CORINTH, Maine — Sometimes a team can set its goals too high — not because they are unreachable but because of the additional pressure an all-or-nothing stance brings to the quest.
The Central High School girls basketball team may have been guilty of that the last two years, when the Red Devils went a combined 34-2 during regular-season play only to be eliminated in the regional semifinals.
But a more modest approach this season has landed coach Diane Rollins’ club where it has wanted to be all along — playing for its first Class C state championship since 1983.
“We talked about it a lot the past two years, probably too much,” said Rollins. “So our goal this year was to get to the tournament. Maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves the last two years, so this year we have really taken it one game at a time.”
Now there is just one more game on which to focus, a clash with defending state champion Hall-Dale of Farmingdale for the gold ball at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Both teams are 18-3.
“Hall-Dale is the defending champion, and with that comes a lot of confidence,” Rollins said.
And the Red Devils should know about such confidence — many of their key players were part of a Central girls soccer team that last fall won the Class C state title.
“I think there’s no question that has helped us this winter,” said Rollins, now in her 11th year as Central’s varsity basketball coach. “The girls who played soccer bring that confidence with them, and the way they handled themselves under pressure during the soccer playoffs has carried over to the basketball tournament.”
In addition to refining expectations, a defensive change has proven pivotal to Central’s success.
The Red Devils switched from being largely a zone-based defensive team in recent years to playing primarily man-to-man this winter and allowing just 30.4 points per game during the regular season and 31.7 ppg during the tournament.
“The kids bought into playing man-to-man, and now they love it,” said Rollins. “We’re getting a lot more steals this year, forcing more turnovers, and we’re turning our defense into more offense.”
Junior point guard Max McHugh keys that defense from the perimeter, with 5-foot-11 senior Sam Brownell and 6-0 freshman Brianna Skolfield providing plenty of height along the back line to go with 5-6 senior guard Brianna Speed and 5-7 senior forward Kaylee Harvey.
Skolfield, who scored 21 points in Central’s 42-41 overtime survival of Stearns of Millinocket in the regional final, has led a balanced Central offense during the tournament with 11.7 points per game, followed by Brownell (10.7) and McHugh (9.7).
Hall-Dale, coached by Orono native Brandon Terrill, is led by Western C tournament MVP Carylanne Wolfington, a 5-7 senior guard who averaged 21.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during the regular season. A career 1,000-point scorer, Wolfington averaged 19.3 points per game during tournament play.
Wolfington — an all-around athlete who has been named Mountain Valley Conference player of the year in basketball (twice), soccer (twice) and softball — is supported by 5-9 senior guard Kristina Buck and 6-0 sophomore center Allison Crockett.
Class D: Washburn Beavers (20-1) vs. Richmond Bobcats (19-1), 1 p.m., Augusta Civic Center: Washburn is 4-0 in Class D state finals, with victories in 1986, 1988, 1989 and last winter when the Beavers defeated Richmond 43-30.
Richmond is 0-6 in Class D state finals after winning Western Maine titles in 1975, 1987, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2011.
Washburn — a team without a senior — boasts one of the region’s top offensive players in freshman guard Mackenzie Worcester, the Eastern Maine tourney MVP, and one of its premier defensive players in 5-9 sophomore Carsyn Koch.
Sophomore guard Carmen Bragg is another impact player, while 6-0 junior Olivia Doody and 5-8 sophomore Nichole Olson provide frontcourt height.
Richmond, ranked No. 1 in Western D for the third straight year, has considerable height of its own in 6-0 junior center Jamie Plummer, 5-11 junior forward Alyssa Pearson and 5-10 junior forward Sierra Lancaster to go with senior guard Danica Hurley, a leading player on the Bobcats’ state championship soccer team last fall.
Eastern Maine schools have won the last seven Class D girls state finals.
Class A: Cony Rams (21-0) vs. McAuley Lions (21-0), 4 p.m., Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland: This final matches two of the three remaining unbeatens entering the state finals — along with Eastern B champion Presque Isle — and the two dominant Class A girls teams since the turn of the century.
Cony has won five EM crowns since 2000 and is after its third state title during that span after defeating McAuley for the gold ball in both 2005 and 2007.
Defending state champion McAuley of Portland is playing in its seventh state final since the start of the 1999-2000 season, with previous victories in 2002 (over Cony), 2003 and last year, when the Lions defeated Hampden Academy 39-23.
Coach Bill Goodman’s club is led by Boston College-bound 6-2 senior center Allison Coulombe. This year’s Western A tourney MVP and a Miss Basketball finalist, Coulombe will team with 6-0 sophomore Olivia Smith to give the Lions a height advantage over a Cony team with no 6-footers on its roster.
McAuley also boasts one of the state’s top point guards in 5-7 sophomore Allie Clement.
Coach Karen Magnusson’s Cony roster — which lists 12 guards and two forwards — is led by 5-8 senior guard Mia Diplock, the Eastern A tourney MVP and a Miss Basketball finalist, and 5-8 junior Josie Lee.