All season long, the girls’ basketball players at Oxford Hills played with the pressure of being the defending Class AA champions.

Saturday night, the Vikings proved they’re still the best.

Led by Julia Colby’s 22 points and a stifling defense that forced 22 turnovers, Oxford Hills defeated South Portland, 49-38, in the state championship game at Cross Insurance Arena.

Oxford Hills trailed early but took the lead midway through the second quarter and used a trapping half-court defense to limit the Red Riots to 21 points over the final three quarters.

“This feels better,” said Vikings senior guard Cecelia Dieterich, who hit three of the team’s eight 3-pointers. “I felt a little more pressure this year because we had something to defend. I think even with the pressure, we were able to get it done. And all of our dreams were to win the Gold Ball and the championship twice.”

Oxford Hills finished 21-1, its lone loss by one point to Greely on Jan. 7. South Portland, making its first appearance in a state final since 1986, finished 18-3.

“This is amazing,” said Oxford Hills Coach Nate Pelletier. “I couldn’t ask for anything more, especially from this senior group.”

South Portland led 17-15 after a breathtaking first quarter in which Colby and South Portland’s Maggie Whitmore each scored 10 points. But constant pressure defense from Oxford Hills took its toll on the Riots in the second quarter. The Vikings forced seven turnovers in those eight minutes.

A 3-pointer by Dieterich with 4:02 remaining in the second quarter gave the Vikings the lead for good at 22-21. Maggie Hartnett hit another 3 – Oxford Hills made eight compared to just one for the Red Riots (by Ashlee Aceto for South Portland’s first basket) – and the Vikings were in control.

“We felt if we could keep the tempo up for 32 minutes, we weren’t sure they could keep up with us,” said Pelletier. “We play at that tempo all year. I’m not sure any team can really keep up with that.”

“Our game plan was to press and try to outrun them and get them tired with our pressure,” said Colby.

And that’s what happened.

“We turned the ball over against their pressure and we knew that’s what we couldn’t do,” said South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson. “And it happened, and it cost us the game.

“We tried to dribble through (the pressure), we didn’t execute our press breaker. We played right into their hands … That’s a very good team. Hats off to them. We battled to the end.”

The Riots, after trailing 27-24 at halftime, pulled within one twice early in the third quarter. But Colby and Dieterich (11 points) made back-to-back 3-pointers, and it was 35-30.

After Whitmore (16 points) cut it to 35-32, a foul shot by Colby and a 3-pointer from Cassidy Dumont (10 points) made it 39-32 with 2:30 left in the third.

South Portland would get no closer than six, as the Vikings spread their offense and dribbled out much of the fourth quarter. They made seven of nine foul shots in the fourth to close it out.

It was a disappointing finish for the Riots. But Hasson said this team created memories for a lifetime.

“We did something that no South Portland team has done for 34 years,” she said. “They really made South Portland proud. And they’ll be remembered as a team that accomplished great things.”

But the Riots couldn’t overcome the experience of the Vikings or the brilliance of Colby, who will next play at New York Institute of Technology. In addition to her scoring, she had five steals and four assists. Like Dieterich, she said the season couldn’t have ended any better.

“Especially since this is our last year all playing together,” she said. “It’s just a great feeling.”

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.