West Finals: Lakers avenge lone loss, pull away from Wells

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NO WHERE TO GO — Wells guard Nicole Moody was unable to get a shot when she met up with Lake Region center Tiana-Jo Carter, who was dominant in the Class B West final. (Rivet Photos)
LAKERS (59)
Tiana-Jo Carter 10-4-244, Miranda Chadbourne 2-0-4, Lucy Fowler 1-0-3, Sarah Hancock 4-4-13, CeCe Hancock 0-2-2, Kristen Huntress 1-0-3, Jordan Turner 3-2-8, Meghan VanLoan 1-0-2.
3-Pointers: Huntress, Fowler, S. Hancock
Turnovers: 16
Free Throws: 12-19
Rebounds (29): Carter 19, Turner 5, S. Hancock 3, Huntress 1, C. Hancock 1.
WELLS (51)
Natalie Thurber 1-0-2, Jordan Agger 2-2-6, Alison Furness 5-6-18, Taryn Lambert 2-0-4, Nicole Moody 5-3-13, Stephanie Woods 2-2-7, Meghan Young 0-1-1.
3-Pointers: Furness (2), Woods
Turnovers: 18
Free Throws: 14-17
Rebounds (17): Furness 7, Moody 3, Lamb 2, Agger 4, Woods 1.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — They never forgot Dec. 18.

Teams rarely need any additional motivation when they reach a championship game, but Lake Region players and Coach Paul True eagerly looked forward to the chance to erase the one blemish on their resume.

Wells 44, Lake Region 36.

“Without question, our girls wanted to play Wells (in the Class B West finals). Because of the way that we lost at Wells, there was a sense we wanted the opportunity to play them again. No question, it was part of our motivation,” Coach True said. “We looked at it as more of an opportunity to have a rematch on a big stage and neutral court, not necessarily as revenge.”

The senior-loaded Warriors steamrolled their way into the finals, easily dispatching Gray-New Gloucester in the quarters and thumping undefeated Spruce Mountain in the semis.

While Wells appeared to be the “hot team” of the tournament, the defending champion Lakers were prepared to take the air out of the Warriors’ sails.

“I really felt the last game — the western Maine championship — was a completely different animal. They (Wells) played Gray and (Maria) Valente played less than half the game due to foul trouble. They played Spruce Mountain, and they (Spruce) didn’t guard anyone on the perimeter. I told our girls Wells would not shoot with the same degree of proficiency as they did in the first two games because we are going to guard people. I really believed that,” Coach True said.

And, the Lakers learned a lot from their regular season meeting.

“It came down to cheap fouls (Carter fouled out in the game at Wells, as the Warriors erased an double-digit deficit) and keeping kids on the floor. All year long, our mantra was pressure without fouling. Tiana, in particular, jumped with her arms straight up in this game. Kids are intimidated bringing the ball to her anyways — we don’t need to block every shot. It was a really big focus,” Coach True said. “They also scored on quick hitters in the first game — we were more prepared for it. We joked that if they scored on a back-screen lob or back cut, the girls were going to walk home from Portland. Wells didn’t score one point on a quick hitter.”

Junior Sarah Hancock liked her team’s chances to advance to their third straight state championship if they did one thing.

“After watching film, we really believed we could beat them if we worked hard and do what we do. We couldn’t go out there and do random things that we usually don’t do,” she said. “We had to play Laker basketball.”

That, they did.

At 5-feet-2, Hancock snared a key offensive rebound and scored, then went 3-of-4 from the foul line as the Lakers outscored Wells 8-3 over the final 1:18 to pull away for a 59-51 victory Saturday at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

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THREE-PEAT — Lake Region won their third straight Class B West title by downing third-ranked Wells. Showing Laker Nation the West championship plaque are (left to right) seniors Tiana-Jo Carter, Jordan Turner, Miranda Chadbourne and Lucy Fowler.

The Lakers (20-1) advance to the state finals this Friday against Mt. Desert Island (19-2) at the Cross Center in Bangor.

Despite some frenetic moments down the stretch, Hancock (13 points) was able to get the Lakers over some rough spots with her composed leadership and clutch shooting. She even grabbed a big rebound when the game was on the line.

“Sarah is one of the best leaders I have ever coached. On and off the floor, she is just in tune with the coaches. She is the floor general. She is vocal. She has no fear about leading. I think back to the Presque Isle game from a year ago, and consider why Guerrette was such a special player? She and Sarah both have a skill most girls don’t — that pull up, mid-range jumpshot, a true jumpshot. Sarah made big shot after big shot,” Coach True said. “And when it comes to rebounding, she has the heart of a lion. At 5-foot-2, her physical skills aren’t off the charts, but in that moment when a play needs to be made, Sarah is going to come up with the ball or make a play. That’s just the kind of kid she is.”

As expected, both clubs opened the game with lots of intensity at both ends of the court. Wells enjoyed early leads of 6-2 and 11-7 before the Lakers hit their stride to take a 13-12 lead after one as senior Tiana-Jo Carter scored twice and freshman Kristen Huntress converted a steal into a lay-up.

There were six lead changes in the second quarter before the Lakers opened up a 24-19 lead as Hancock threaded a pass to senior Miranda Chadbourne inside the lane for a bucket and Carter collected a miss for an offensive put back.

Wells tied the game as senior leading scorer Alison Furness took the ball strong to the hoop and Stephanie Woods drained a 3-pointer from the left wing.

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THANKS FOR THE SUPPORT — Lake Region head coach Paul True acknowledges Laker fans after being presented with the game ball.

But, Hancock worked the clock perfectly, pulling the trigger on a straight-away trey with 1.2 seconds left to send the Lakers to the locker room up 27-24.

Lake Region started to take control of the game in the third quarter with a 9-4 run as Jordan Turner’s strong drive to the hoop put the blue and gold up 36-28 with 3:24 left in the period.

Furness kept the Warriors close by, going 4-for-4 from the foul line, but Carter’s jumper and a 3-pointer from Lucy Fowler nudged the Laker lead to 45-36.

With a ticket to the finals hanging in the balance, the Lakers went to their ace — Carter. The 6-foot-2 Carter left the LR student body chanting, “You can’t stop her,” after scoring six straight points to put her club up seven with 2:33 left.

“T was huge. I said to her before the game that this is the stage where the best players rise to the top,” Coach True said. “She showed everybody why she is one of the best. She was an absolute monster (game-high 24 points and 19 rebounds). She is a special player.”

Trying to milk the clock nearly backfired on the Lakers. With Wells turning up their pressure, the Lakers committed several turnovers down the stretch, enabling the Warriors to climb back into the game. Free throws by Nicole Moody and Furness cut the game to 51-48 with 2:10 remaining.

“I kept encouraging our kids to keep playing,” Coach True said. “They amped up the amount of pressure in the backcourt and I felt it affected our kids. They just wanted to possess the ball, and I wanted us to make them pay at the other end — continue to attack. We struggled, but did enough to pull it out.”

For Sarah Hancock, the final 2 minutes seemed like an eternity.

“It seemed like forever. I looked up at the clock and just 30 seconds had gone off it. I just wanted to end it. Win and go home. We were prepared for everything that they threw at us. In practice, Coach True told us everything that would happen, and it happened. We just had to stay calm. We had to control what we could — our attitude and our effort,” she said.

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CUTTING DOWN THE NET — Junior guard Sarah Hancock cuts down one of the nets following the Lakers' championship over Wells.

Effort enabled one of the smaller players on the floor to control a key rebound in the last minute of the game.

“People don’t think to block me out because I am 5-2. It’s a matter of hustling to the backboard and realizing where a (missed) shot is going and where I need to be,” she said. “I know I am not going to get every rebound, but our big focal point this year is for everyone to rebound and not rely on Tiana to get every rebound.”

After Furness drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 56-51, Carter did corral a rebound to seal the victory. Hancock put the finishing touches on the win by swishing a pair of foul shots, while Carter made 1-of-2 with 8 seconds left.

As players took turn cutting the nets down after the game, they realized just how sweet revenge could be.

Coach True later received the game ball, turned and faced Laker Nation and raised the ball into the air.

“People who know me know I like to stick close to the vest. Everything is thought out and calculated. Those moments are just an opportunity to show my appreciation and ‘thank you’ to the community for their support,” the coach said. “It’s just as much their moment as ours.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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