BANGOR, Maine — When Mary Butler and Cordelia Stewart joined the Bangor High School girls’ basketball team last season, the addition of the two 6-foot-plus freshmen marked the possibility of good times ahead for the Rams.
Those good times have arrived this season as the improvement of the 6-foot-1-inch forward/guard Butler and 6-2 center Stewart have helped the Rams earn a berth in Saturday’s Class A state final as they seek their first state championship since 1982. Bangor (17-4) faces two-time defending champion McAuley (21-0) of Portland at 4 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.
McAuley will be led by senior guard Allie Clement, 5-11 senior forward Molly Mack and 6-0 sophomore center Victoria Lux.
Bangor coach Katie Herbine has seen big improvement from her big frontcourt, and not just skill-wise.
“Certainly, their skills have developed. More than that is their confidence has grown,” Herbine said. “The more they play together and play with their teammates around them, they just gain more and more confidence.”
Stewart and Butler bring different skills to the game.
“Mary actually has been a guard in the past, and she was a guard for us last year,” Herbine said, “so she has more guard skills in terms of dribbling, handling the ball; she’s an excellent passer. I think you can see that even when she plays inside.”
Butler likes that her role isn’t sharply defined.
“I think it’s great that we have so many strong players on our team that we’re able to switch around positions and be flexible with what we do on both offense and defense based on our personnel,” Butler said, who is averaging 12.3 points and 10.5 rebounds a game.
Stewart, who leads the team with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks a game, is more of the typical inside player … for now.
“Cordy is more of a back-to-the-basket, stay-inside kind of kid,” Herbine said, “but she also has a great shot, so I anticipate that over the next couple of years, she’ll expand her range and do a bit more from the outside. We haven’t given her a chance to do that yet, but I certainly see that coming.”
Herbine believes there will be more to come, too.
“I think the two of them will improve tenfold between now and the time they’re seniors.” she said. “The other thing about Cordy and Mary is they work extremely hard … so I see big changes for them in terms of just their skills and expanding their skill set in the next two years.”
Stewart gives some of the credit about her improvement to her teammates.
“It does help when you have the outside shooters and a point guard that draws attention away from the post a little bit,” she said.
The point guard is senior Denae Johnson, who averages 12.8 points, 2.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds. She often drives in for layups or short jumpers, and having Butler and Stewart down low gives her more confidence to do her job.
“I feel like when I penetrate, they’re always going to be open for the rebound or even the pass,” Johnson said.
Herbine has seen more production from Johnson this year because of Butler and Stewart.
“Denae can’t be doubled because we have two people underneath, two big kids who play pretty well underneath.”
But Herbine also sees it working the other way.
“I think really it’s our guards that have helped our post players because they’ve been able to hit some outside shots,” she said. “… It’s really opening up the inside because of what the kids on the outside are doing.”
Those outside shooters — including Jordan Seekins, Rachel Taft, Sarah Bragg and Liz Dana, plus Carly Cosgrove inside — have played a big part in the Rams’ success as well because they’ve prevented opposing defenses from concentrating on a couple of players, Herbine said.
The Rams certainly are looking forward to bringing a gold ball back to Bangor.
“[This] is the best feeling I’ve had in a while,” Johnson said, “because the past two years I’ve been on this team, we haven’t even made it past the first round in the playoffs and to make it to the state game is, like, an honor, actually.”
While the Rams haven’t been to a state game in 31 years, this team does have state-game experience. The Bangor girls’ soccer team won the state Class A crown in 2011 and was runner-up in 2010 and 2012.
“More than half our team was on the soccer team [this year], so we’ve all made this special bond,” Johnson said. “We know what it’s like to be put in these positions, we know how to react to them.”