AUGUSTA — On Friday, the Forest Hills girls were talking about their most memorable moments as a team. They brought up the time Kori Coro hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, which somehow led to coach Mike LeBlanc ripping his pants.
One day later, Coro nailed another 3-pointer, and this one will be remembered by everyone who saw it. With Forest Hills trailing Rangeley by two in the Western D final, Coro swished a three with 0.8 seconds left, giving the Tigers a heart-stopping 53-52 victory at the Augusta Civic Center.
“Let’s just say I was very scared,” Coro said with a smile. “If it wasn’t for that assist by Dana McNally, I wouldn’t have got that shot off, and we would have been done for the season.”
Instead, No. 1 Forest Hills remains undefeated at 21-0 and will face Eastern D champion Washburn for the Class D title at 1:05 p.m., Saturday in Augusta. It’s the first trip to the state finals for the Tigers since they won the Gold Ball in 1997. No. 2 Rangeley finishes at 19-2. Both losses were to Forest Hills, by a combined seven points.
Rangeley’s Taylor Esty (16 points, 13 rebounds) scored 12 points in the third quarter, and the Lakers led 48-38 early in the fourth quarter. Forest Hills scratched back with a 7-0 run, and trailed 50-47 with 2:30 to go when McNally followed up her own missed three with a basket.
The Tigers tied it at 50 when Haley Cuddy threw in a three — her only points of the game, and her only shot of the second half — with 1:57 left. Rangeley immediately answered with a driving bank shot by Tori Letarte (14 points) for a 52-50 lead.
The teams traded turnovers, including a great defensive play by Rangeley’s Blayke Morin (10 points, 12 rebounds) to take a charge under the basket. Forest Hills had the ball with 23.1 seconds left when LeBlanc called timeout.
“They wondered why I was smiling,” LeBlanc said. “I said, ‘Here is where we want to be. We’re known for our 3-point shooting. We’re going to end up winning it at the buzzer.’ And I named off one of the five girls that was going to do it.”
McNally missed a three, but Rangeley missed a free throw. Forest Hills threw the ball away, but the Lakers missed another free throw with 9 seconds to play. After going 9 for 10 from the line in the first half, the Lakers missed the front end of three one-and-ones in the final 30 seconds. When Anna Carrier grabbed the rebound for Forest Hills on this one, LeBlanc didn’t call timeout.
“I didn’t want to allow them to set up with one of the big girls taking the ball on the inbounder,” LeBlanc said. “So I just said, ‘Let it roll.’ I’m not a genius, so I’m not going to do any spectacular play.”
McNally found Coro in the left corner, and her contested rainbow three went in with 0.8 seconds left. The Lakers had no time to inbound, and the Tigers celebrated.
“We’re trained to turn and look at the basket,” Coro said. “That’s exactly what I did. When I took that shot, midway up, I knew it was going in. I was just hoping and praying that it would do something, and it did.”
It was a wild scene of unrestrained jubilation on the court — except for Carrier, who had already grabbed six rebounds in the fourth quarter.
“I was trying to box out Taylor (Esty),” Carrier said. “When the shot went up, I was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ She made it, so I stopped boxing her out. The ball hit the floor, and everyone was screaming. I was like, ‘The game’s not over!’ So I dove on the ground to get the ball. I thought it was a loose ball. Everyone was jumping over me.”
Down by two points in the final seconds, most coaches and players would probably look for a two-point shot to tie the game and take their chances in overtime. But Forest Hills set a Western D girls record with 22 3-pointers in three games. Eleven of those were by Coro, so LeBlanc was content with her taking a win-or-our-season’s-over shot.
“I knew that if we went into overtime, they were just going to pound the ball inside,” LeBlanc said. “We were running on emotion. So if we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose doing what we do.”
“We needed to either continue executing like we did in the third quarter, or hit those foul shots,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery said. “One or the other, and it didn’t happen. I knew that I didn’t want to be in that situation with that time left on the clock, with the kind of shooters they have.”
Rangeley nearly got the kind of lead Deery wanted. The Lakers were behind 27-25 at halftime, but shot 10 for 15 in the third quarter to lead 45-36 entering the fourth. Seve Deery-Deraps (10 points) committed three fouls in the first half, but stayed on the floor after the break, and made three key free throws in the fourth quarter.
“A few of us thought that we couldn’t come back, but I knew we could,” Carrier said. “So I was just trying to get everyone to keep their hopes up. I knew we just had to do what we knew how to do.”
Through three quarters, Rangeley was outrebounding Forest Hills 33-16, and six-footers Esty and Morin had their way against the much smaller Tigers, combining for 26 points. But in the fourth quarter, Esty and Morin had a total of two field goal attempts between them, and Forest Hills had an 11-7 advantage on the boards.
“I think (Anna) finally figured it out, that we needed to stay in the basket line — not get right on her â€‘— so we could beat her to the spot that she wanted to go to,” LeBlanc said. “We talked about that the other day — keeping them out of their comfort zone, where they want to go. Anna just stepped it up (and) played amazing defense, I thought, especially in the fourth quarter.”
For 31 minutes and 59 seconds, the teams played evenly. Then Coro’s shot went in, and Forest Hills will celebrate, relive the moment 1,000 times, and prepare for a state championship game, while the Lakers will be wishing they could do the same thing.
“They’re a great bunch of kids,” Deery said. “I love ‘em. Every one of ‘em. I feel bad for them, because they’ve worked so hard to get back here. And yeah, we’re here every year, but it isn’t easy to get here. It’s hard work.”