AUGUSTA, Maine — The Skowhegan girls basketball program has remained among the upper-echelon teams in Eastern Maine Class A ever since winning its last championship 31 years ago.
Yet the Indians had little to show for it, thwarted by the Cony of Augusta dynasty, and the shorter runs of Cindy Blodgett and Lawrence of Fairfield, Heather Ernest and Mt. Blue of Farmington and Danielle Clark and Nokomis of Newport.
A year ago Skowhegan came close again, earning the top seed in Eastern A only to fall to Messalonskee of Oakland in the regional final.
But in a singular play, Adrienne Davis and Liz Noddin erased those decades of frustration Friday, as Noddin caught a half-court pass from Davis and hit a 5-footer from the right of the lane as the buzzer sounded to lift the Indians past Brunswick 38-36 in the EM title game at the Augusta Civic Center.
“This is more than a victory for our team,” said Skowhegan coach Heath Cowan. “This is a victory for the community.”
The win advances unbeaten and top-ranked Skowhegan (21-0) to the state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center next Saturday night.
“Thirty-one years and now we’re finally here again,” said Davis, a junior guard. “Now we’re just ready to get it done and bring home the gold ball.”
Third-ranked Brunswick ended its season at 16-5.
Skowhegan inbounded the ball from its own end line with 8.2 seconds left after a Brunswick turnover.
The play began slowly, but finally the Indians’ Mackenzie Smith passed the ball ahead to Davis, who was standing near the left sideline at midcourt.
She looked up, saw Noddin cutting toward the basket, and arched a pass over a defender to her teammate.
“When I got the ball I didn’t really know what to do with it, but I saw a glimpse of Liz running up the court, so I figured she’ll catch it if I threw it, and she did,” said Davis. “I’m still shaking.”
Noddin gathered the ball, then went up for the short shot that fell through the net as time expired.
“I saw Adrienne chuck it down the court, and I saw a few Brunswick girls in front of me,” said Noddin, a senior who finished with six points. “I was like ‘it’s all or nothing,’ so I jumped with all I had and caught it, then I looked at the basket and decided to throw it up and worse come to worst we’d go into overtime.
“It hung around the rim for a little bit and it finally dropped in. It was the greatest feeling in the world because we’ve worked so hard.”
Davis led Skowhegan with 11 points, while Smith scored nine and Whitney Jones added seven.
Hilary Champagne led Brunswick with 11 points.
Skowhegan jumped out to an eight-point lead early in the second quarter, but Brunswick — which was seeking its first regional title and hadn’t advanced beyond the quarterfinals since 1987 — scored the final seven points of the first half to draw within 19-18 at intermission.
Neither team led by more than three points during a defensive-minded second half.
“It was a roller-coaster,” said Noddin. “We had our ups and our downs, but we just had to keep with it.”
Brunswick took a 32-29 lead with 5:45 left in the game when Champagne hit a 15-footer and teammate Alexa Dearborn stole the subsequent inbounds pass and made a layup.
But Skowhegan outscored Brunswick 7-2 over the next three minutes. Jones — winner of the Al Halliday Leadership Award as the tournament’s outstanding player-sportsman — made a follow-up shot and a free throw, then stole the ball and fed Smith for a layup before Amanda Johnson gave the Indians a 36-34 lead with a runner from the lane with 2:24 remaining.
Brunswick tied the game on an inside basket by Champagne with 1:19 left.
Both teams had subsequent chances, with Johnson missing a runner for Skowhegan before Dearborn missed a driving layup for Brunswick. Lydia Caputi grabbed the rebound for the Dragons, but fell to the floor and was called for traveling — giving Skowhegan one final shot.
And while the Indians were unable to run the play they set up during the subsequent timeout, some improvisation proved perfect.
“It was a clear-out play for Whitney, but they went to a quick trap on the ball. We reversed the ball and everyone stayed where they needed to be,” said Cowan. “It was a testament to the kids to forget about what coach Cowan said. Common sense overruled everything.”