Another tough ending for Lakers; Guerrette nets 33 to rally Presque Isle

DEJECTED — Lake Region senior Sydney Hancock reacts as Presque Isle players celebrate winning the state finals last Friday at the Cumberland County Civic Center. (Rivet Photos)

DEJECTED — Lake Region senior Sydney Hancock reacts as Presque Isle players celebrate winning the state finals last Friday at the Cumberland County Civic Center. (Rivet Photos)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — During her high school basketball days, Chandler Guerrette and her classmates only lost two games.

She personally made sure there would not be a third loss on her class’ resume.

The 5-foot-5 senior guard scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to rally Presque Isle to their second straight Class B state girls’ basketball title Saturday.

Guerrette, who is a Miss Maine basketball finalist, hit for 33 points as the Wildcats dashed Lake Region’s dream of gold, 51-44 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Number 14 was unstoppable as she leaves the high school hardwood with a 71-2 record.

Lake Region Coach Paul True was unable to dial up an answer as Guerrette consistently ran defenders into screens and used her quickness to get into the lane for open jump shots. Even when LR’s defensive stopper, center Tiana-Jo Carter, dropped into the paint and attempted to block her shots, Guerrette remained calm and cool, sinking 13-of-18 attempts.

CLUTCH EFFORT ON THE BIGGEST STAGE — Presque Isle senior Chandler Guerrette had an incredible final, scoring 33 points, including this jump shot over Lake Region center Tiana-Jo Carter to lead the Wildcats to a comeback victory.

CLUTCH EFFORT ON THE BIGGEST STAGE — Presque Isle senior Chandler Guerrette had an incredible final, scoring 33 points, including this jump shot over Lake Region center Tiana-Jo Carter to lead the Wildcats to a comeback victory.

“She had a great game, kudos to her. They were setting a lot of ball screens and whoever was guarding her just couldn’t get around them. She was just faster. And, everything she seemed to put up there fell,” LR senior guard Sydney Hancock said.

Coach True knew Guerrette was the motor that ran the high-scoring Wildcat offense, but even he hardly expected the type of show that unfolded.

“Did I think she was their go-to player and key to their team, absolutely. We talked about it all week long. Did I think she would shoot 13-of-18 from the floor? No, I think it was a once in a lifetime situation where a senior in a big moment just was in a zone and stepped up and made plays,” Coach True said. “I didn’t expect that type of performance, but I knew she was absolutely capable of it.”

Twice now, Lake Region has been denied a chance to win their first Gold Ball since 1975 by a dominant player. First, there was center Morgan Frame who led Waterville to two titles. Now, add Guerrette to the list as a Laker nemesis. She kept the Wildcats within striking range when the Lakers looked like game busters in the first half, scoring 12 of the team’s 21 points, then “put the team on her back” in the final 16 minutes to propel the Cats to another championship.

Game of two halves

The PI win streak (43 straight) appeared in serious jeopardy as Lake Region dominated the paint early on as Carter was a force scoring 9 points and hauling down 5 rebounds.

The Laker offense ran like a well-oiled machine as the guards carved up the vaunted PI press and zipped passes inside to Carter and senior forward Kelsey Winslow for easy hoops.

Winslow, who failed to score a point in last year’s final, was also red hot, scoring 11 points in the half.

“The first half, everything was going great,” she said. “We were all feeling the energy here.”

Carter and Winslow accounted for all of LR’s opening points, which resulted in a 13-6 lead after one.

MORE HARDWARE FOR THE TROPHY CASE — Seniors Kari Eldridge and Kate Cutting hold up the runner-up plaque before the Lake Region crowd, as teammate Lucy Fowler (left) looks on.

MORE HARDWARE FOR THE TROPHY CASE — Seniors Kari Eldridge and Kate Cutting hold up the runner-up plaque before the Lake Region crowd, as teammate Lucy Fowler (left) looks on.

Defensively, the Lakers’ game plan was working to perfection. Laker guards did an exceptional job switching players when PI tried to free up Guerrette and Megan Ireland through the use of high screens. Guerrette connected for just 2 points, and she missed two foul shot tries.

But, Guerrette found her shooting touch in the second quarter, netting 10 points to keep the Cats close.

The Lakers were in a good rhythm, scoring both from the inside and outside. Sarah Hancock drained her only field goal with a 3-pointer at the midway mark of the quarter to put LR up 19-10.

Showing good patience against the PI zone, the Lakers moved the ball well and found the open player as Winslow connected for two baseline shots and CeCe Hancock skipped a pass to Carter for an easy hoop to up the lead to 29-18.

“We were really confident in everything we were doing. We were following the game plan exactly. We knew what we had to do. You always feed off positive energy when good things are happening. We were hitting our shots. We were poised against their press — that was the whole key to the game,” Sydney Hancock said.

PI’s Megan Ireland made just two 3-point shots on the night, but both were big time momentum changers. Ireland slipped her defender by using a sideline screen and her buzzer beater to end the first half pumped new life into the Wildcats and shook the PI faithful out of their Laker-induced coma.

“Other than the last second 3-point shot, we did everything we wanted to do. The focus for us was the dribble-drive offense, taking away ball side corner, no threes, which we did. Offensively, we took good shots and attacked. We beat their press. We did what we set out to do,” Coach True said. “Defensively, in the first half other than the final shot, I don’t think we could have done anything better against that club. They had 18 points going into the last few seconds — that from a team that average 75-ish points each game. They were very quiet in the first half. You could see their players on the floor weren’t sure how they were going to attack our defense. That shot gave them a bounce in their step, something to celebrate when they got into their locker room.”

It also gave PI Coach Jeff Hudson time to make a few adjustments. After seeing too many “easy baskets” scored by the Laker front line in the first half, he switched to a 2-3 zone, which the Wildcats had employed just once during the season.

It worked — to perfection.

Lake Region struggled mightily. They were 5-of-30 from the field, and their dynamic duo — Carter and Winslow — combined for just 7 points.

GOOD SPORTS — For the third time in four years, Lake Region earned the Class B West Good Sportsmanship Award, as voted by their peers. Pictured, left to right, Kari Eldridge, Spencer True, CeCe Hancock, Lucy Fowler, Sydney Hancock, Savannah Devoe, Sarah Hancock, Tiana-Jo Carter, Kayleigh Lepage, Miranda Chadbourne, Meghan VanLoan, Kate Cutting and Kelsey Winslow.

GOOD SPORTS — For the third time in four years, Lake Region earned the Class B West Good Sportsmanship Award, as voted by their peers. Pictured, left to right, Kari Eldridge, Spencer True, CeCe Hancock, Lucy Fowler, Sydney Hancock, Savannah Devoe, Sarah Hancock, Tiana-Jo Carter, Kayleigh Lepage, Miranda Chadbourne, Meghan VanLoan, Kate Cutting and Kelsey Winslow.

“I thought their guards did a good job taking away the passing lanes to our wing players. And, they also had three or four tips from our guards trying to get into the teeth of that zone. It changed our pace offensively,” Coach True said. “Passes weren’t as crisp, there were more lobs over the top, which gave them time to adjust and take our interior players out of a good rhythm which they had in the first half. I thought their coach made appropriate adjustments at halftime, and I didn’t.”

Sydney Hancock got the Lakers off to a good start, draining a 3-pointer to push the LR lead to 32-21.

Then, the Cats scratched back. Two Guerrette hoops followed up by an Ireland steal and score narrowed the deficit to 32-25.

Carter left the game briefly when she crashed to the floor trying to come up with a loose ball after a LR steal and lay-up attempt, which was missed.

Another LR turnover resulted in a Guerrette driving shot and a free throw to move PI closer, 32-28 with 2:46 left.

Carter returned to the line-up and made a slick pass to Winslow for a score to temporarily stop the Laker slide.

But, Guerrette sank a shot over Carter’s outreached hand to make it 34-30. After Carter sank two foul shots to open up a six-point LR advantage, Ireland struck again. Being stared down by Sydney Hancock, Guerrette let the final seconds run off the clock before she started a drive to the hoop and then kicked the ball out to Ireland on the left wing, who canned another trey.

Lakers 36, Wildcats 33.

“We really wanted to continue to do the things we had done in the first half, but their zone made it difficult for us,” Winslow said. “They got on a run and became more confident. They were playing better, and we stressed out a little.”

All season, Lake Region created havoc for 32 minutes, which ultimately wore their opponents down both physically and mentally.

WILDCATS 51 Karlee Bernier 1-0-2, Liza Buck 0-0-0, Hannah Graham 1-2-4, Chandler Guerrette 14-5-33, Megan Ireland 5-0-12, Krystal Kingsbury 0-0-0. 3-Pointers: Ireland 2. Totals: 21-7-51 LAKERS 44 Tiana-Jo Carter 6-5-17, Miranda Chadbourne 0-0-0, Savannah Devoe 0-0-0, Sarah Hancock 1-0-3, CeCe Hancock 1-0-2, Sydney Hancock 3-0-8, Kelsey Winslow 6-2-14. 3-Pointers: Sy. Hancock 2. Totals: 17-7-44 By the Numbers First Quarter: LR 13, PI 6 Turnovers: LR 6, PI 3 Field Goals: LR 5-12, PI 3-10 Free Throws: LR 3-3, PI 0-2 LR Scoring: LR, Carter 9, Winslow 4 PI Scoring: Ireland 2, Bernier 2, Guerrette 2 Second Quarter: LR 29, PI 21 Turnovers: LR 1, PI 3 Field Goals: LR 7-12, PI 7-11 Free Throws: LR 1-2, PI 0-0 LR Scoring: Carter 4, Winslow 7, Sarah Hancock 3, CeCe Hancock 2 PI Scoring: Guerrette 10, Ireland 5 Third Quarter: LR 36, PI 33 Turnovers: LR 4, PI 4 Field Goals: LR 2-10, PI 4-10 Free Throws: LR 2-2, PI 0-2 LR Scoring: Sydney Hancock 3, Carter 2, Winslow 2 PI Scoring: Guerrette 7, Ireland 5 Fourth Quarter: PI 51, LR 44 Turnovers: LR 5, PI 0 Field Goals: LR 3-20, PI 5-7 Free Throws: LR 1-5, PI 6-7 LR Scoring: Sydney Hancock 5, Carter 2, Winslow 1 PI Scoring: Guerrette 14, Graham 4 Game Totals Turnovers: LR 16, PI 10 Field Goals: LR 17-54 (31%), PI 19-38 (50%) Free Throws: LR 7-12, PI 6-11 LAST TIME AROUND Presque Isle seniors (7): Megan Ireland, Chandler Guerrette, Karlee Bernier, Laurin Ackerson, Liza Buck, Kayla Girardin and Meredith Stewart. Lake Region seniors (6): Sydney Hancock, Kari Eldridge, Savannah Devoe, Kayleigh Lepage, Kelsey Winslow, Kate Cutting.

WILDCATS 51
Karlee Bernier 1-0-2, Liza Buck 0-0-0, Hannah Graham 1-2-4, Chandler Guerrette 14-5-33, Megan Ireland 5-0-12, Krystal Kingsbury 0-0-0. 3-Pointers: Ireland 2. Totals: 21-7-51
LAKERS 44
Tiana-Jo Carter 6-5-17, Miranda Chadbourne 0-0-0, Savannah Devoe 0-0-0, Sarah Hancock 1-0-3, CeCe Hancock 1-0-2, Sydney Hancock 3-0-8, Kelsey Winslow 6-2-14. 3-Pointers: Sy. Hancock 2. Totals: 17-7-44
By the Numbers
First Quarter: LR 13, PI 6
Turnovers: LR 6, PI 3
Field Goals: LR 5-12, PI 3-10
Free Throws: LR 3-3, PI 0-2
LR Scoring: LR, Carter 9, Winslow 4
PI Scoring: Ireland 2, Bernier 2, Guerrette 2
Second Quarter: LR 29, PI 21
Turnovers: LR 1, PI 3
Field Goals: LR 7-12, PI 7-11
Free Throws: LR 1-2, PI 0-0
LR Scoring: Carter 4, Winslow 7, Sarah Hancock 3, CeCe Hancock 2
PI Scoring: Guerrette 10, Ireland 5
Third Quarter: LR 36, PI 33
Turnovers: LR 4, PI 4
Field Goals: LR 2-10, PI 4-10
Free Throws: LR 2-2, PI 0-2
LR Scoring: Sydney Hancock 3, Carter 2, Winslow 2
PI Scoring: Guerrette 7, Ireland 5
Fourth Quarter: PI 51, LR 44
Turnovers: LR 5, PI 0
Field Goals: LR 3-20, PI 5-7
Free Throws: LR 1-5, PI 6-7
LR Scoring: Sydney Hancock 5, Carter 2, Winslow 1
PI Scoring: Guerrette 14, Graham 4
Game Totals
Turnovers: LR 16, PI 10
Field Goals: LR 17-54 (31%), PI 19-38 (50%)
Free Throws: LR 7-12, PI 6-11
LAST TIME AROUND
Presque Isle seniors (7): Megan Ireland, Chandler Guerrette, Karlee Bernier, Laurin Ackerson, Liza Buck, Kayla Girardin and Meredith Stewart.
Lake Region seniors (6): Sydney Hancock, Kari Eldridge, Savannah Devoe, Kayleigh Lepage, Kelsey Winslow, Kate Cutting.

The shoe was on the other foot as Presque Isle’s pressure forced turnovers and Guerrette’s hot shooting added more stress on a Laker offense that simply was unable to get back on track. Guerrette scored 14 of her team’s 18 points as the Wildcats out scored the Lakers by 10.

“I kept going back and forth whether we should fall back into a zone, something we had done during the season. We had a couple of zones, which we had used earlier in the year. At the end of the day, I thought we had done just an incredible job on their perimeter players that I didn’t think she (Guerrette) would continue to shoot the way she was and felt a few misses and us scoring in transition we would retake control of the game,” Coach True said. “Obviously, that didn’t work out.”

A 1,000-plus career scorer at Presque Isle, Guerrette made big shot after big shot during the pivotal fourth quarter. She scored 12 straight points for the Wildcats, including snagging her own missed shot off a drive to the bucket at 5:05 and scoring on the rebound for PI’s first lead at 39-38.

Lake Region tied the game as Winslow made 1-of-2 foul shots after an aggressive attempt off an inbounds play.

Following a PI timeout, Guerrette again drove to the hoop and scored. After a LR turnover, Guerrette was fouled and sank two foul shots.

With 2:35 left, Sydney Hancock connected on a clutch 3-pointer.

Guerrette answered with a sweeping shot to make it 45-42 with 2:02 left. Lake Region converted after a timeout as Carter banked a shot in the lane with 59.1 left to cut the PI lead to 45-44.

PI called a timeout.

Rather than try to stall and force the Lakers into fouling (PI was in the bonus, 1-and-1), the Wildcats went for the knockout. Off the inbounds, Ireland executed a perfect lob pass across the court to 5-foot-10 Hannah Graham, who put in the lay-up over Sydney Hancock.

LR turned the ball over, and Graham iced the game with two foul shots with 49.7 seconds.

The Lakers kept battling, putting up multiple shots but were unable to convert. Guerrette was fouled with 20.9 seconds, and capped off a phenomenal night by sinking both foul shots.

As the Wildcats celebrated, the Lakers could only wonder what could have been.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team. We worked so hard this year. We had some ups and downs, but we were ready for this game. We couldn’t have gotten here without each other. They (my teammates) played awesome. They were great,” Carter said.

A dejected Sydney Hancock said the final outcome came down to one word.

“It all comes down to poise — how you control yourself. If you start feeling anxious, you start making foolish passes or you try to beat the pressure yourself,” she said. “And then their crowd gets louder, which also makes it hard. The emotions got the best of us.”

While Guerrette’s play sparked Presque Isle (22-0), Coach True felt his club’s shortcomings on the offensive end was a big reason Lake Region is 0-5 in the finals during his tenure.

“I think the real issue was our play offensively. If we continue to score then momentum would not have been as great a shift. We wouldn’t have been as discouraged and decision-making would have been better. Our struggles on offense just snowballed, affecting all of our decisions,” he said. “I did think a lot about fatigue, having shortened up our rotation. Did it play a factor? It very well could have. It is one of those decisions that I take all responsibility for. I thought their pressure was becoming increasingly better, and I didn’t want to put some of our kids in that situation which may not have gone well for them.”

Defeat has a way of clouding all the good things a team accomplished during the long journey. Coach True made it a point to his team that they needed to relish all the memories they collected during the season.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids. Friday night in particular, just the fan support that came out, the band, the cheerleaders, receiving the sportsmanship banner in front of our community, it was just a surreal moment — one that I took in,” he said. “It gets back to one of our two favorite quotes: ‘Those that invest the most are the last to surrender.’ I feel our kids constantly do that. They are just so committed and invested in what we do. They simply will not go down without a fight. Our kids have done everything that I have ever asked them to do. I couldn’t be more proud of their efforts.”

He added, “These kids have been amazing. They are such an unselfish group. We wouldn’t be anywhere without each and every one of those kids. Every kid who put on a uniform was responsible for us getting to the finals. That doesn’t always get translated in the amount of playing time, but those kids were so unselfish. They always gave it their all to make others better.”

Good sports, again

Prior to the title game, Lake Region was presented the Class B West Sportsmanship banner — their third honor in four years.

“It’s more special this year because of the change in format. It is not just based on tournament time, but every team votes who they believe the sportsmanship award should go to,” Coach True said. “It’s a reflection of a full season body of work. It makes me really proud of being a part of it.”

Looking ahead

Coach True, along with seniors Sydney Hancock and Kelsey Winslow, have one more game to play together — the McDonald’s A/B All-Star Game this weekend in Bangor.

It is the first time in memory that two Lakers will be members of the A/B West team, which True will coach.

What does the future hold?

Lake Region (19-3) will certainly be in the conversation as one of the teams to beat again next season.

“There is certainly a lot of talent coming back, and I don’t see any changes in our expectations as a group,” Coach True said.

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