BANGOR, Maine — Sometimes a team’s best offense is its defense.
With its offense stuck in neutral, the Woodland girls basketball team shifted into overdrive defensively and slammed the brakes on Valley’s attack.
The Dragons limited the Cavaliers of Bingham to one field goal over the game’s final four-plus minutes and used a balanced scoring attack to annex their second straight Class D state championship with a 49-35 victory at the Bangor Auditorium Saturday.
Senior Julia Nicholas fueled coach Arnie Clark’s balanced offense with a game-high 15 points while Eastern Maine tourney MVP Ariel Knights and Taylor Cochran added nine apiece and Molly White seven.
“Our defense did everything for us and even created our offense,” said Knights.
The Dragons capped an undefeated campaign 21-0 while Valley finished 17-4.
Coach Gordon Hartwell’s Cavaliers certainly made the Dragons work for their points, as both offenses struggled against full-court traps.
“We never got into a real good rhythm, they worked very hard defensively,” said Clark.
Woodland scratched and clawed to a 20-14 halftime lead before assuming control with a 9-2 run to open the second half, capped by Knights’ conventional three-point play.
Like it did over most of the contest, Woodland dominated the backboards over that span, outrebounding Valley 12-2 during the first 4:37 of the third.
“That certainly hurt us during that run,” Hartwell said. “A lot of times we were trying to jump with them instead of getting a body into them.”
Cochran’s one-hander in the paint gave Woodland a 15-point cushion entering the fourth quarter, and the Dragons seemed to be in total command.
But like a pit bull going for a bone, the Cavaliers would not let go, using a 9-3 run to pull back to within seven with 2:17 to play.
The Dragons’ confidence, however, was unshakable. Clark’s unfazed club allowed no Valley field goals the rest of the way while Nicholas, who was 7-for-7 from the foul line, hit four free throws to ice it.
“Tonight’s game was the best we’ve ever shot from the free-throw line,” said Knights, who along with White had four steals.
Even though they had such a large lead entering the final eight minutes, Clark could sense the inevitable Valley run was forthcoming.
“A 15-point lead doesn’t mean anything to him. He wanted us to keep working hard and act like it was a whole new game out there,” Nicholas said.
Valley senior guard Cindy Schultz, who led the Cavs with 14 points, gave the Dragons’ full-court press some fits with her quickness, and Valley was able to beat it on occasion.
“She’s a really good player and she did cause a little trouble for us, but we handled it,” said Knights.
This group of Dragons is fairly young — Nicholas is the only senior who plays significantly — so many experts thought Woodland was maybe a year away.
Wrong. Eight of the Dragons’ 21 victories came against Class C competitors Calais, Washington Academy of East Machias, Narraguagus of Harrington and Lee Academy.
“Everybody thought it was just going to be our boys, but now, we’re both here [and] we’re undefeated [and] we just won states to prove it to everyone,” Nicholas said.
Jocelyn Laweryson contributed 10 points for Valley.