BANGOR, Maine — With what had been a seemingly insurmountable 23-point lead vaporizing before its collective eyes, the Waterville girls basketball team relied on three simple factors to keep its composure.
Poise. Defense. Experience.
And the Purple Panthers had a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist at their disposal. Morgan Frame displayed the power and grace that has hoop experts throughout the state pegging her as one of the favorites for the prestigious honor.
Frame racked up 36 points, eight rebounds and six steals Saturday as top-seeded Waterville withstood a game second-half effort from No. 2 John Bapst of Bangor to post its 65th consecutive victory and third straight Eastern Maine Class B title, 59-47, at the Bangor Auditorium.
Coach Ted Rioux’s club (21-0) takes on Western Maine champ York at 7:05 p.m. Friday at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland in its quest for a third consecutive gold ball.
The Crusaders wrap up a stellar season 19-3.
After Bapst’s Sam Maquillan converted a baseline drive to cut Waterville’s lead to 10-6 with 3:43 left in the first quarter, the Purple Panthers reeled off the half’s next 13 points and held the Crusaders without a field goal the rest of the half.
“We always play strong defense and I think we played really well together,” said senior guard Jen Nale, who added 11 points. “We switched on screens, we got to help side and I think that was huge in the second half.”
The Crusaders came out in a straight man-to-man defense, and that was no match for Frame, as she dropped in 19 first-half points, mainly on offensive putbacks and layups.
“We knew they’d be coming out in man, [so we] just wanted to try to get ball into post and work around everywhere else and that’s what we did,” said Frame.
But what the Panthers didn’t quite expect was for the Crusaders to switch to a half-court press in the second half. It flustered Waterville somewhat, as the Panthers committed 13 turnovers and Bapst clawed its way back into the game.
“And that’s something that doesn’t happen very often for us. We usually have a great start to the second half,” Nale said.
The Crusaders would get as close as nine, but one of the reasons the Panthers have won the last two state championships and 65 consecutive games is they don’t panic.
After JB’s Morgan Chasse hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 51-42 with 4:08 to play in the fourth quarter, Frame hit the front end of a one-and-one and Nale converted a steal into a fast-break layup to put Waterville back up by double digits.
“They really came back and gave Waterville quite a scare I think for a little bit,” said Bapst coach Mike Webb, whose club still didn’t go away.
Chasse hit a free throw and Sam Gormley two more to make it a nine-point game again with 1:30 left, but once again, the 6-foot-1 Frame answered, scoring five points in the final minute to put it away.
“This team, when it comes down to its final three minutes, they focus and they play hard,” Rioux said.
Even though Bapst’s defense was giving them fits on the offensive end, the Panthers simply resorted to the old tricks that got them there.
“What they do is they limit those mistakes and sheer guts and determination make up for those mistakes by playing great defense,” said Rioux.
Gormley led Bapst with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Chasse and Maquillan finished with 11 points apiece.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTOS BY GABOR DEGRE
John Bapst’s Sam Maquillan (above, right) blocks a shot put up by Waterville’s Paige Gardiner in the first half of the Eastern Maine Class B final Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium. Later in the game (below), personnel on the John Bapst bench react after a missed shot. Waterville won the title 59-47.