The New Albany High School girls lacrosse team entered the Division I state final thinking a strong defensive effort would provide its best chance of dethroning three-time defending champion Upper Arlington.

For a while it did, but just as in their previous meeting exactly a month earlier, the Golden Bears defense ended up being superior enough to provide a nearly identical result.

The Eagles trailed 3-1 at halftime and 5-2 six minutes into the second half against a UA team that scored fewer than 10 goals only twice this season, but the Bears scored three goals in just over two minutes and pulled away to an 11-5 win June 2 at Ohio Wesleyan.

"We had opportunities offensively. You can't let a good team like that get up on you," coach Dave Ferguson said. "You have to totally stay focused and when you get your chances, you have to convert. On offense, we struggled in terms of execution. We felt good coming in, but they're undefeated and they wouldn't be four-time state champions if they didn't deserve it."

Alyssa Kneedler's two goals led New Albany, which was in its fourth state tournament and first final since winning the Division II championship in 2013. The Eagles finished 21-2.

Their other loss also was to UA, 12-5 on May 2.

Blythe Ferguson, Chloe Platte and Emily Rezabek also scored for New Albany and goalkeeper Catherine Ryan finished with nine saves to help keep the game close.

All of UA's first three goals were off free position, coinciding with two yellow cards issued to the Eagles.

Platte scored the same way with 18:26 left to make it 5-2, but UA's Brooke Smith answered with two goals in a 55-second span and twin sister Brenna Smith scored to give UA an 8-2 lead with 11:51 left.

The Bears finished 24-0 and have a 76-game winning streak against in-state opponents since losing a regional final in 2014.

"This team was by far the best team we played all season," UA coach Wendy Pinta said. "They're coached well, they move the ball well and made us struggle with draws. They got a lot of the draws in the first half, and they play a very good backer and have a stellar goalie. We haven't seen a team like that this year and I was glad we showed up in the second half."

New Albany advanced to the final with a 12-4 win over Hudson in a semifinal May 30 at Wooster. Liz Beckner, Kneedler and Platte all scored three goals, Rezabek added two and Ryan made eight saves.

"We've never gotten this far (with the current team) and never won a Division I state championship so this is a really big deal for us," Platte said after the semifinal.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

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