AUGUSTA — Skye Conley has always compared winning a state championship to seeing a unicorn, an event that could only be imagined by the Gray-New Gloucester girls’ basketball team.
Friday night, said her teammate Izzy DeTroy, “Skye saw the unicorn.”
Gray-New Gloucester won its first state championship, defeating Houlton 35-31 in the Class B state title game at the Augusta Civic Center. The two had met last year in the state final in Bangor, with Houlton winning 48-35.
But Conley, a senior center for the Patriots, wasn’t going to let that happen again. She scored all 12 of her points in the second half and assisted two critical baskets in the fourth quarter. Conley also had 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“This means absolutely everything,” said Conley. “We’ve been working for this since we were in the sixth grade. And to work together since that age up to now and to be able to accomplish this with a 100 percent team effort, it’s just something that is just so unimaginable.”
It didn’t come easily. But then, as GNG Coach Mike Andreasen said, “We didn’t expect it to.”
The Patriots had to overcome some early adversity, falling behind 6-0 as they struggled against Houlton’s opening 1-3-1 zone. But they dug in defensively, holding Houlton scoreless for a 9:33 stretch in the first half, and took a 16-11 lead when Alicia Dumont hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“It really helped our momentum,” said Conley. “It was a fantastic shot.”
Then when Houlton came out in a man-to-man defense in the second half, Conley thrived.
“Ultimately, we felt we needed to go player-to-player,” said Houlton Coach Shawn Graham. “They have such good shooters, it was only going to last for so long.”
Conley scored all eight GNG points in the third quarter, giving the Patriots a 24-16 lead with 1:57 left in the quarter.
Houlton fought back behind the play of junior guard Kolleen Bouchard, who scored 16 points. Her 3-pointer with 6:37 left brought the Shiretowners within 26-25. But they could never move ahead.
Freshman Jordan Grant hit one foul shot with 4:15 left to make it 27-25. Then Conley spun around Bouchard and put in a left-handed shot to make it 29-25. Houlton’s Aspen Flewelling hit two foul shots to make it 29-27.
Then Conley, on the left, found Grace Kariotis cutting to the basket for a layup and the Patriots led by four again. Graham called that “the big dagger.”
Conley found Grant for a back-door layup with 1:26 left and the Patriots led 33-27. Again the Shiretowners cut it to two when Bouchard scored with 49 seconds left. But sophomore Bri Jordan hit two foul shots with 7.7 seconds left – the first hitting the back rim, going straight up and dropping through – to make it 35-31.
“I didn’t think the first one was going in,” she said. “I was so nervous.”
That shot at least allowed Andreasen to think about the title. “I didn’t breath until Bri made her second foul shot,” he said. “And even then, with Bouchard … Our defense won it tonight”
Conley blocked Houlton’s final shot, then smiled broadly as she held the ball in the final seconds.
“It’s all about them,” Andreasen said of his players. “They did it. They made it a mission after we lost in the state game last year. When we lost that game they made it the goal to get back.”
Gray-New Gloucester had a big edge in rebounding, 36-22, which wasn’t surprising since Houlton lost one of its top rebounders, Kristen Graham, to a knee injury in the last regular-season game. That the Shiretowners, who won the Class C state title two years ago, were so close was a testament to their players.
“I thought we gave it a valiant effort against a fantastic team,” said Graham. “And we still had a chance.”
But the Patriots weren’t going to let this one go.
“It feels really amazing,” said DeTroy. “I’m hoping this starts a trend. We just worked so hard for this. I’m so excited for everyone.”