CRANSTON — "Third time's a charm" is a well-worn expression that's convenient when it applies.
But often it doesn't.
Just ask the Westerly High girls lacrosse team.
The top-seeded Bulldogs, playing in their third consecutive league title game, lost for the the third straight time, falling to No. 3 Middletown, 15-11, in the Division II championship game Saturday at Cranston Stadium.
Westerly, the top seed, finished 12-2 this season, its first in Division II after reaching the D-III finals in 2017 and '18.
"It's a tough game to win, and we've had a couple chances at it," said senior Lauren Dobson, who scored three goals. "And even though we haven't won it, we still play as a team. We played to the end and we never gave up, and that's what I love about this team, even though we couldn't finish it.
"It's tough to lose. It really is."
The game, as is usually the case in lacrosse, came down to winning draws and maintaining possession.
The Islanders (12-3) did both at the beginning and end of the contest, with the Bulldogs doing their damage in the middle.
Middletown dominated the first six minutes, and built a 4-0 lead thanks to winning draws and its possession game. Westerly, meanwhile, only had one shot until Dobson scored on a free position with 18:54 left in the first half to make it 4-1.
About three minutes later, Carly Chretien made a nice forward pass to a breaking Grace Armstrong, who scored to make it 4-2 and the tide had turned. By the time Armstrong scored again with 46.8 seconds left in the half, the Bulldogs had a 7-6 lead that they took into intermission.
"We rallied up and we got back into it," Dobson said.
Westerly appeared to take control of the game when Dobson (free position) and Ashley Amato (assisted by Chretien) scored in the first four minutes of the second half to make it 9-6.
And that's when the tide turned back to Middletown.
Dobson drew a yellow card with 19:05 remaining in the game, and the Islanders took advantage of the man-up situation to score two goals, both on free positions, and cut their deficit to 9-8.
"She's a great player," Westerly coach Meg Paisley said of Dobson. "Her energy — when she's not out there, we really miss it."
Said Dobson, "I think my yellow card midway through the second half — we really kind of got down on our spirits."
Even after Dobson returned, the Islanders kept the pressure on, thanks largely to Isabella Cecchi's ability to win draws. A five-goal run that started when Dobson went out ended with a Cecchi goal with 9:29 left that put Middletown ahead 11-9.
The Islanders' possession game led to more whistles on Westerly, which, in turn, led to more free-position chances. Eight of their 15 goals came off of free positions. They won 18 of the 28 draws and had few turnovers.
"It really came down to who was winning the draw," Paisley said.
"Because of the way girls lacrosse is, very limited checking and guarding, if you don't get possession, it's just too hard," said Middletown coach Lisa Cecchi, Isabella's mother. "Possession is the most important thing, and that's what we work on every day. And at the end if you're ahead, you don't need to score another point. You need to take your time, hold on to that ball and set up."
And that's just what the Islanders did for most of the remainder of the game.
Amato (free position) scored again with 5:52 left to get Westerly to within 11-10. But Middletown responded with four straight scores to put things away. Elizabeth Dowd finished with four goals for the Islanders, who won their first league title. Cecchi and Regan McEnroe had three goals each.
Amato tacked on her fourth and final goal with 4.5 seconds remaining for Westerly.
"It ended up being a roller coaster, and we rode the roller coaster and it ended in a lull," Dobson said. "If we had another 10 minutes we could've turned that game around."
Armstrong finished with two goals, Chretien had one goal and two assists, Kata Cummings scored once and Diana Turano had an assist for Westerly. Goalie Lexus Falcone made 11 saves.
Middletown held a 28-21 advantage in shots.
"It's our first year in Division II, and to make it all the way to the finals, these girls should be so proud of themselves," Paisley said. "I thought we'd be competitive. I didn't think we'd make it to the finals, so I'm unbelievably proud of these girls.
"I feel for the seniors. This is the the third year in a row and we didn't win a state championship, but we played with heart and that's all you can do."