For the Gold Ball

Class B Girls’ Basketball State Championship

Lake Region (19-2) vs. Presque Isle (21-0)

Friday, March 2, 7:05 p.m.

Bangor Auditorium

History: The two schools met in 2006 with Presque Isle ending the Lakers’ perfect season with a 48-36 victory at the Bangor Auditorium. This is the Wildcats’ first appearance in the Class B Finals since that win — the school’s only Class B Gold Ball.

Lake Region appeared in the finals in 2007 and 2008, losing both times to Waterville, including once on the Bangor Auditorium floor.

Lake Region’s last Gold Ball came in 1975 with a 63-55 win over Van Buren. The two teams would meet in the finals again in 1977 with Van Buren turning the table with a 62-53 win over the Lakers.

About the Wildcats: Presque Isle advanced to the State Final with a 52-40 victory over Nokomis (20-1). The Wildcats beat Gardiner in the semifinals, 48-27 and smothered ninth-seed John Bapst 86-31 (PI was up 18-2 in the first and 41-7 at the half) in the quarterfinals.

Sports Writer Jon Gulliver of The Star Herald in Presque Isle described the Wildcats as a “juggernaut during the regular season, beating their opponents by 30 or more points.” Some of the final scores were eye-popping:

PI 71, John Bapst 15

PI 78, Foxcroft 45

PI 82, Mt. Desert Island 43

PI 83, Fort Kent 29

PI 65, Hermon 35

PI 77, Caribou 21

PI 69, Old Town 43

PI 75, Houlton 35

The Wildcats used full-court pressure to trigger the offense. PI forced 25 turnovers in the playoff win over Gardiner.

Offensively, “Presque Isle is deep with leading scorers often coming from the bench,” Gulliver reported.

Junior guard Chandler Guerrette leads the Wildcats in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game during the regular season. She had 13 in the East Finals, and recorded 15 in the quarterfinals. Guerrette had 24, 22 and 20-point games during the regular season.

Junior guard Megan Ireland averaged 11.7 points per game, while eight other Wildcats averaged six or more points.

Junior Meredith Stewart leads the team in rebounding, while senior guard Kayla Richards (who was selected to the McDonald’s Senior All Star Game) and Ireland averaged three steals per game.

“The first three players off the bench can provide instant offense,” Gulliver said. Junior Karlee Bernier is a “3-point specialist” while freshman guard Hannah Graham and freshman forward Krystal Kingsbury can “score in a variety of ways.” Bernier scored 11 and 10 points in two playoff games, while Graham had 11 in the finals and 11 in the quarterfinals.

About the Lakers: Coach Paul True believes his team is playing its best basketball right now. He likes the club’s defensive approach, and sees his shooters firing the ball with great confidence.

What will it take for the Lakers to finally break through and capture its first Gold Ball in three decades? Coach True offered these three keys:

1. Beat the Heat. The Lakers showed good poise and understanding on how to beat Leavitt’s full-court pressure, something they were unable to do a year ago in a playoff loss. Once they cleared the front line, the Lakers were able to attack and score some easy transition baskets, which ultimately forced Leavitt to back off their press.

“Because we were able to handle Leavitt’s pressure, I believe our girls have confidence that they can protect the ball when they are pressed,” Coach True said.

2. Roadrunner II. Leavitt scored in the 70s and 80s during the regular season, and the early thought was that it would be a mistake for the Lakers to get into a running contest with the Hornets. Well, the Lakers did run, when the opportunity presented itself, but their defense held the Hornets to 45 points in regulation play.

Presque Isle is used to putting up a lot of points, but how will the Wildcats respond if the game stays close and the score is in the 40s or 50s?

3. Don’t be in awe of the Mecca. One problem Lake Region ran into when they met Presque Isle back in 2006 was how loud the Bangor Auditorium can become. Players were unable to hear Coach True’s calls, and later reverted to a numeral system.

“We can do some things to prepare the players for the noise, but we can’t prepare them for what they will see and hear when they step onto that floor for the first time,” Coach True said.

For some players like Sydney Hancock, Abby Craffey and Sarah Hancock, they likely remember how “crazy” the Bangor Auditorium can be. Six years ago, they were young Lakers, watching their idols take on Presque Isle, only to come to a heart-breaking end to a magical 20-win season. Now, it is their turn to try to bring a Gold Ball back to the Lake Region.

Looking over past seasons when the Lakers fell short in big games, Coach True and his staff came to the conclusion that the biggest problem was, “We were always too uptight,” he said.

So, the coaching staff changed their pre-game routine with the idea of getting players to relax more, which carried over to game time.

“We’ve responded far better in big moments this year,” Coach True said. “We’re hoping for similar results this Friday.”

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