READFIELD — Liz D’Angelo knows the blood, sweat and tears Maranacook has put into becoming the first girls’ team in school history to reach a state basketball final.

She can also appreciate how much longer her team will be remembered if it can take one more step on Saturday.

“We’ve worked really hard for it. We’ve come in to practices, Monday through Saturday, over the past four years, practices over vacation, early mornings, late nights. We put a lot of time and effort into the program and we’re really looking for that payout from it,” she said. “It means a lot for all of us to get here.”

“A Gold Ball would be icing on the cake,” she said.

Having already authored the best season in Maranacook girls’ basketball history, D’Angelo and the Black Bears will meet Houlton to battle for the Class C state championship in Bangor (7:05 p.m. Saturday).

Led by a senior nucleus that includes D’Angelo, two-time KVAC Class B player of the year Christine Miller, Sarah Clough, Sage Hyland and Kristen Hall, Maranacook has played with a sense of urgency during the 2014-15 season.

“I think what really brought us together was because it’s our senior year, it was really important to all of us. We’ve all been working for this since our travel team in fifth grade. So we just really, really want it this year,” D’Angelo said. “I think it’s a common goal that brings us together. Our goal since day one has been get another game and then, eventually, get the (Gold) Ball.

Another key to their success this season has been having D’Angelo’s presence in the paint during the tournament. The Black Bears could not say the same last year, as a week-long trip to Spain by D’Angelo’s Spanish class coincided with the tournament.

Even though she was crushed to learn via Facebook updates from 3,000 miles away that the Black Bears’ were eliminated during the regional semifinals, she wouldn’t trade the experience she had in Spain for anything.

“I had a blast. It was so much fun,” D’Angelo said.

She took some consolation in what her team had accomplished, and what its still had time to achieve.

“We’d had a good season and I was proud,” she said. “I knew that our team wasn’t changing a whole lot from last year to this year, so I knew we’d probably be back.”

To help the Black Bears get back, D’Angelo and some of her teammates needed to take some of the pressure off Miller, particularly offensively.

To do her part, D’Angelo, a 5-foot-9 forward, needed to get tougher in the paint.

“I’ve played underneath, but I was a little timid before,” she said. “I’m still kind of timid, but I’ve gotten a lot more confident under there because, knowing that I’m a senior, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m the big kid under the board.’ I’m surprised with how much I’ve scored this year.”

Miller is happy to have a more assertive D’Angelo with her in the paint.

“She definitely helps with the rebounding and inside,” Miller said. “It takes a lot of pressure off of me inside because now they can’t double-and-triple-team me inside because I can just pass it off to her and she’ll finish. She’s finishing a lot better this year.”

“The two of us work really well together as a team,” D’Angelo said. “Having her pass me the ball when she’s not open and me getting open looks really boosted my confidence and made me feel like I had to be more physical.”

D’Angelo combines her height and newfound confidence with outstanding athleticism to do her damage on the boards and blocking shots.

“She can get up. Her vertical leap is amazing,” Maranacook coach Jeannine Paradis said. “We missed that last year during the tournament.”

“I think it’s a really big advantage because I can get up and grab the ball and rebound before other people can get off the floor,” said D’Angelo, who used her leaping ability to post 10 shutouts as goalkeeper on Maranacook’s Western C finalist soccer team last fall. “Also, if I want to block shots, I can go up a little bit higher.”

The Black Bears are hoping to take their season a little bit higher this weekend. D’Angelo, who is exploring her college options and hopes to continue playing soccer and basketball, is dreaming of adding a state championship banner to Maranacook’s Burbank Gymnasium, one that could inspire other Maranacook teams to follow in their footsteps for years to come.

“We would be that team that they look up to, which would be really, really cool,” she said. “And to do it with this group of girls would be awesome.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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