WINSLOW — There is some journey left for the Winslow girls basketball team. Maybe even a lot of journey left.

But as the sixth-seeded Black Raiders celebrated on the sideline and their student section counted down the final seconds of their 56-35 Class B North preliminary win over No. 11 Caribou, it was worth reflecting on just how far they’ve come already.

Winslow’s Silver Clukey, right, outlets the ball over Caribou’s Taylor Skidgel during a Class B North preliminary game Tuesday in Winslow. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“I’m very happy,” coach Brenda Beckwith said. “They responded very well, I thought we played very well.”

Back in December, well before Bodhi Littlefield’s dazzling shooting show resulted in 22 points or Winslow’s aggressive defense confounded the Vikings for all four quarters, Beckwith had a roster with far more questions than answers. She had two returning players with considerable varsity experience in senior guard Silver Clukey and junior guard Littlefield.

The rest of the team was going to learn on the job. Going to Bangor was a goal. But unless the team was able to grow, it would be far from a given.

“The other girls, they just haven’t had that experience,” Beckwith said. “They’ve been on teams that have gone, but you’ve got to get out (on the court), and that’s what we told them in the locker room. You’ve got to get out and play.”

As the year progressed, that growth took place. Out of the cast of players stepping into bigger roles came some who proved themselves perfectly suited for their new responsibilities. The Black Raiders got a post presence in senior forward Grace Smith. They got another in junior forward Olivia McCaslin. They found a defensive specialist in junior guard Lauren Roy, and another disruptive defender in junior guard Jenna Veilleux.

“We have so many girls that have stepped up,” Littlefield said. “Especially my class. They’ve just improved so much, helped us throughout this whole season. I’m just really proud of how they’ve stepped up for us. It’s awesome.”

The veterans weren’t spared. Beckwith challenged her two leaders to diversify their game, Clukey with developing a jumper to go with her drive and Littlefield with grooming an outside shot.

“We’ve asked them to do a couple of things that they’re uncomfortable with,” Beckwith said. “You’ve got to keep building your arsenal of what you can do. … Every kid had something that they could work on, that they improved on. And they did it.”

Through December, January and into February, a contender was born. There was no game where the switch just flipped, but the Black Raiders themselves could feel something was working.

“I can’t say a specific game,” Clukey said. “But near the end of the season, we really started to click. Our defense started to come into play. We started working more together.”

It was all on display Tuesday night. In the second quarter, Winslow was working with a 13-11 lead when Littlefield, whom Beckwith encouraged earlier to start shooting, hit a 3-pointer to up the lead to five. She made another basket, then banked in a jumper, had a steal and score, and then knocked down two more threes in the final minute to turn a a close game into a 32-18 advantage.

“The 3-pointers started draining for me,” said Littlefield, who had four threes at the half and hit her fifth in the first minute of the third quarter. “I kept shooting and hoped they went in, I guess. … When you make the first one, it gets you confident and you want the ball more after that.”

Winslow’s Grace Smith, takes a sot over Caribou’s Paige Espying during a Class B North preliminary game Tuesday in Winslow. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

The scoring torch in the second half went to Clukey, who scored 10 of her 15 points after the break as Winslow pulled away. The defense that had become a calling card of Winslow’s showed up for the first playoff test; Caribou committed 27 turnovers, many a product of the Black Raiders’ buzzing halfcourt pressure, while McCaslin (nine points) had eight rebounds and three steals, Smith (eight points) grabbed seven boards and Roy and Veilleux had two steals apiece.

That defense prevented Caribou from taking charge early. And once Littlefield found the hot hand, it prevented the Vikings, despite 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks from Paige Espling, from catching up.

“I thought they handled it quite well,” Beckwith said. “It’s a new environment with going to the playoffs because everything is on the line, you can’t really say ‘We’ll fix it tomorrow’ because if you lose, there is no tomorrow. I was pleased at how they responded to all that.”

And now it’s off to the Cross Insurance Center, and a matchup with No. 3 Presque Isle. And who knows. Maybe there’s still some growing left to do.

“It definitely gives us confidence,” Littlefield said. “We came out hot tonight, I thought we played solid defense, and when we started moving the ball that’s when we started getting shots. Solid win for us.”

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