BANGOR, Maine — With the role of hero yet to be cast late in Saturday’s Class C state championship game, Liz LeBlanc calmly glided into the spotlight.
Jay High School’s first-ever gold ball was on the line, but you wouldn’t know it judging from the Tiger senior’s composure and confidence.
LeBlanc canned an 18-footer from the left wing with 35 seconds left, and the Jay girls basketball team survived a pair of George Stevens Academy golden opportunities to emerge with a thrilling 44-38 victory at the Bangor Auditorium Saturday night.
LeBlanc, who helped spur a balanced Tiger attack with 12 points, earned redemption of sorts.
“Last year I had a back injury and was out for most of the season,” said LeBlanc.
Mallory Bonnevie also scored 12 points and Hillary Deane and Bethany More nine apiece for Jay, which finished 19-4 while George Stevens of Blue Hill completed a fine season 18-4.
The Eagles appeared to be in command late, as Alida Peake’s baseline drive gave coach Don Allen’s club a four-point lead with 2:15 remaining.
But a Bonnevie free throw and Moore’s driving layup brought Jay within one with 1:39 left. After a foul with just inside a minute to play, LeBlanc put the Tigers up on their next trip down the court.
“I just saw that I was open and I took a shot. I was open, I had to hit it,” said LeBlanc.
Following a GSA timeout, Maddie Park had a layup attempt on the subsequent inbounds play after cutting behind the Jay defense and toward the right low block, but the shot rolled off the rim.
Bonnevie then hit the front end of a one-and-one, and Stevie Theoharidis’ 3-pointer from up top on the Eagles’ next possession hit the back of the iron and went over the backboard, giving the Tigers the ball back with six seconds left.
Bonnevie and Deane then hit two free throws apiece to seal it for coach Jim Bessey’s club.
These teams were as evenly matched as could be on paper and it certainly showed on the court. The game’s biggest lead — with the exception of the final score — was a 27-22 GSA margin early in the third quarter.
But the Tigers have dealt with deficits all year. They had to erase a double-digit deficit in the Western Maine final against Waynflete of Portland just to get here, so they were unfazed.
“This team’s used to being down, so I just had a feeling that I knew we could come back,” LeBlanc said. “Once we took the lead we just knew we could hold onto the lead.”
The Tigers were generating wide-open looks throughout the early going against GSA’s man-to-man defense but could not find the hole.
“We had 28 shots at halftime and probably 20 of them were in the paint. We just didn’t convert when we got in there,” said Bessey.
But not only did the shots start to go down for Jay after intermission, the Tigers were sound from the free-throw line, going 17-for-23, with Deane hitting 7 of 8 and Bonnevie 6 of 9.
“It just means so much. I wouldn’t have wanted to win with any other teammates, they’re a great group,” Deane said.
The championship has an interesting family connection for Deane, as her father, Bob, played on the first Jay boys club to win a state title in 1978.
As for the Eagles, they have no reason to hang their heads after what was an outstanding campaign.
“Oh, absolutely I’m as proud as I could be, that’s a great season for us,” said Allen. “They played hard and left everything on the court.”
Peake led the Eagles with a game-high 14 points while Eastern Maine tournament Most Valuable Player Park added 12 to go with seven rebounds.