NEWPORT — As freshmen, Mary Badeen and Julie Smith faced the same challenges at different schools. Each was good enough to be the starting point guard as a ninth-grader, but neither had another ball-handler to share the load.

When Smith’s family moved back to the Newport area last year, she and Badeen each picked up that second point guard. And Nokomis opponents now have to deal with a team that has two players who can run the show.

The combination has helped guide fourth-seeded Nokomis to the Eastern B final against No. 2 Mt. Desert Island. That game is at 2:05 p.m. today at the Bangor Auditorium.

Last season, when Nokomis played in Eastern A, teams pressured the Warriors relentlessly. Badeen would often have to dart around to get open for the inbounds pass, then fight off more defenders just to get the ball across halfcourt.

“Last year, (Mary) had to work so hard to get the ball up the floor that sometimes it was hard for us to get her looks offensively,” Nokomis coach Kori Dionne said. “I never really realized it as much until I had them both on the floor together this year. We were pressured a lot last year, and we had to have someone to get the ball up over halfcourt. Once she did, she was spent.”

Smith, who played her freshman year at Belfast and is now a junior, provided the solution. But it was long process for Smith to get to that point after tearing up her right knee as a freshman.

“I kept playing after that, and I probably shouldn’t have, and I tore it up even more,” Smith said. Since her freshman year, Smith has undergone knee surgery five times.

“My scar tissue is really bad,” she said. “They say five out of a thousand kids get the scar tissue problem that I have. I have to have another surgery after this season. Hopefully, this one works, because they’ve tried everything.”

Smith says she used to be much quicker, but other than that, the knee hasn’t been a problem this season. Still, there were some rough moments early on, as she came off the bench in the opening games and especially struggled in a 41-39 season-opening loss to Waterville.

“The first game, I didn’t want to play anymore,” Smith said. “I didn’t think basketball was for me. But I just kept working at it, and I had a lot of support from the coaches and fans and my teammates, so that kept me going.”

“She’s just a fierce competitor,” Dionne added, “and I think she thought she could just step into it and be 100 percent right from the get-go, and I think it was really frustrating for her to not be.”

Gradually, Smith’s game came back. With offensive weapons like Badeen, Kara Batchelder, Marissa Shaw and Danielle Watson, Smith learned how to use them, and she became a weapon herself.

“We turned a corner when we were able to use her a lot more,” Dionne said. “Her dribble penetration has opened up stuff for Mary and Kara on the outside, as well as opening things up for the dish off to Marissa and Danielle on the inside.”

Badeen’s game has evolved as well. Last season, her main weapon was the 3-pointer. Now, says Dionne, “She’s got the range, and she can also create her own shot off the dribble, and she can drive to the basket.”

Badeen says she has always been able to shoot since attending a shooting camp years ago, and she still practices every day. But it was last season, as a freshman, that the 5-foot-4 guard really started to surprise. Badeen would not only shoot 3-pointers with confidence, she would shoot them two or three steps behind the line.

“It started last year. I don’t remember what game it was, but I just started shooting, and I didn’t even know where I was (on the floor),” Badeen said. “Everyone was cheering really loud, and then someone was like, ‘You were like 10 feet off from the line.’ I was like, ‘Really?’

“Then I started watching the games, and I just became more comfortable with it. Now it’s just something that I can do.”

Dionne was a point guard at Bangor High School herself, but she was more of a defensive specialist and distributor. She says that because Badeen and Smith are both scoring threats, teams have to respect the shot and the pass. So how do the two Nokomis point guards describe each other’s games? Here’s Smith on Badeen:

“I feel very confident when she has the ball in her hands,” Smith said. “She’s a great shooter, great dribble-penetration, and really good defense. She’s quick.”

And here’s Badeen on Smith:

“She can see the floor very well,” Badeen said. “She makes amazing passes, and she can attack the lane. She gets hot, too, on the three-point line. She can do it all.”

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