AUGUSTA — With Maci Beals on the court in Saturday’s Class C state championship game, the Central Aroostook girls basketball team was a juggernaut. But when Beals picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter and had to sit, the Panthers changed, and Winthrop was able to make it a game.

In the end, Central Aroostook (18-4) was able to hold on without its best player, and pulled away when Beals returned midway through the fourth, taking a 67-61 win over the Ramblers (19-3) to win the Class C state title.

It was Central Aroostook’s first girls basketball state title since winning Class C in 1982.

Beals finished with 20 points, 16 in the first half. Her three 3-pointers helped the Panthers make nine threes in the game, a Class C state game record.

“There’s not anything I can really think of, any switches or anything like that that we really would have made differently. When a player is playing like that, sometimes it’s just out of your hands,” Winthrop coach Joe Burnham said.

When Beals picked up her fourth foul with 5:07 left in the third, Central Aroostook led 38-28. With Beals on the bench, Winthrop rallied, taking a 42-40 lead on a Aaliyah WilsonFalcone (16 points) steal and layup with 2:01 left in the quarter. The Panthers rallied to take a 46-44 lead into the fourth.

“(Beals) being off the floor for an extended period of time certainly helped that,” Burnham said.

The score was tied 51-51 with 5:40 to play, when Beals returned, sparking a 16-10 run to close out the game.

“I’ve never been in that situation before, so I just tried to keep it together. I sat on the bench and cheered my teammates on,” Beals said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting and stay mentally into it.”

The Ramblers struggled to finish their shots in the first quarter, going just 3 of 16 from the field as the Panthers built a 16-8 lead.

“Certainly there was some tightness and jitters. Maybe rushing some shots. Missing those types of shots didn’t allow us to get into our defense and set up our offense, and that compounded the problem,” Burnham said.

Central Aroostook was hot from long range in the first half, making eight 3-pointers to help build a 35-25 halftime lead. Beals scored 16 points in the first half, including 10 in the second quarter as the Panthers increased their lead.

“One thing I didn’t want to do is hesitate. Coach (Dillon Kingsbury) never tells me to do that, so every time I saw the rim I shot it,” Beals said.

Added Burnham: “They certainly came out on fire. We knew they were tremendous shooters. We also knew that was an unsustainable clip. We kind of put ourselves down in a hole.”

Breann Bradbury had 14 points for the Panthers, while Libby Grass and Liberty Fulton each added 12. Kena Souza had 15 points for Winthrop.

For Winthrop, reaching the state game was a major step for a program that not long ago couldn’t field a varsity team.

“We couldn’t be more proud of those kids and what they’ve done. We just lost a game, but what they’ve brought back and they’ve brought as an attitude and enthusiasm and excitement, we can’t replace that at all,” Burnham said. “That’s gong to be the biggest loss with those seniors moving on. That’s a special group of girls.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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