BANGOR, Maine — Twice previously, in 2012 and 2013, the Lake Region girls had been within one victory of a state championship only to come up short.
Friday night, the Lakers refused to allow the opportunity to slip away.
Senior center Tiana-Jo Carter dominated the paint, scoring 13 of her game-high 21 points in the second half to carry Lake Region to a 56-47 victory over Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor at the Cross Insurance Center.
“I don’t even have the words for how excited I am,” Carter said. “I’m so happy and I just know that I couldn’t be here again for my third year in a row without my team. We worked so hard for the past four years.
“This year, we told ourselves, we’re not going to go down without a fight, we’re going to give it everything we have and we’re going to leave with that gold ball,” added Carter, who will attend the University at Albany on a basketball scholarship.
Coach Paul True’s team capped a 21-1 season by answering a first-half rally by the Trojans with a determined second-half effort.
“To walk out and finally bring home a gold ball is really meaningful to our community and I couldn’t be more proud of our kids,” True said.
The Lakers were able to get the ball inside to the 6-foot-2 Carter, who capitalized on her rebounding prowess to provide big second-chance points. She also pulled down 17 rebounds, blocked six shots and made three steals.
“At halftime that was our focus, go to the rim looking to score and if T’s player left her, of course we’d get her the basketball,” True said. “T’s a heck of a player.”
Mount Desert Island, coached by Brent Barker, never fully dug itself out of a 14-point, first-half hole.
The Trojans (19-3), who were hampered by foul trouble to standout senior forward Hannah Shaw, simply did not have the answer to Carter inside as they tried to defend the Lakers with an active 2-3 zone.
Lake Region also received scrappy guard play from sophomore CeCe Hancock (13 points, 3 steals) and senior Sarah Hancock (7 points, 3 assists, 3 steals). Senior Jordan Turner contributed 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Lakers outrebounded the Trojans 34-26.
Shaw paced MDI with 13 points, 12 of which came in the second half, and nine rebounds. Sarah Phelps tossed in 11 points and grabbed four rebounds, while Sierra Tapley tallied eight points.
It was still a six-point game after MDI’s Kelsey Shaw (4 points, 6 rebounds) scored on a baseline move to make it 39-33 with 7:34 to play. However, Carter made sure Lake Region stayed on top.
She opened a key 7-0 run by scoring off her own miss, then Turner cashed in after a steal by Sarah Hancock by hitting a 14-foot jumper. As the Trojans struggled to get anything going on offense, Carter sank a free throw, then scored on an offensive rebound with 4:21 left to give Lake Region a 46-33 advantage.
“I think in the second half, especially, we had to be a little more aggressive and take a few more chances defensively,” Barker said. “We probably left her open a few more times than we needed to and she got some opportunities.”
The Lakers appeared to take command of the contest with a 15-0 first-half scoring run.
Lake Region pestered the Trojans into eight of their nine turnovers during the same span, turning a 6-3 deficit into an 18-6 lead with 4:29 to play in the second quarter.
Carter was able to find room to operate in the paint despite MDI’s collapsing 2-3 zone on her way to eight first-half points. She also was a presence on the defensive end with three blocked shots and a couple of steals.
Most of the run came with Hannah Shaw sidelined by foul trouble.
“She’s kind of the engine that makes us go. She’s our offensive leader and our rebounder. Having her out of the game didn’t help,” Barker said.
Even so, the Trojans turned the tide temporarily. MDI turned up the heat, applying a 2-2-1 full-court press after made baskets and forcing a handful of turnovers.
The Trojans rattled off 15 points during the last 3:07 of the half, spearheaded by six points from Tapley, whose six-footer from the lane with 16 seconds to play got MDI within 23-21.
“My kids were resilient, they wanted it,” Barker said. “They’ve worked their tails off all year long. I’m disappointed we couldn’t get the result we wanted, but I’m very happy with the effort our kids gave.”