AUGUSTA — It was only at the end of the Class A North final that the Messalonskee girls basketball team could begin the tradition of cutting down the nets at the Augusta Civic Center.

As for the celebration? The Eagles didn’t have to wait that long to get started.

Messalonskee finished its conquering of the A North field with dazzling dominance, leading by 29 points at halftime en route to a 55-39 victory over Nokomis, and its first regional title since 2009.

That’s 21 straight wins for the Eagles, and the best team in the class during the regular season wasted no time proving it was the best in the tournament as well.

“It’s just absolutely crazy,” said senior guard Sophie Holmes, who led all scorers with 17 points and was named the tournament’s top player. “We all love basketball, we’ve dreamt about it. We all want to win a state championship and you’ve got to win this game to get there, so it’s a big deal for us.”

It was the end of the road for No. 3 Nokomis (16-5), which never quit despite the daunting deficit, cutting the gap to 11 points in the fourth quarter, but didn’t have the time nor the firepower to climb all the way back.

“I’m mostly proud that they didn’t sulk and hang their heads in the second half,” Warriors coach Michelle Paradis said. “They couldn’t have done any better than that in that second half.”

In the first half, it was all Messalonskee. The Eagles made eight of their first 10 shots from the field, 11 of their first 16 and 15 of 28 by halftime, burying the Warriors 36-7 with transition baskets, points down low and precise shooting.

“You know you have to show up for the big games, and we did,” said junior guard Ally Turner, who scored 13 points. “We passed it well, we shot well, we played amazing defense. That’s what was most important for us, locking them down on defense and shutting them down, which generates for us on offense.”

That defense was as impressive as the offense, challenging shots, picking off passes and wrestling away steals to hold Nokomis to three first-half field goals and seven points.

“I think they got nervous from the last time we played them, because it was a big difference in the score,” said Paradis, whose team lost to Messalonskee, 74-37, in their first matchup. “I didn’t even have to go into the locker room and yell at them, they already knew. They really lacked confidence.”

As the deficit mounted, Eagles coach Keith Derosby — never one throughout the season to assume any wins or accolades for his team — tried to both process the lead and urge his players to keep up their pace.

“We stayed the course. We talked about (how) no lead is safe,” he said. “At this point in the season, no one gets here on a fluke. We knew we kind of had to be smart about it, we knew we would see some kind of zone or pressure coming out.”

Not content to let their season end quietly, the Warriors steadily went about trying to rally. While Messalonskee went cold, making three third-quarter field goals, Nokomis cut the gap to 44-24 by the end of the third, and 44-31 with 5:58 to play.

Each time Nokomis got close, Messalonskee answered. Holmes hit a 3-pointer with 5:38 left to boost the lead back to 16, and after a Chelsea Crockett 3-pointer with 2:04 to play made it 50-39 and prompted Derosby to call a timeout, McKenna Brodeur (12 points) hit a free throw, Holmes had a steal and Lydia Dexter scored down low to bump the score to 53-39 with 1:02 to play.

“That’s what we’ve done all year,” Derosby said. “We’ve had some pushes. Even in this tournament, Gardiner pushed us. Nokomis pushed us, and I’m really proud of the integrity and the emotional control the girls showed to stem the tide, make the shot when it mattered, make the free throws when they mattered.”

Crockett led Nokomis with 12 points, scoring 10 in the second half, while Olivia Brown had eight and Sidney Moore scored all seven of her points after halftime.

“With (Messalonskee), it really is a long way to go,” Paradis said. “Even four points is a long way to go with them. They’re an extremely good team, they play tough defense. Getting the lead down to 11 was a great feeling for us as a coaching staff. … They really worked hard to come back in the second half.”

There was simply too much Messalonskee, and after years of being in the conversation, the Eagles, with Holmes leading the way, had their moment.

“Words can’t express what it means to get to this point, knowing that so few teams have this opportunity,” Derosby said. “Sophie’s freshman year is the year we were able to pull an upset as the seventh seed, then get close to another one. Then last year, getting close, so to finally get over that hump with her is pretty important.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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