Usually if a basketball team heads into a state championship game with a 21-0 record, its going to be a heavy favorite.
That won’t be the case in Friday’s Class B girls final at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center.
York blazed through its regular season undefeated, rolled through the Western B tournament to its first regional title since 1994, and still finds itself the underdog.
That’s because longtime coach Rick Clark’s Wildcats are facing a Waterville team that possesses the last two gold balls and a 65-game winning streak.
“[It’s going to take] a good game [to beat them],” said Clark. “They’re a very talented team. We’ve just got to do the things we’ve been doing all year long.”
The Wildcats defeated eighth-ranked Wells, fourth-seeded Falmouth and No. 2 Greely of Cumberland Center to get to Friday’s matchup with the Purple Panthers.
York played a sound game defensively in defeating the Rangers 49-30 in the final, but the Wildcats shot only 33 percent, a figure Clark knows must improve if his club is to have a shot at the Panthers.
“Even when we’ve sputtered on offense on occasion, the defense has stepped up,” he said. “It could be a low-scoring game.”
The Wildcats have solid height in 6-foot senior forward Meredith Reed and fellow 6-footer Niki Taylor, a sophomore.
Clark hopes they can at least contain 6-1 Waterville senior Morgan Frame, with whom Taylor is familiar.
“They play on the same AAU team, so they know each other,” said Clark.
York’s other key players are junior point guard Emma Clark, who tallied 83 assists and 71 steals over the regular season and tournament, and sophomore small forward Stephanie Gallagher.
York last won a state championship in 1994 when it defeated Hermon.
In Class D, veteran Valley of Bingham coach Gordon Hartwell feels his club is heading into Saturday’s state final in Bangor with nothing to lose, for staring the Cavaliers in the face is undefeated Eastern Maine champ Woodland.
“We realize we’re a huge underdog,” he said. “We don’t have anything to lose, we know what we’re facing, we know they’re a strong team.”
Second-ranked Valley’s run through the regional tourney included wins over No. 7 North Haven in the quarterfinals, No. 3 Forest Hills of Jackman in the semis and a dramatic victory over No. 5 Rangeley in the final.
Cindy Schultz’s 3-pointer in the final seconds gave the Cavaliers a 40-39 win and punched their ticket to the 1:05 p.m. state championship game at the Bangor Auditorium.
Other key players are Katelyn Atwood, Jocelyn Schultz and Jessica Brown.
Hartwell’s club is aware of Woodland’s 1-2-2 zone scheme and the intense full-court pressure the Dragons apply.
“My whole team is going to have to be wary of it. They don’t make mistakes, they force you into mistakes,” said Hartwell.
Valley is making its second appearance in the state final in four years. The Cavaliers fell to Woodland 53-43 in 2006.
“They’re bigger than us, they’re 5-8 across the board. To me they’re body-wise comparable to Buckfield’s size,” he said.
Hartwell doesn’t feel the noisy Bangor Auditorium will have an effect on his team.
“I’ve been at the Auditorium and seen a ton of games, played on [the floor] myself, went to my sons’ games and I’m fairly confident in my kids. The building is not going to intimidate them,” he said. “My kids are really looking forward to going up there to play.”