BANGOR, Maine — There’s only one way to excel in a hostile environment in a basketball game: Hit early shots, and make the crowd a non-factor.
Entering a lions’ den Friday night, the York girls basketball team silenced a frenzied Nokomis of Newport crowd, blitzing out to a 10-1 first-quarter lead and rolling from there to its first Class B state championship since 1994 with a 40-35 victory over the Warriors at the Bangor Auditorium.
Junior center Nicole Taylor was on fire early, hitting her first three field-goal attempts and a couple of free throws, but she picked up her second foul near the end of the period and was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the half.
But Taylor, who earned three first-half fouls before fouling out in last year’s state title game loss to Waterville, didn’t seem to mind.
“I knew that I had to come out. I actually asked to come out because I knew I didn’t want the same result as Waterville,” said Taylor. “I had faith in my teammates.”
So did coach Rick Clark, whose Wildcats capped off a perfect 22-0 season.
“Had I not seen what we did in the Western Maine tournament with the people off the bench, I would’ve been more nervous,” he said. “As the season progressed I got more and more comfortable with some of the people coming off the bench.”
That includes freshman Emily Campbell, who contributed eight points and five rebounds off the bench, as York seemingly hit every shot it took, finishing the night 15-for-33 from the floor.
On the contrary, Nokomis struggled, going 11-for-45, including 2-for-17 in the first half, and the Warriors could never get into their half-court sets.
“I think we were doing what we needed to do, we were getting the looks that we needed to get, and they weren’t falling,” said Warriors’ coach Kori Dionne, whose team finished 17-5. “That’s the nature of the beast.”
The Warriors did live up to their nickname throughout the night, chipping away at York’s lead with a 10-4 second-quarter run that featured a 4-for-7 effort from the foul line while Kara Batchelder’s 3-pointer from the left corner drew Nokomis within one at halftime.
But Taylor posed too many matchup problems for Nokomis. She came back and scored eight third-quarter points while Campbell had four, including a short jumper off the glass to give York its biggest lead of the game at 34-19.
Nokomis would get no closer than four in the final period, and York’s early shooting success prevented the Warriors from taking time off the clock and stalling the ball.
“We knew that they were a team that liked to do that, so we knew that we had to get a lead early or they would stall the ball,” said Taylor. “We knew that we had to just come out hit our shots, play our game, and that worked for us.”
Nokomis did get plenty of open looks early, but the Warriors appeared nervous.
“That may have been, they’re teenage kids I guess when you get down to it,” Dionne said. “[But] you have to give credit to York, they’re a great team. My kids fought back and never gave up, so I’m proud of them.”
Taylor was nearly perfect, going 4-for-6 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the foul line — one of the shots she missed was a long-distance heave as the third-quarter buzzer sounded — while Stephanie Gallagher shot 4-for-7 and Campbell 4-for-8, which equaled the Wildcats exorcising some demons from last winter.
“We knew that if we came out, played our game, play tough, play good defense and hit our shots, then we would come out with a win,” said Taylor.
She quickly downplayed any fact that frustration was setting in after picking up a second foul.
“It was what it was. I can’t control the refs … if I get a foul or I don’t,” Taylor said. “I just have to keep playing. I knew my teammates would come through, play good defense and good offense while I was on the bench.”
Julie Smith had nine points to pace Nokomis, and Marissa Shaw scored eight while grabbing 10 rebounds. Batchelder added seven points.