Richmond girls basketball coach Mike Ladner figured if his team played .500 ball and reached the tournament, the season would be a success.

After all, the Bobcats had graduated three starters and were taking on a new and difficult Class C schedule in the competitive Mountain Valley Conference.

His team surprised by finishing the regular season at 13-5 before winning a preliminary-round game in the tournament and advancing to the quarterfinals, where it knocked off a veteran Old Orchard Beach team. Richmond lost to eventual state champion Monmouth in the semifinals, but went down fighting.

For his efforts, Ladner is the Kennebec Journal Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. Also considered were Monmouth coach Scott Wing and Oak Hill’s Mike Labonte.

Ladner is in his fourth year as a varsity coach — all at Richmond — and is learning as he goes.

“I still have a long ways to go,” he said. “I still have a lot of learn.”

Ladner learned from his previous tournament experience last season, when his team played Old Orchard in the semifinals. The pressing style that carried the Bobcats through the regular season was ineffective against the Seagulls. So was their strategy to front Old Orchard’s bigger players.

This year, they dialed back the aggressive defense against an Old Orchard team that returned virtually intact, and three-quartered the big players on defense. They won while holding the Seagulls’ two big players to a combined four points.

“We realized early on we weren’t going to push the ball as much (against Class C opponents),” Ladner said. “We were seeing bigger schools and better athletes.”

Ladner was blessed and sometimes cursed with having a star player in Sydney Underhil-Tilton, the team’s lone senior. Underhill-Tilton was often double and tripled-teamed.

“We really emphasized inside-out,” Ladner said of his offensive strategy.

The plan worked, as Underhill-Tilton kicked the ball back out to her teammates for open shots. This in turned opened up for her, especially in the fourth quarter.

“He does whatever he can to support us,” Underhill-Tilton said. “The guy can coach. He comes to practice everyday with a plan. He’s done so much for me, I hope he stays with the program.”

Ladner has no plans to leave. He’s started a successful travel team program for sixth, seventh and eighth graders that is now in its fourth year and producing results.

“We teach the same terminology as the high school,” he said.

The Bobcats notched some important victories this season, but more importantly they proved they could play with the top teams in the MVC, certainly not a given before the season began. The loss of Underhill-Tilton will hurt, but everyone else is back with the confidence they can play with their toughest opponents. Future talent is coming in as well.

“The future looks very bright,” Ladner said.

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