Members of the University of Maine field hockey team celebrate after defeating California on Nov. 5, 2021, in Orono to advance to the America East tournament finals. Credit: Ronnie Gillis / UMaine Athletics

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine sophomore back Poppy Lambert had her penalty stroke saved late in the first half.

But when a rebound off a penalty corner landed on her stick with 12 minutes left in Friday’s America East semifinal against the University of California, she wasn’t going to be denied again.

Lambert swatted it into the cage for her team-leading 14th goal of the season and it capped a second-half comeback that gave UMaine a 2-1 victory over the Golden Bears in front of a sizable crowd on a chilly day at the UMaine field hockey complex.

Top seed and regular season champion UMaine, now 14-6, will play Albany in Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship game.

It is the first time the Black Bears have hosted the tournament.

Fourth seed California, a 2-1 winner over fifth seed New Hampshire on Thursday, wound up at 10-7.

“It was a bit of redemption,” Lambert said with a smile.

The Golden Bears had just three defenders instead of four on the corner because one had left early to go up to midfield.

Brittany Smith inserted the ball to Madisyn Hartley and the Black Bears maneuvered the ball to the right and a shot hit the far post to California goalie Cato Knipping’s right.

“We were trying to take advantage of them having one less defender,” Lambert explained. “I think Hana Davis took the shot. I just got the rebound. Right spot, right time.”

“That was so unlucky,” Knipping said. “Someone tipped it and it hit the post. I thought it was in. So we all stopped playing. It happens.”

Davis had tied it 5:09 into the second half off an Abby Webber pass. It was her ninth goal of the campaign.

Megan Connors’ fourth of the year had staked California to a 1-0 lead 11:13 into the game.

Knipping turned in a sensational performance as UMaine peppered her with shots only to have her reject them time and time again, including her stick save on Lambert’s penalty stroke.

Knipping finished with 18 saves on 28 UMaine shot attempts.

UMaine had 19 penalty corners to California’s one but the Golden Bears scored on their only penalty corner.

Mia Borley had three saves on five Golden Bear attempts.

“[Knipping] was the reason they were in the game,” said graduate student midfielder Davis. “But I was so proud of us. We stayed composed. Everyone played a great game.”

Even though Knipping was immense, Lambert said they were confident they were going to eventually score.

“We knew it was going to come. We just had to wait and let it happen,” Lambert said.

Davis’ tying goal came on a baseline run after she received the pass from Webber.

She darted along the baseline to Knipping’s left and flipped it into the upper short side corner.

“Coach [Josette Babineau] told us at halftime that [Knipping] was always coming out on those so if you can’t make a pass across, try to flick it over her,” Davis said. “I said ‘Okay, this is it.’ I did it and it worked out.”

“That’s one I normally have,” Knipping said. “They had been running along the base line and passing it across. That one nicked in.”

The Black Bears were relentless, Knipping said.

“Their strikers really wanted it. They’re a really good offensive team,” said Knipping, who considered her performance her best of the season.

The Black Bears completely dominated the first half, outshooting California 16-2, and limiting the Golden Bears to just a handful of forays into the UMaine half.

But the Golden Bears took a 1-0 lead off a beautifully executed penalty corner as Jane Onners snapped the ball from the middle of the circle to the left post where the open Connors simply directed it into the open cage.

The Black Bears had a ton of glittering opportunities but Knipping stacked her pads to smother several of the shots, especially on the penalty corners, but she also made some nifty upright stops with her stick and glove.

Borley rarely saw the ball in the first half but came up with a timely save at the end of the first half on a Rachel Buittinger deflection that enabled the Black Bears to stay within one.

California played significantly better in the second half but the Black Bears limited their time in the offensive circle and continued to generate chances of their own.

“Over the last five games, we’ve only allowed a maximum of three penalty corners per game,” said Davis.

“It was a really good win,” said UMaine coach Josette Babineau.