AUGUSTA — For once in a magical, unforgettable two-year run, the Hall-Dale girls didn’t make the biggest play of the game.

Instead, it was Central, winning its first-ever Class C girls basketball state title with an improbable 40-39 victory over the defending state champion Bulldogs on Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center.

Central junior guard Max McHugh made two free throws with 11.4 seconds left for the winning points. The Red Devils trailed 25-12 with 5:24 to play in the third quarter, and outscored Hall-Dale 28-14 from that point.

The Red Devils led 10-9 in the first quarter, but didn’t lead again until 6-foot freshman Brianna Skolfield followed up McHugh’s miss with a layup to put Central on top, 38-37, with 38 seconds left in the game.

Twelve seconds later, Hall-Dale’s Allison Crockett (six points, nine rebounds) finished off a beautiful drive-and-dish by Wendy Goldman with a layup, and the Bulldogs led, 39-38.

Central called timeout with 18.8 seconds to go. When play resumed, McHugh drove to the basket from the left side and drew the fifth foul on Hall-Dale star Carylanne Wolfington. McHugh swished both free throws, putting Central ahead, 40-39, with 11.4 seconds left.

“The plan that we had was for me to drive to the basket, because we knew that (Skolfield) was doubled,” McHugh said. “I either wanted a foul or the shot to go in.

“I got the foul, and on that line, I must say I was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my entire life. The pressure was unbelievable, but thank God the adrenaline pulled me through on that one.”

The Bulldogs had to go the length of the court after the timeout, and the ball ended up in the hands of Wendy Goldman on the right wing. Goldman had to force a 17-footer at the buzzer, and the shot was off line.

“I thought about calling timeout after we crossed the halfcourt line to draw up a play,” Hall-Dale coach Brandon Terrill said. “But my philosophy has always been, ‘Let ‘em play, and let ‘em create something.’ We didn’t get as good a look as we probably would have liked.”

Hall-Dale led 15-12 at halftime, after a second quarter in which the teams combined to score four points, shoot 2 for 23 from the field, and commit 15 turnovers.

But all that was quickly forgotten at the start of the third quarter. Goldman and Kristina Buck each scored five points, and Hall-Dale led 25-12. Goldman, who also hit two clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, would go on to score 17 points, and tie the Class C state final record with four 3-pointers.

Central coach Diane Rollins called timeout at that point, and the Red Devils immediately changed their offensive game plan. With Skolfield (17 points, eight rebounds) and 5-foot-11 Sam Brownell, Central usually likes to be patient and go inside. But the Devils spent the early part of the third quarter settling for quick 3-pointers that skittered off the mark.

“I said to attack the basket, and look for the big girls as we were attacking, instead of looking for something that we didn’t want,” Rollins said. “We’ve played that way all year. We’d do things that weren’t quite right, and then they’d come out of it, like they did tonight.”

Central did not take a 3-pointer the rest of the way, and rarely took an outside shot. Skolfield scored 11 of her 17 points in the second half, and also stayed on the floor until the end, despite picking up her fourth foul with 4:39 left in the game.

While that was going on, Central was also doing an amazing defensive job on Wolfington, who came in averaging 21.5 points per game. Wiolfington was still very much a factor with her defense, floor sense, and 10 rebounds, but finished with just six points.

“Max was the key on Wolfington,” Rollins said. “At the beginning, we were just going man-to-man. I knew she was aggressive. I was hoping she would pick up a couple quick fouls, and she did. Then I went to a zone defense, with Max kind of knowing where she was, and it worked. We got lucky, and it worked.”

“Carylanne Wolfington’s one of the best girls basketball players to ever play at Hall-Dale High School,” Terrill said. “She’s one of the top 10 finalists for Miss Maine basketball, and rightfully so. We never would have been here in this position without her.”

Terrill also thought Central’s zone defense played a big part in the outcome. After the initial second-half surge, Hall-Dale made only six field goals in the final 13-plus minutes.

“I never had an answer to give the girls to get us some looks against their half-court zone, so I came up short in that regard,” Terrill said.

When it was over, his players in tears on the bench watching another team celebrate, Terrill then had to talk to his players, knowing nothing he could say would change how they felt at that moment.

“I tried to communicate to them how fond I am of them, how fond this community is of them, how easy it is to root for them,” Terrill said. “I tried to let these seniors know that I think they’ve had the best two-year run in the history of Hall-Dale girls basketball, and that anybody that was a part of it will never forget them. It can be a cruel game sometimes, and I’m not sure there’s much else to say.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243
[email protected]

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