AUGUSTA, Maine — A youth movement was clearly on display Saturday in the Class D girls basketball state championship as Southern Aroostook defeated Vinalhaven 54-37 at the Augusta Civic Center for the school’s first title in 23 years.
With no seniors on the roster, the talented Warriors of Dyer Brook showed athleticism could overcome experience as Southern Aroostook turned up its defensive intensity in the second half and benefited from a 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter to break open what had been a relatively tight game up until that point.
As was the case all season, the Warriors received a balanced attack, with four players scoring in double figures. Sophomore Sydney Brewer and freshman Kacy Daggett led the way with 12 points each. Daggett, at times, controlled the low post for Southern Aroostook, converting numerous offensive putbacks.
Juniors Kassidy Mathers and Kylie Vining added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Warriors.
“This is amazing,” Brewer said. “I’ve thought about how this moment would feel all week long. We were a nervous wreck all week, but now that we’ve done it, it’s amazing.”
“This is so awesome,” added Mathers. “We have been working towards this for so long and to finally reach this point … it’s awesome.”
Defending state champ Vinalhaven, a senior-laden squad that came into the game with a 21-0 record and an impressive 33-game winning streak, had trouble handling Southern Aroostook’s swarming, pressure defense early on. The Warriors focused their efforts on slowing down Viking standout Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes.
Davis-Oakes got her points as she led all players with 17, but many of her shots came with her sandwiched between a Southern Aroostook defender in front and behind her.
“Our guards did a great job digging in and either getting steals or tie-ups,” SA coach Cliff Urquhart said.
Urquhart said he felt Vinalhaven’s experience was evident early in Saturday’s game as the Vikings hit a couple of early shots, while Southern Aroostook struggled from the floor. As a team, the Warriors sank just 24 of 63 (38 percent) from the floor and were 2 of 11 (18 percent) from the foul line.
“We weren’t hitting our shots early,” he said. “I think we were 0-for-6 to start the game, but as the game wore on we started getting more comfortable with the floor and the environment.”
Leading by just one basket (35-33) to start the fourth quarter, the Warriors ripped off 15 straight points on the strength of two Daggett putbacks, five points from Mathers (including a deep shot from behind the 3-point arc) and six points from Brewer, all coming from the low post, to give the Warriors a 50-33 lead.
Vinalhaven never recovered.
“I think we got used to the rims a little bit more as the game went on,” Mathers said. “We rebounded well and pushed the ball up the floor more in the second half and that worked well for us.”
Urquhart, who is in his seventh season with Southern Aroostook, has watched his players mature from a collection of eighth-graders and freshmen into a squad of seasoned veterans in the last couple of seasons.
“We have been together through the thick and thin,” he said. “I am just really proud of them.”