George Stevens Academy’s winning formula throughout this basketball season has featured pressure defense, balanced offense and clutch free-throw shooting.
Oh, and don’t forget that the Eagles are one of the quickest, most athletic teams in the region.
“That’s what we do, we’ve done it all year,” said GSA coach Don Allen.
Allen’s club can make school history Saturday night by not only winning the first gold ball in the program’s history, but by bringing home the Blue Hill school’s first state championship in any girls’ sport.
The Eagles face Western Maine champ Jay for the Class C state crown at 7:05 p.m. at the Bangor Auditorium.
The rest of this weekend’s state title slate has Waterville taking on York in a battle of unbeatens in the Class B game at 7 tonight in Portland, with the Class D game between Valley of Bingham and Woodland tipping off at 1:05 p.m. in Bangor Saturday.
Messalonskee of Oakland takes on unbeaten Deering of Portland in the Class A contest in Augusta at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
Class C: In years past, defenses would key on Eagles standout Maddie Park, the most valuable player of the Eastern Maine tourney.
But the Miss Basketball semifinalist has stepped up her game even more this year and has become one of the best well-rounded players in the state.
“This year, she’s done a lot better job distributing the ball, creating shots for the rest of the kids and her rebounding dramatically improved this year,” said Allen.
Park, a senior guard, averaged 12.6 points per game in the regional tourney with junior forward Stevie Theoharidis averaging 13.0 ppg.
India Frazier and Alida Peake were also keys offensively for the Eagles in regional play.
“It was good to do that because a lot of teams all year long focus a lot on Maddie. We’ve seen a lot of box-and-ones and face guarding,” said Allen. “The kids have learned how to deal with it all, the kids have stepped up well.”
Park and twins Emily and Alida Peake are as tough as they come in the backcourt, especially Emily Peake, who is extremely quick and can sneak into passing lanes like a great white shark chasing an anchovy.
Those traits complement Park, who at 5-foot-11 can play with the best post players.
“She’s a big guard for Class C,” said Allen.
The community’s support after the Eagles defeated Washington Academy of East Machias to annex the regional crown was astounding.
“After the Eastern Maine game we came down through Ellsworth and Surry and there were probably 10-12 firetrucks lined up to meet us,” Allen said. “I don’t know how many cars were blowing horns.”
So imagine the kind of reception GSA might get should it bring home a gold ball.
Western champ Jay, making its first state title game appearance, is led by Liz LeBlanc and Hillary Dean, both formidable offensive threats.
Class B: Waterville is seeking its third straight gold ball and 66th consecutive victory, but another undefeated team, 21-0 York, is standing in the Purple Panthers’ way.
One of the Wildcats’ many tasks will be to slow 6-1 Eastern Maine tourney MVP Morgan Frame, a Miss Basketball finalist who averaged 23.3 points and 14.3 rebounds per game in regional tourney play.
But should York slow Frame, coach Ted Rioux’s Panthers have plenty of other weapons, such as junior guard Jennifer Nale, a premier outside shooting threat who averaged 14.3 ppg in the Eastern B tourney.
Waterville traditionally goes nine players deep, with Paige Gardiner, Stacie and Stephanie Whitten and Taylor Frame — Morgan’s sister — among the other key assets.
Coach Rick Clark’s York club has a pair of sound post players in 6-footers Niki Taylor and Meredith Reed.
Class D: Defending champion Woodland goes into this matchup with Valley as the favorite, but don’t think coach Arnold Clark’s Dragons are going to just show up and take the gold ball.
“We watched their [Western Maine final] game to decide whether they were going to play us or not, but other than that we haven’t seen them [on film],” said Woodland junior Ariel Knights earlier this week.
Eastern tourney MVP Knights leads a balanced Woodland offense, along with sophomore Molly White, junior Ashley Laking, freshman Taylor Cochran and senior Julia Nicholas.
The Dragons are tenacious defensively, as their intense ball pressure forced Lubec, Washburn and Fort Fairfield into one mistake after another in the regional tournament.
“They don’t make mistakes, they force you into mistakes,” Valley coach Gordon Hartwell said.
Hartwell’s Cavaliers are led by Katelyn Atwood, Cindy and Jocelyn Schultz and Jessica Brown.
Class A: Defending state champion Deering is led by Diana Manduca, voted the Western’s tourney’s MVP for the second year in a row.
Manduca averaged 13.6 ppg for the Rams during the regular season while leading her team with 45 assists and 51 steals. She was the SMAA’s top foul shooter at 84.6 percent.
Coach Brenda Beckwith brings a Messalonskee club that’s making its first state title game appearance since winning the state Class B championship in 1987.
The Eagles are led by EM tourney MVP Hannah Dexter, a junior guard who averaged 15.5 ppg in regional play.
Classmates and fellow backcourt players Kaitlyn Deering (13.0 ppg) and Holly Oliver (7.0 ppg) also fuel Messalonskee’s balanced attack.