What was built up, and earned, for a full season by the Cazenovia field hockey team nearly disappeared in a matter of minutes.
But the Lakers managed to regroup and, by surviving a tense round of penalty strokes with Holland Patent, advanced out of Wednesday night's Section III Class C final at New Hartford High School.
It marks Cazenovia's eighth consecutive sectional title, and the Lakers will take on Morrisville-Eaton in the state qualifier Saturday at 4 p.m. at Rome Free Academy Stadium. The Warriors edged Weedsport 2-1 in the sectional Class D final on Jessica Welch's goal with 34 seconds left in regulation.
Of those eight championships, perhaps none of them involved the extremes of delight, terror and relief as this sectional final provided, as a potential rout of Holland Patent, whom the Lakers beat 2-0 in last year's title game, turned into something entirely different.
Rachel McLaughlin personally guided Cazenovia to an early 2-0 lead. McLaughlin scored just 4:30 into the contest, and she returned just 3:32 later to deliver another goal. Then the Lakers' defense defense took over, shutting off all of HP's attempts the rest of the half.
Early in the second half, Cazenovia appeared to settle matters when Hannah Light-Olson found the net at the 3:24 mark, picking up the rebound of a McLaughin shot. With a 3-0 lead, and controlling the flow of play, the Lakers just had to avoid an unthinkable disaster in order to preserve yet another sectional crown.
Somehow, the disaster happened.
It started quietly enough when the Golden Knights forced a penalty corner and, midway through the second half, cut the margin to 3-1 as Adrienne Lyon scored, with the assist to Jessica Livesey.
But mild concern turned into deeper worry when, with 11:05 left, Alyssa Curtis flung a shot past Kimber Nourse to cut the Lakers' margin to 3-2. Fired up, the Golden Knights put on an all-out attack against a flustered Laker defense.