BANGOR — Against all odds, the Trojans found a way.
It could’ve been the end for Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team when one of its senior leaders, Maddy Candage, fouled out of the game; it could’ve been the end when, numerous times, the opposing Winslow Black Raiders went to the free-throw line with a chance to put the game out of reach; it could’ve been the end when, in need of a last-gasp shot to tie, the Trojans’ designed play didn’t develop as expected.
Instead, fate was kind to MDI on Wednesday, and the Trojans took advantage. Now, with two tournament wins under its belt, the team is within sight of a Northern Maine championship.
MDI beat defending state champion Winslow 57-51 in overtime in Wednesday’s Class B North semifinal encounter at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The win came after a wild first half that saw the teams combine for 13 3-pointers and a buzzer-beater by the Trojans’ Julia Watras that forced the extra period and sent the MDI half of the Cross Center into raptures.
“I’ve never played in a game like this,” MDI senior Hannah Chamberlain said. “I honestly can’t believe it. The whole game was just crazy.”
Winslow started the game on fire from 3-point range, making two in the opening minute and a half to roll out to an 8-2 lead. Although an Alexis Clarito 3-pointer and Maddy Candage jumper cut the Black Raiders’ lead to one, Winslow highlighted a 9-0 run with two more 3s to lead 17-7 with two minutes to play in the first quarter.
MDI made another comeback with a 3-pointer from Hannah Chamberlain and two Candage layups to pull back within three points to end the quarter, but Winslow bookended a Julia Watras free throw with two more 3-pointers to lead 23-15 a minute into the second. Yet the No. 1 Trojans (18-2), sparked by more prowess from Chamberlain and Clarito beyond the arc, fought back to take a 31-28 lead into halftime.
“Neither team could miss,” MDI head coach Brent Barker said. “They had those stretches where they hit back-to-back [3-pointers] a bunch of times, and we got those big shots from Hannah and Clarito to keep us right there with them. It was just great basketball.”
Both teams struggled from the field to begin the second half, but MDI extended its lead to 35-28 with 5:28 to play after a flurry of offensive rebounds led to baskets from Watras and Clarito. The runs from both teams continued into the fourth quarter, though it looked as if Winslow had the upper hand after Candage fouled out and the Black Raiders earned numerous opportunities from the free-throw line.
Yet Winslow shot 1 of 8 from the stripe down the stretch to keep the game within one score, and after the Trojans inbounded down 50-47 with 7.2 seconds remaining on the clock, Watras sank a shot that will be part of tournament lore for years to come.
“It’s just funny because [the ball] wasn’t even supposed to go to me,” Watras said. “It was supposed to go to Hannah, but I was open and had a better look. Whatever works for us, we’ll take it.”
Afforded new life, MDI made it count in overtime. Allowing just one point in the additional four minutes, the Trojans used Chamberlain’s fifth 3-pointer of the night and four free throws to advance to play for the regional championship.
Chamberlain led MDI in scoring with 16 points, and the Trojans also got 14 from Candage and 13 apiece from Clarito and Watras. The team’s only other scorer was Lindsey McEachern, who scored the final point of the evening on a free throw in overtime.
Barker said his senior captain’s game-tying shot looked good from the moment she released it. Watras had a similar feeling, but she was hesitant until she saw it drop through the bottom of the nylon.
“I felt pretty good about it right away, but I didn’t want to cheer until I knew it was in,” Watras said. “When I saw it go through, that was just an amazing moment. Everybody was jumping and screaming.”
The thrilling win also provided revenge for the Trojans, whom Winslow eliminated in the Class B North quarterfinals last year. MDI will face another top team from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference when it takes on No. 3 Waterville (20-0), which defeated second-ranked Hermon (17-3) 49-38 in the earlier Class B North semifinal matchup Wednesday, at 2:05 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.
After mobbing one another in front of the MDI bench when Watras made her game-tying shot, the Trojans did so once again at midcourt when clock ran out to mark the end of the team’s overtime victory. If the Trojans can knock Waterville from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday afternoon to earn a regional championship plaque, a similar scene is likely to follow.
“We’re playing on Championship Saturday, and that’s all you can ask for,” Barker said. “To have that opportunity there for us is what we’ve been working all year long to do, and we’re all psyched for it.”