AUGUSTA — It’s a simple formula, really, for the Messalonskee High girls’ basketball team: start fast and play great defense.
The Eagles did both Saturday and the result was stunning.
Messalonskee scored the first seven points of the game, built a 15-point lead in the first quarter and cruised to the Class A state championship, beating Brunswick 58-33 at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Eagles hit six of their first 12 shots and never cooled off much, hitting 41 percent for the game. And their stifling man-to-man defense forced the Dragons into 23-percent shooting.
“That’s really what we knew we had to do,” said Keith Derosby, coach of the Eagles. “We had to take the game in the first couple of minutes. Brunswick is just too good to not be there. That’s what we talked about, win the first tip, win the first quarter and then worry about everything else later.”
It was Messalonskee’s first state championship in Class A – it won a state title in Class B in 1987 – and completed a 22-0 season.
“This is a dream come true,” said Messalonskee senior guard Sophie Holmes. “You dream about cutting the nets down, holding the game ball and then just showing it to the community, to everyone who comes to support every game. It’s just beyond words.”
Holmes led Messalonskee with 21 points and four steals, jump-starting the Eagles with seven first-quarter points. Her banked-in 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Messalonskee a 17-2 lead with 1:01 left in the first quarter. It was a nearly flawless first eight minutes for the Eagles, who led 17-7 when the quarter was over.
“You have to set the tone, you have to come out strong and put your foot on the gas and show them what you’re made of,” said Ally Turner, the junior guard who scored 12 points for Messalonskee.
Brunswick would get within 17-9 on a Madeline Suhr layup 1:05 into the second quarter. But the Dragons missed their next seven shots and committed five turnovers as Messalonskee regrouped with a 10-0 run. Holmes started it with a layup and ended it with a jumper, giving Messalonskee a 27-9 lead with 2:07 left in the first half.
Holmes said the Eagles had watched the tape of Brunswick’s comeback from a 14-point deficit against Greely to win the Class A South title and weren’t going to let up.
“We’ve seen them do that so we knew we had to adjust and stick to our defense,” she said. “Defense wins championship.”
It certainly won this game.
“We talked about it all week,” said Sam Farrell, the coach at Brunswick. “To win a championship you’ve got to make plays and you’ve got to make shots. They made a lot of shots and we missed a lot.”
Brunswick, which was led by Sabrina Armstrong with 13 points and Suhr with 10, uncharacteristically missed a lot of inside shots, especially on offensive rebounds – they had 17 in the game and scored only four points off them.
“Just one of those nights,” said Farrell. “You’re coaching high school kids. You don’t always know what’s going to happen.”
Messalonskee would lead 29-13 at the half and slowly pulled away in the third. A 3-pointer by Alyssa Genness gave the Eagles a 43-18 lead. And Messalonskee led 45-21 entering the fourth.
All that was left was the celebration, which began with 1:41 remaining when Derosby began taking his starters out. Holmes, who finished her career with over 1,400 points, came out with 1:03 left and leaped into Derosby’s arms before everyone else came in for a jubilant group hug.
“It’s great to give those starters the chance to come off and get that applause,” said Derosby. “We would have taken a one-point (win) but this was nice.”
Derosby lauded the heart of his players, and their focus.
“They never got ahead of themselves, they never thought they were bigger than the game or bigger than their opponent,” he said. “They met every challenge. They went into every contest thinking if we don’t play our best we can lose. ”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or: