Jay High School’s girls basketball team has never set foot in the Bangor Auditorium, let alone played in a state championship game.
So when coach Chris Bessey’s Western Maine Class C champion Tigers arrive for Saturday’s state championship against Eastern champ George Stevens Academy, it could be similar to when the Hickory Huskers walked into Butler Field House in the movie “Hoosiers” and were awestruck.
“I’ll ask them if they have to measure the baskets,” joked Bessey, whose club defeated top-ranked Waynflete of Portland 40-38 in the Western regional final.
“None of the girls have been in the building,” he added.
But Bessey isn’t concerned about that as much as he is the game itself, and it turns out his Tigers match up fairly well with the Eagles of Blue Hill.
“We like to push the ball on offense. They have quick guards so we have to make sure we contain them, and on the other side they play very aggressive man-to-man defense, so we have to make sure we don’t turn the ball over,” explained Bessey, who added GSA’s style of play is similar to those of Mountain Valley of Rumford and Dirigo of Dixfield.
Jay’s roster features upperclassmen and young talent, with senior Liz LeBlanc and junior Hillary Dean leading the way.
The Tigers had to erase a double-digit Waynflete lead to reach the state championship, with LeBlanc finding her shooting touch in the second quarter of that game after being held scoreless in the first.
She finished with 12 points, and Jay salted that contest away with free throw shooting.
The Tigers shot 14-for-21 as a unit against the Flyers.
Coming from behind is nothing new to Jay.
“We’ve done it all year, we’ve been down throughout the year and always seemed to bounce back,” said Bessey, whose club rallied from a 15-point hole against Mount Abram of Strong earlier this winter.
Bessey said LeBlanc is a jack-of-all-trades player who handles the ball well, is one of the team’s leading rebounders and can score in the post while Dean is strong up front.
“[Liz] does pretty much everything,” Bessey said. “She’s one of our leading rebounders and assist people and gets a lot of steals on defense.”
He added that there may be some understandable jitters early in the state final.
“I think there will be some nervousness on both sides, [but] we’ve handled it well so far,” said Bessey. “It just matters how quickly we can get over it.”
There should be no adjustment needed to playing in the noisier Auditorium compared to the quieter and comfortable Augusta Civic Center.
“The noise level in the Civic Center can get loud, it can get boisterous and our home gym is a dome, so its really wide open but very echoey which I guess is similar to Bangor,” Bessey said.