The last time a Penobscot Valley High School girls basketball team played in a state championship game, Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States, the Chicago Bears beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl 46-10 and the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial was a mere $550,000.
It was 1986.
Fast-forward 33 years and the 18-4 Howlers will try to deliver the Howland school its first ever state basketball championship, boys or girls, when it takes on 21-0 Boothbay Region at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in the Class C state final at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
In the other girls state title games, 19-2 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook takes on 15-6 Greenville at 2:05 p.m. Saturday in Bangor for the Class D crown, and 19-2 Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor meets 19-2 Gray-New Gloucester in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. That also is the venue for the 6:05 p.m. Class AA final between Oxford Hills of South Paris and Scarborough, both 19-2.
PVHS head coach Nate Case, who is 31 and wasn’t even born in 1986, admits his team’s regional championship came as a surprise.
“I knew we were going to be good but not this good,” Case said. “I think we have the hardest schedule among the [Penobscot Valley Conference] teams. We played 10 games against teams with double-digit wins during the regular season.”
The Howlers played two games apiece against Dexter (15-3), Stearns of Millinocket (14-4), Schenck of East Millinocket (12-6), Greenville (12-6) and Searsport (11-7), who combined for a 64-26 mark.
“Instead of saying we believe we can win this game, we focus on believing we can outwork our opponent,” Case said. “We don’t think too big. We try to win every possession one at a time.”
He said the Howlers stress fundamentals such as boxing out, rebounding and rotating in their 1-3-1 zone defense that was the catalyst for their regional championship run.
PVHS held Narraguagus of Harrington, Stearns and Dexter to an average of 33 points in the Class C North tourney and limited regular-season opponents to 27.9 ppg.
The offensive catalyst is 5-foot-9 junior center Lexi Ireland, named the BDN’s Owen O. Osborne tournament’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 18.7 points.
“She’s our rock. She’s our leader,” Case said.
Junior guard Laney Harding averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds during the season, and guard Judy King, the only senior, was the difference-maker on defense. Junior guard Leine McKechnie provided exceptional defense.
Case said sophomore guard Emily St. Cyr has been their “X factor.” She is a capable scorer, netting nine points in the final 3:40 of the Narraguagus semifinal win to help the Howlers to overcome the loss of Ireland, who fouled out.
Freshman center Emilee Ireland, at 5-10, has been a valuable sixth player.
For Boothbay, senior Faith Blethen, at 6-1, and her 6-2 sophomore sister Glory Blethen can score and dominate the glass. Faith Blethen had 13 points and Glory had 11 in the 49-31 win over North Yarmouth Academy in the Class C South title game.
Boothbay last reached the state final in 2016, losing to Narraguagus 33-25.
The Class D final features a veteran Southern Aroostook team with tournament MVP Makaelyn Porter and fellow all-tourney selection Sydney Brewer, against an athletic Greenville team that plays impressive defense in its 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones and forced 26 turnovers in its 41-20 victory over Rangeley in the regional final.
Greenville held Rangeley scoreless in the third period.
Brewer and Porter combined for 99 points in three tourney wins, while 5-10 center Halle Pelletier is Greenville’s go-to scorer and had 17 against Rangeley.
Jessica Pomerleau is a top-notch guard for the Lakers.
‘“They’ve improved a ton since last year,” Southern Aroostook coach Cliff Urquhart said. “We have to control the tempo. We can’t allow them to set up in their zone every time.”
The Warriors, who also feature Kacy Daggett, look to run as they have all season.
In Class B, MDI’s four senior starters led the Trojans to their first regional title since 2014. The group features tourney MVP Julia Watras (42 points, 34 rebounds in three games) and Hannah Chamberlain, whose 11 3-pointers set a Class B tournament record.
Diminutive point guard Alexis Clarito hit some important 3-pointers and Maddy Candage supplied the Trojans with a consistent inside scoring threat.
Gray-New Gloucester has been led by Jordan Grant, Bri Jordan and Elizabeth Hotham, who combined for 37 points in the 42-31 Class B South championship game win over Freeport.
This is the Patriots’ third state title game appearance in four years. The Patriots won in 2017. MDI’s last state championship came in 2003.
In AA, Oxford Hills seeks its first basketball state title. The Vikings did play in the 2017 final, losing to Gorham 45-31.
Scarborough won the 2010 state title in Class A.
Julia Colby’s 14 points and 13 rebounds led Oxford Hills past Deering of Portland in the AA North final.
Scarborough received 16 points from Madison Blanche in the 35-25 AA North title win over South Portland, which previously had not been held under 39 points this season.