WESTERLY — Staying positive is a tenet in the Westerly High girls lacrosse team's method of operation.
In a Division II tournament semifinal Wednesday, the Bulldogs failed to score on five of their first six free positions and saw themselves tied with Johnston after 20 minutes of play.
It would have been understandable for some teams to get frustrated. After all, Johnston handed Westerly its only loss this year and denied the Bulldogs in the Division III title game in 2017.
But instead of panicking, Westerly pulled together, scored five straight goals late in the first half and pulled away for a 13-4 victory and a berth in Saturday's finals.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (12-1) will face No. 3 Middletown (11-3) at 4 p.m. at Cranston Stadium. Westerly defeated Middletown, 15-10, on April 4.
"We don't let a bad start get us down," said Westerly senior Kata Cummings, who dominated the faceoff circle and scored three goals, including two straight to break a 2-2 tie and give Westerly the lead for good. "I had faith that our shots would find the mark."
Lauren Dobson added four goals for Westerly, giving her a team-high 43 on the season. Diana Turano scored two and Ashley Amato, Carly Chretien and Grace Armstrong added one each.
While Westerly's offense was unstoppable after the early struggles, the Bulldog defense took a backseat to no one. Goalie Lexus Falcone (12 saves) stopped No. 4 Johnston's high-scoring tandem of Bianca Robbins and Gabby DiRaimo, along with help from defenders Macie Woycik, Molly Ridler, Melanie Gomes and others.
"I think Lexi frustrated them with some of her saves, as did Macy drawing charges," Westerly coach Meg Paisley said. "Johnston has been trouble for us. We fell behind 7-1 in our 9-6 loss to them this year. There were a lot of things off about that game."
Paisley showed Westerly the film of that game plus the 2017 state championship, a 7-6 loss to the Panthers. She said Johnston's offense relies heavily on the speedy Robbins outracing defenders up the field. After Westerly's turned back her first few rushes, Robbins focused more on her defensive role.
"Their offense is predictable," Dobson said. "We were well prepared and knew to stay in front of them."
Abby White's score off a free position tied the score at 2 with 11:25 left in the half. It remained tied until Turano hit a cutting Cummings, who scored on a lefty shot for to make it 3-2 with 3:52 left. Goals by Cummings, Amato and Turano in the last three minutes made it 6-2 until DiRaimo scored with three seconds left for Johnston.
The late goal didn't spark Johnston (8-5), which saw Chretien, Dobson and Cummings score in the first 10 minutes of the second half to make it, 9-3.
"Westerly flipped the script, started controlling draws and I think we ran out of gas and had some internal issues," Panthers coach Joseph Areson said. "Westerly is a very good team, and I think this is their year to take it all the way."
Turano, Chretien, Cummings, Lauren Dobson, Rachel Dobson and Armstrong each had assists for Westerly.