A group of lacrosse players lift a trophy up in the air
Members of the Maine Maritime Academy men's lacrosse team celebrate after winning their first North Atlantic Conference championship with a 21-18 victory over SUNY Canton in the championship game played Sunday, May 1, in Utica, New York.  Credit: Kelley Waskiewicz / Cottonwood Studio

Brandon Melville was named the men’s lacrosse coach at Maine Maritime Academy in August 2019. Just as his team’s first season of competition began the following spring, it ended.

The Mariners played just four games in 2020 before the season was shut down due to the mid-March arrival of COVID-19, and last spring the continuing pandemic and shortened academic schedule limited the team to just three games.

The team was able to practice while on campus in Castine, and a year later that developmental work is paying off as MMA captured the program’s first North Atlantic Conference championship Sunday with a 21-18 victory over SUNY Canton in the title game played at Utica, New York.

“Coming into this season we had only played seven games together so there was a lot of inexperience on the field and a lot of growth that had to happen over the early part of the season,” said Melville, a Farmington native who played three years at University of Maine at Farmington.

“Once that came together you could see it within boxscores and you could also see on film this team coming together, building chemistry and trust with each other, knowing what each other was capable of doing and their skill sets and really feeding off each other.”

The win over SUNY Canton was the second straight come-from-behind effort in postseason play for the fourth-seeded Mariners, who have won six of their last seven games overall and will take a 9-6 record into the NCAA Division III tournament that begins May 11.

MMA finished its regular season with a 6-2 North Atlantic Conference record but was seeded in the fourth and final playoff spot for the league tournament due to its 23-19 head-to-head loss on April 24 to SUNY Canton, which also finished 6-2 in the NAC and earned the No. 3 seed.

MMA reached the championship game by upsetting top-seeded SUNY Delhi 12-11 in Friday night’s semifinal on a goal by first-year midfielder Sam Nichol of Concord, New Hampshire, with 13 seconds remaining in a game featuring four ties and four lead changes.

The Mariners then rallied from two seven-goal deficits in the second period of the title game to outlast SUNY Canton by outscoring the Kangaroos 7-2 in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore attacker Alex Stevens of South Portland paced MMA’s comeback, scoring four goals in the second quarter to rally the Mariners to within 12-9 by halftime.

SUNY Canton took a 16-14 lead into the final period, then later scored to snap a 17-17 tie before Maine Maritime scored four unanswered goals — two from senior attacker Jayden Wilson of Lewiston and one each from Nichol and Stevens — to close out the title win.

“I was really proud of how our guys clawed their way back into that game being down seven early in the second quarter,” Melville said.

Stevens finished the game with seven goals and two assists while Wilson added six goals and two assists, Nichol chipped in six goals and junior midfielder Jed Astbury of Bridgewater, Vermont, tallied 11 a team-leading ground balls.

Senior midfielder Oscar Kwok of York, who captains the team with senior defender William Davee of Hope and junior midfielder Jacob Belanger of Brunswick, recorded a game-high four caused turnovers.

Senior goalie Zach McCarthy made 12 saves for the Mariners, who outshot SUNY Canton 64-40.

“Those New York schools are no easy tasks, but we had our sights set on something we wanted to complete,” Melville said. “It’s been a few years in the making with everything that’s been going on but we just put our heads down and kept grinding.

“We absolutely thought there was the talent within the program to make this kind of run and everything came together this weekend.”

Wilson will lead MMA into the NCAA tournament having scored a school single-season record 86 points on 50 goals and 36 assists. Stevens (49-20-69), senior Zeke Tocci of Naples (30-30-60), Nichol (31-9-40) and Belanger (21-10-31) have been other top point producers.

MMA will learn its opponent and destination for the opening round of the NCAAs during the  tournament selection show at 9 p.m. Sunday on NCAA.com.

“We’re really proud of the guys on this team,” Melville said. “They show up every day, they enjoy the sport. The alumni are a huge part of this, too. It’s something they weren’t able to accomplish while they were here but they’re a big part of this program and this success we’re having now. They were the ones who set the foundation when they were here.

“It’s an exciting time, for sure.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...