Carrabec loses in 1st state championship try

AUGUSTA — Win or lose Saturday night, this was going to go down as the best season in Carrabec girls basketball history. The Cobras were trying to do the impossible — go from five wins to a state title in one season. They were playing in their first-ever state championship game. Their opponent, Calais, was playing in its 12th in the last 24 years.

People who love an underdog were rooting for Carrabec, but Calais just played a better game. The Blue Devils pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 52-40 victory in the Class C girls state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center.

“It’s a dream that they’ve all had since they were little kids, and they could see it,” Carrabec coach Skip Rugh said. “So to have it that close, and know that they were in the game and could play with this team, and not to capitalize on it, that’s tough for them. It’s really tough on the seniors, because they know that was their last chance at it.”

There were two obvious differences between the two teams in the statistics, and one of them was at the free throw line. Carrabec was 7 of 13, while Calais made 22 of 29, or 76 percent. The Blue Devils were 13 of 17 from the line in the fourth quarter.

“We stressed that all year long,” Calais coach Dana Redding said. “You keep on telling the kids that foul shots win games. I think in the championship game in Bangor, we were 12 for 24, which isn’t good. So this week, we stressed that a little bit.”

The other major difference was in turnovers. Carrabec committed 18, while Calais had six turnovers the entire game. The Cobras did an excellent job on Calais point guard Madison McVicar, with Jessica Vaillancourt, Baylee Atwood, and Jerzee Rugh all guarding her at times. McVicar scored a game-high 17 points, but was just 6 of 20 from the field. Still, Carrabec could not force her into ball-handling mistakes.

“We had a lot of turnovers that we don’t normally have,” Coach Rugh said. “I don’t know why. Nerves? I don’t know. We absolutely had our chances, and it was within our reach. We didn’t hit shots tonight, and the opportunities we had, we made bad passes. The turnovers — I don’t know how many we had, but it was probably too many.”

Calais led 13-11 after one quarter, but the Blue Devils could not keep Carrabec’s Emma Pluntke (11 points, seven rebounds) and Macy Welch (game-high 12 rebounds) off the boards. The Cobras had a 12-5 rebounding advantage after one quarter, but Calais battled them close to even in that category the rest of the way.

“They go to the basket offensively — they’re tough like that,” Redding said. “If you don’t box out, they’re going to get the offensive rebounds. We talked about that, but I think that’s what was happening (in) the first quarter. I think we did better after the first quarter.”

Carrabec took its last lead of the game at 14-13, when Mickayla Willette (10 points, six rebounds) drove the lane and kicked it back out to Vaillancourt for a 3-pointer. That was the only 3-pointer the Cobras hit, as they couldn’t make enough outside shots to force Calais out of its 2-3 zone. Calais led 27-21 at halftime after a 14-6 run to end the second quarter, and only Liberty Chestnut, who had all six of those points for Carrabec, kept the Cobras close.

Carrabec was within 31-28 when Welch followed up a missed free throw with a layup, and the Cobras still trailed 33-30 after three. But eight seconds into the fourth quarter, McVicar hit a hanging jumper and drew the foul for a three-point play. Then the Blue Devils knocked the ball away, and it was headed out of bounds before it bounced off an official and right to a Calais player. That led to a layup by Kaylee Johnson (14 points).

In just 21 seconds, Carrabec’s deficit had gone from 33-30 to 38-30. The closest the Cobras got after that was seven points.

By holding and extending the lead, Calais won its seventh Gold Ball, and first since 2010. Carrabec merely went from 5-14 to the best season in school history in a span of 12 months.

“It was an incredible season. It really was,” Coach Rugh said. “As it progressed, they became more and more of a team. It wasn’t a group here and a group there. They are one tight unit, and these are memories they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives. That’s really what it’s about. It’s about making those memories, and 10 years down the road, they’re going to remember this, and it’s going to make them smile. You gotta love that.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243mdifilippo@centralmaine.comTwitter: @Matt_DiFilippo