There will be a new girls’ basketball champion in Class A this year.

Thornton Academy saw to that Saturday night when the second-ranked Trojans outlasted four-time defending state champ McAuley 41-31 to win the school’s first Western Class A championship at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Senior forward Abby Strickland scored eight of her 12 points in the final quarter as the Trojans pulled away in the final minutes.

“It feels awesome,” said Strickland, who also had five rebounds and two blocked shots. “It’s unbelievable to be a senior and accomplish this. There’s no words to describe how I feel right now.”

Thornton (19-2) will play Lawrence (20-1) for the state championship at 3 p.m. next Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.

This was every bit the defensive battle everyone anticipated from the two best defensive teams in the region. In the end the Trojans were able to put together a couple of runs that enabled them to beat the top-ranked Lions (19-2) again.

Over the last four seasons, Thornton is the only team to beat McAuley, including a season-opening win this year.

“They were the better team, their defense is awesome and they scored when they had to,” said McAuley Coach Bill Goodman.

McAuley played without junior shooting guard Sarah Clement, who re-tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in a semifinal victory Wednesday night against South Portland.

But the Lions were in control into the third quarter before a late run gave the Trojans a 21-18 lead, capped by a buzzer-beating jumper by freshman Alex Hart.

It was 25-23 Thornton when Strickland took over. She scored on consecutive drives to make it 29-23. Later she two foul shots with 1:05 left to make it 33-27.

“I felt I had to do whatever was needed to win,” said Strickland. “Every person on this team wanted this game and that drove me to want to do my best.”

Trojans Coach Eric Marston said Strickland had already made her mark on the game defensively, guarding McAuley center Jess Willerson (eight points).

“Then she just exploded offensively when we needed a boost,” said Marston.

Goodman said he tried to pressure Thornton but “They had an answer for everything we tried.”

Victoria Lux, who played for McAuley the last three seasons but transfered to Thornton, hit two foul shots with 47 seconds left to give the Trojans an eight-point lead. She finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds and was named the winner of the Edward McMann Award, given to the tournament’s outstanding player/sportsperson.

Hart and Katie McCrum (nine points) each hit two foul shots in the final 30 seconds to seal it.

Olivia Dalphonse led the Lions with 10 points.

“This means everything to us,” said Lux, now in her fourth state title game. “It’s great to be part of this amazing team.”

Even Marston admitted it was quite a feat. “Our school is over 200 years old,” he said. “To be able to say we won the first Western Maine championship is pretty special.”

And while the Trojans struggled against McAuley’s defense early, Stickland remained confident. “Everyone wanted it, we knew we could do it,” she said. “It all came down to heart. And we gave it our all.”