BANGOR, Maine — Chandler Guerrette’s theft of the ball in the closing seconds preserved Presque Isle a 49-47 verdict over Lake Region of Naples in the state Class B girls championship basketball game at the Bangor Auditorium on Friday night.
Western Maine titlist Lake Region had a chance to tie it in the final seconds when sophomore center Tiana-Jo Carter grabbed an offensive rebound, but Guerrette pulled the ball out of Carter’s hands to secure the win for the 22-0 Eastern Maine champion Wildcats.
“That was a big play,” said PI senior guard Kayla Richards. “We were able to keep possession until time ran out.”
The game was a rematch of the 2006 title game, also won by the Wildcats 48-36.
Junior center Meredith Stewart’s short jumper from the lane gave Presque Isle the lead for good at 48-47 with a minute left.
“I knew it was too wide open to pass up,” said Stewart. “I couldn’t give up a wide-open shot in the paint.”
The lead was by no means secure. The Lakers still had opportunities to score.
Carter battled for a loose ball on the floor with a couple of PI defenders, but she was called for traveling when she got control with 35.7 seconds to go.
Guerrette, a junior guard, then hit the front end of a one-and-one with 29.3 seconds left to give the Wildcats a two-point edge.
A travel call as Sydney Hancock tried to drive between two Presque Isle defenders for a layup ended another attempt to tie the game.
After Guerrette missed the front end of another one-and-one with 9.7 seconds left, the Lakers made one more run at the crown.
Senior guard Allison Clark worked her way open just outside the 3-point arc high on the left side, got the pass and fired up a shot.
“That last shot went up and I held my breath,” said Stewart.
But the ball bounced off the left side of the rim.
“I thought that 3 was in,” said PI coach Jeff Hudson.
Carter pulled down the rebound, and that’s when Guerrette stepped in and ripped it away.
“When we were up [seven] at halftime, I thought we were not as composed as we could have been,” said Hudson. “But it’s the state championship, these are young kids, and it was just a great high school game.”
Guerrette scored 11 points to lead the Wildcats, and junior forward Karlee Bernier added 10. Stewart and senior guard Kayla Richards each contributed eight points.
Carter powered the 19-3 Lakers with 17 points, and Abby Craffy added 13. Sarah Hancock had eight points.
The game started in the Lakers’ favor as they seemed more comfortable in the early going.
Two Carter baskets in the first two minutes gave the Lakers a 4-0 lead and the Lake Region fans a chance to celebrate, but Megan Ireland and Richards scored to tie the game.
Carter hit another layup and free throw to put Lake Region ahead 7-4 with 3:24 to go in the first.
A Guerrette 3-pointer started a 10-2 run by Presque Isle that pushed the Wildcats into a lead they held as high as 10 until the fourth quarter.
Still, quick hands and feet on both sides prevented both teams from scoring much.
“Their defense was suffocating,” said Wildcats assistant coach Ralph Michaud.
Craffey’s 3-pointer with 5:38 left in the game gave the Lakers a 42-41 lead, but it was traded six times after that until Stewart’s field goal with a minute left.
“You have to trust the kids to make the big plays,” said Hudson. “The seniors … were not to be denied.”
Richards had the primary assignment of finding the cracks in the Laker defense throughout the game, but it wasn’t easy.
“The big girl [the 6-foot-1 Carter] in the lane” made it a challenge, according to Hudson. “We were trying to dribble drive, but there was a little too much dribbling.”
Stewart was ecstatic afterward, especially since PI had been eliminated in the East semis the previous two years.
“This feels awesome, a great experience,” said Stewart with a big smile. “The adrenaline is still pumping and I don’t know how I’ll come down.”
Correction: An early version of this story contained an error. Lake Region High School is located in Naples, not Bridgton.