Last season, the Machias High School girls basketball team made its first trip to the Bangor Auditorium for a tournament game since 1997. A 53-49 win over Fort Fairfield in the Eastern Maine Class D quarterfinals provided the Bulldogs with their first Auditorium win since 1995.
The Bulldogs, who lost to eventual state champ Washburn in the semifinals, are well on their way to booking a return trip, this time to the new Cross Insurance Center. They have bolted to a 6-0 start and sit atop the Heal Points standings.
Coach Brad Prout said he believes it is the best start in school history for the girls.
“Our goal is to get to Bangor and make it further than last year,” said senior forward Jodie Wood.
According to Machias coach Brad Prout, Wood played a pivotal role in the team’s start with a pep talk she gave her teammates Dec. 12 against Class C contender Narraguagus at Harrington.
“We had led most of the game but then we fell behind by six in the fourth quarter. The girls were arguing and bickering. I called a timeout,” said Prout.
“Jodie told the girls we were a family and had to stick together,” said Prout, whose team came back to win 54-52 on a late basket by Angleana Lyons.
It is 5-1 Narraguagus’ only loss thus far.
“That was a turning point in our season,” added Prout.
“It was rough. We were having a real hard time,” said Wood. “We were struggling. We weren’t playing as a team. I told them we have to play as a team. We’re a family, and if we go out and play like a family, I know we can win. We needed to believe in ourselves [as a team] and in each other.”
“Jodie did a good job,” said junior point guard Lyons, who called her game-winning basket fun.
The Bulldogs also have a noteworthy road win over three-time Western C titlist Richmond 51-35 two days after the Narraguagus victory.
“After that win over Narraguagus, we started to jell even better. We had a little trouble at first because some of the players had different roles,” said Prout.
The Bulldogs have had two close wins this season as they also posted a 37-34 win at Shead of Eastport.
Prout said his team is battle-tested in close games thanks to last year’s 15-5 season.
“We have five games that could have gone either way last year, and we pulled them all off,” said Prout. “That helped our girls as far as playing in tight situations. They know they can overcome obstacles.”
The Bulldogs returned four starters off last year’s team and are all having productive seasons.
Prout said 5-foot-11 sophomore center Tate Dolley has taken advantage of her height to lead the team in points and rebounds. He said she is averaging 16 points and 9-10 rebounds per game.
“And she runs the floor well,” said Prout.
Lyons can do it all from her point guard slot according to Prout.
“She is so athletic. She can make behind-the-back passes,” said Prout, who estimates she is averaging 13 points and 4-5 assists per game.
Sophomore Kate Whitney, who had 20 points in the quarterfinal win over Fort Fairfield last season, is a 5-8 forward/guard averaging eight points per game.
“She rebounds well and has a great defensive presence,” said Prout.
The 5-8 Wood is the other returning starter. She is a good leader and rebounder and is averaging 4-5 rebounds per game.
Senior Amanda Preston and sophomore Makayla Prout, Brad’s daughter, are guards who share the fifth starting spot. Both are solid defenders.
The Bulldogs have quality depth, according to Prout.
Prout has two players who supply an inside presence and rebounding in 5-11 sophomore Karyssa Norton and 5-10 senior Kelsea Antil, a transfer from Washington Academy in East Machias.
If he needs guards, he can go to junior Chelsea Moore or sophomore Magenta Johnson.
The Bulldogs have been extremely stingy, allowing just 27 points per game thanks to their fine-tuned, half-court man-to-man defense.
“We have been consistent on defense. I challenge the girls to hold teams to eight points or less each quarter,” said Prout.
They are averaging 50.8 points per game, but Prout and his players feel that can be improved.
“Our defense is good but we need to clean up our offense,” said Lyons.
“We’ve got to pick up our offense and run more plays,” said Wood.
It is easy to see why the Orono High School girls basketball team is off to a 6-0 start.
The Class C Riots have given up an average of just 31.8 points per game. Nobody has scored more than 45 points against Orono.
“Our defense has been the key,” said Orono coach Jessica Witham, whose Red Riots went 17-4 a year ago and reached the Eastern Maine Class C final, where they lost to Calais 63-54.
“When our offense has struggled, our defense has been steady and has kept us in games,” said Witham, who is in her eighth season at the helm and earned her 100th career win this season. She is now at 103.
The Riots play aggressive man-to-man defense and, thanks to their depth, will harass their opponents into turnovers with their press.
“We focus on defense a lot in practice,” said senior forward Katie Smith, who noted that when their offense struggles “our defense takes over and that helps out a lot.”
“We’ll get our offense off of our defense,” said junior forward Katie Sypher.