Heidi Deery has plenty of experience coaching in state championship games, having now led Rangeley Lakes Regional High School to five in her 16 years as head coach. One of the lessons she’s become accustomed to teaching her team — and has stressed this week as the Lakers prepare to meet Shead High School of Eastport in the Class D state championship (Saturday, 1 p.m., Augusta Civic Center) — is don’t worry about the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead, focus on playing the type of basketball that made another shot at a state title possible.

“We are in charge of our own destiny,” Deery said.

Deery’s Lakers (20-1) showed how in charge they are with an impressive run through the Class D South tournament at the Augusta Civic Center. They won their three games by an average of 36.3 points after building halftime leads of 40, 25 and 13 points.

Senior Blayke Morin is the Lakers’ catalyst. The 6-foot-2 center acted as a facilitator in wins over Greater Portland Christian and Temple in the first two rounds of the tournament, then looked for her own offense more in the regional final against Vinalhaven and scored 34 points. She was named the tournament MVP after averaging 19.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists, but Shead coach Corey Sullivan said numbers only scratch the surface of Morin’s impact on the game.

“All of the tape I’ve watched of her so far, she can handle the ball, shoot the ball and she’s a great passer. Obviously, she’s a great rebounder, too,” Sullivan said.

“In their offense, Morin knows how to get to a spot, get rid of the ball, relocate and get the ball where she wants it,” he added. “She’s an amazing player.”

Shead (15-6) has pretty good size to match up with Morin, although most of it comes off the bench, Sullivan said. The Tigers are also excellent rebounders, relying on a team effort on the glass rather than one or two dominant rebounders.

But defense is Shead’s calling card. The Tigers limited their opponents to 31.3 points per game during the D North tournament with a 3-2 zone. That zone was particularly effective in limiting the touches by Central Aroostook star Karli Levesque in their 44-37 regional final win.

“We really hang our hat on ‘D,'” Sullivan said. “The old saying that defense wins championships, I’ve really tried to push it to them.”

8Rangeley plays championship-caliber defense, too. The Lakers play a stifling man-to-man, and their fullcourt press forces mistakes, turnovers and rushed shots. The quickness and tenaciousness of guards Maddison Egan, Natasha Haley, Celia Philbrick and Brooke Egan make it tough to go around or through, and the size of Morin and reserve forward Amelia McMillan make it virtually impossible to beat over the top. On top of all that, their discipline and versatility allow Deery to make any needed adjustments on the rare occasion opponents do solve the press.

“We’ve just worked the whole season on our mindset as far as being coachable,” Deery said. “I think we’ve come a long way in that area and I think it showed last week.”

Shead’s top scorers are Holly Preston, a junior guard who averaged 17 ppg during the season, and Cierra Seely, a sophomore guard who averaged 11 ppg and was MVP of the D North tournament. Sophomore forward Cassidy Wilder has come on in the scoring department of late, Sullivan said.

“In the Central game, we had six different girls score and that was our best team game to this point,” he said.

Sullivan noted that Shead can’t just focus on defending Morin to be successful. Haley and Maddison Egan are capable of getting to the basket and getting open for Morin to get them the ball, while Sydney Royce, a sophomore forward who is averaging 17.7 points per game in the tournament, has impressed the Shead coach as well.

“She’s tough,” Sullivan said. “She’s 5-foot-8. She’s rugged and she’s quick and she seems to play well off of Morin.”

Royce is one of a handful of Lakers who saw action in last year’s championship game, a 60-54 loss to Washburn. Deery isn’t sure if that will be an advantage against a school making its first championship game appearance since it beat Monmouth Academy in 1999.

“I think you can make a case for it helping. I think you can make a case for it not helping,” she said. “Experience is experience. If you draw on it, it will help you. If you don’t, then it won’t.”

The win over Rangeley marked Washburn’s fifth consecutive state title, a run Shead ended in the North semifinals with a 38-35 win.

Sullivan admitted his team treated that win over Washburn like a championship. But the Tigers had the poise to get their feet back on the ground quickly and focus on Central Aroostook. He hopes they exhibit that same kind of poise playing in an unfamiliar setting against an unfamiliar opponent.

“We came into the tournament saying ‘OK, four games left (to win a state title),’ and after beating Central it was ‘One game left,'” he said. “We’re pretty excited.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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