AUGUSTA, Maine — Skye Conley had a silent first half Friday night, missing all five shots she took.
But the 5-foot-10 center, motivated with the rest of her teammates by a defeat in the 2016 Class B girls basketball state final, took charge after intermission. She scored 12 points and grabbed nine of her game-high 12 rebounds as Gray-New Gloucester edged two-time defending title holder Houlton 35-31 in the final at the Augusta Civic Center.
The victory provided the Patriots (21-1) their first state championship while avenging a 48-35 loss to Houlton in last year’s gold-ball game.
“When we won regionals last year I cried,” said Conley, one of four senior starters for coach Mike Andreasen’s club. “We got here again this year as seniors and this was going to be our last game no matter what. We wanted it so bad and got it, and I cried again.”
Houlton concluded its season at 20-2.
“It was a valiant effort against a fantastic team,” said Shiretowners’ coach Shawn Graham.
Gray-New Gloucester never trailed during the second half, but neither did the Patriots enjoy a comfortable lead despite the inside work of Conley, who shot 5-for-9 from the field and blocked five shots after the break.
Conley scored all eight of her team’s points in the third quarter as GNG increased a 16-11 halftime lead to as much as 24-16 when the Patriots’ center made two free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound with two minutes left in the period.
“At the beginning of the game they were zoning us and all year we’ve had a problem with zones and every team has figured it out,” said Conley. “The second half they went to man (defense) and that’s how we like to play, five on five. That makes it a lot easier for me in the post and for the guards to get the ball in the paint, and we did that and it built our momentum.”
Houlton drew within 24-20 by the end of the third period and got as close as 27-26 on a 3-pointer by Bouchard with 6:36 left in the game.
The Shiretowners then had three possessions to take the lead, only to come up empty.
GNG’s Brianna Jordan made a free throw to make it a two-point game with 4:15 left, and after Houlton had another scoreless possession Conley scored from the low post to give the Patriots a 29-25 edge with 3:48 left.
Houlton got back within 29-27 on two Aspen Flewelling free throws with 2:55 to play, but GNG’s Grace Kariotis scored on a give-and-go pass from Conley and then Conley fed Jordan Grant for a layup that gave the Patriots a 33-27 cushion with 1:24 to play.
“That Kariotis bucket in a two-point game was kind of a dagger,” said Graham.
BDN All-Maine junior guard Kolleen Bouchard paced Houlton with 16 points, seven rebounds, five blocked shots and four rebounds.
Alicia Dumont’s 3-pointer from the right wing as time expired had given Gray-New Gloucester a 16-11 halftime advantage.
Houlton, which jumped out to an 8-2 lead five minutes into the contest, then went scoreless for a span of 9 minutes, 33 seconds as Gray-New Gloucester began to attack the interior of the Shiretowners’ zone defense with success while playing tough player-to-player defense.
The Patriots scored the last six points of the first period to tie the game at 8-8, then outscored Houlton 5-0 over the first 6:41 of the second quarter to build a 13-8 lead before Flewelling finally buried a 3-pointer to end the scoring drought.
“I thought we had decent looks,” said Graham. “We just couldn’t make a shot.”