AUGUSTA — With every missed free throw Saturday night, the likelihood for nightmares increased for Mickayla Willette.
The sophomore forward had the chance to pad Carrabec’s lead down the stretch of the Western C championship game. With every missed free throw came another chance for Madison to tie it.
“Oh my gosh, I was a little upset but I knew I had to keep it together,” Willette said.
Instead of dwelling on her missed opportunities, Willette seized a different opportunity. She more than made up for her missed free throws with crucial plays that helped lift the Cobras to a 54-50 win over Madison.
“I definitely thought since I was missing those, I needed to do something else to provide for my team because if I can’t make my free throws, I had to do something,” Willette said.
Willette had two key steals, two baskets and did hit one free throw. She finished with 12 points, eight coming in the first quarter, as Carrabec won its first-ever regional crown. Carrabec’s last trip to a regional final was a loss to Dirigo in 1997.
“It’s so crazy,” Willette said. “It’s the first time our school has ever done it. It’s so amazing. I’m speechless. I can’t believe we’re here.”
Making all that much sweeter is that the Cobras victory came against Madison, a veteran team and rival. It was an electric atmosphere cheering on their teams in a fast-pace, back-and-forth battle.
“This is what they play for, for games like this,” said Carrabec coach Skip Rugh. “This is what it’s about.”
Carrabec advances to next Saturday’s state game at the Augusta Civic Center against Calais.
Hannah Atwood led the Cobras (7-4) with 16 points and was named the tourney’s top player. Macy Welch added 10 while Carrabec got eight from Liberty Chestnut and seven from Emma Pluntke.
“The girls have worked hard,” Rugh said. “This group of girls has been working together since they were in the sixth grade. I remember having a meeting and saying that if we keep pushing and put the extra time in, this is possible and here they are.”
Madison (14-7) got an outstanding game from Alex Jarvais with 17 points. Erin Whalen and Kirsten Wood each had seven.
Madison tied the game with 4:53 left on a Kirsten Wood basket. That was part of a 7-2 run that erased a five-point deficit.
Willette broke the tie with 2:45 left off a steal. That came right after she missed two free throws that could have put the Cobras ahead.
Madison took the lead with a Jarvais 3 with 2:28 left. That made it 50-49. Hannah Atwood put Carrabec up for good with 1:50 left. She grabbed a rebounded and put back a leaner. Willette added a free throw with 1:12 left making it 52-50.
Madison had numerous chances to tie it. Whalen had a steal with 47 seconds left. That led to a Cristie Vicneire shot and miss. Wood grabbed the rebound and missed. The Bulldogs got the ball back but lost its chance when the ball slipped out of Wood’s hands with 24 seconds left.
Madison had one last try but Willette plucked the ball away from Jarvais and took it in for the insurance basket in the final seconds. It was the 13th win in the last 15 games for the Cobras.
“They have a lot of experience,” Rugh said. “They’ve played a lot of basketball. They haven’t played here. This is the first time they’ve been on this floor. Once they got through the Waynflete game, we were all set.”
Carrabec opened a quick seven-point lead in the first. Paced by Willette’s eight points, the Cobras were up 17-8 at one point and took a 17-10 advantage into the second quarter.
“That was huge for us,” said Willette. “We came out right off the bat. That’s what we talked about, to push it right to them and keep it going. I think we did that and kept it going the whole game.”
The team’s split during the regular season and a tight battle was expected. So a Madison comeback wasn’t a surprise, especially considering the Bulldogs have been to the regional final four times in the last five years.
Down by as many as 11 in the second, the Bulldogs finished the half with nine straight to tie the game at 24-24. Whalen had three points during that stretch while Jarvais had a three.
Carrabec regrouped at the half and took the lead again with six straight. Hannah Atwood, Welch and Plunke all scored for a 30-24 lead. Madison got within one four times in the quarter, but Carrabec maintained the lead and took a 41-38 edge to the final quarter.
“That was a big thing for us,” said Willette of handling Madison’s run. “We knew it was going to be a close game. It always is with us. We just had to stay focused. With this many people here, it’s hard to do that, but I thought we did that very well.”
Carrabec had the lead up to 45-40 early in the fourth but Madison made another run to tie the game at 47-47.
“They kept their composure and finished the game,” Rugh said. “That’s what it’s all about.”