anchored by Boudreau and Williams, took a positive angle after the game. The Falcons have seven freshmen and three sophomores on the roster, many of whom played key roles in their run.
"We took this team ... and we kept them to one (goal)," she said. "We gave them a game. That's really what I wanted today. ... Being able to fight until the end and have shots on goal, I thought we held our own."