BANGOR — Celebrating on the Cross Insurance Center floor, Mount Desert Island’s senior starters took turns at one of Maine’s most exhilarating high school basketball traditions.
With ladders placed beneath both baskets, the Trojans’ Maddy Candage and Julia Watras took part in the famous cutting of the nets that follows every regional and state championship basketball game. When the two finished, Hannah Chamberlain and Alexis Clarito got their turns to wave their prizes in front of an exuberant MDI crowd.
MDI’s four senior starters have been at the heart of a program that has improved bit by bit over the last few years. Now, after carrying the Trojans to the Northern Maine title, they will end their varsity careers when they play alongside one another one final time with a state championship on the line.
MDI led the entire way against Waterville to earn a 44-35 victory in Saturday’s Northern Maine championship game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The victory was the product of MDI’s senior class, which provided all but one point for the Trojans for the second consecutive game and delivered on defense to earn a regional title.
“For this group of seniors, to come in here having never won a tournament game [at the Cross Center] in their careers to being Northern Maine champs, it’s just a huge accomplishment,” head coach Brent Barker said. “They stuck right by each other and did a really good job.”
While the seniors had not won a tournament game in their high school careers, this group had a stellar eighth grade season together, winning a state championship with a travel club team. They won the Harbor House Great Harbor Shoot-Out that year, too.
Candage scored MDI’s first three baskets of the game on a pair of layups and a jumpshot to give the Trojans a 6-2 lead. A Clarito 3-pointer would be the Trojans’ only other points in the opening frame, but the team held Waterville to a two-point basket and a free throw to lead 9-5 through the first eight minutes of play.
Despite Candage going to the bench with two fouls, MDI started the second quarter on an 8-2 run with a mid-range jumper, another 3-pointer from Clarito and a wide-open triple from Chamberlain to pull ahead 17-7. Waterville responded with a 7-0 run before Watras scored five of the half’s final eight points to put the No. 1 Trojans (19-2) on top 22-17.
“They left us open,” Clarito said. “I was a bit worried I was too far back behind the line, but they both flew right in.”
Chamberlain opened the second half with a corner 3 before a Candage free throw and Watras layup gave the Trojans a 28-17 lead. Third-ranked Waterville (20-1) finally scored its first points of the quarter just past the halfway mark, but the Panthers couldn’t find any sort of major offensive spark as MDI took a 35-25 lead into the final quarter.
MDI had to sweat a bit in the fourth as Waterville cut the gap to 38-31, but the Panthers wouldn’t score again until the Trojans’ starters left the game. With MDI leading 44-31 late after three points from Watras, a basket from Candage and a free throw from Rachelle Swanson, four Waterville points in garbage time did nothing to stop a sea of white jerseys from celebrating at midcourt.
Watras led MDI in scoring with 17 points, 12 of which came in the second half. Candage and Chamberlain provided nine points apiece for the Trojans with Clarito scoring eight points and Swanson scoring one.
Following the Waterville coach’s lead, Barker took out his starters as the Trojans led 13 with just over a minute to go. Clarito wasn’t 100 percent sure, but she had confidence her teammates would seal it.
“When the subs were going in, I told them, ‘Hey, it’s not over yet,’” Clarito said. “They finished it for us, and we all knew they would.”
It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest of performances for MDI, which turned the ball over 15 times in the first half alone. Yet the Trojans also forced Waterville into plenty of turnovers of its own through tough defense. The Panthers struggled to overcome MDI’s press and couldn’t get enough shots to fall when they did so.
Chamberlain’s third 3-pointer set a record for the most in the Class B regional playoffs with 11. She made five in the Trojans’ overtime win over Winslow in the semifinals and three in the team’s quarterfinal victory against Maine Central Institute.
The Trojans’ senior sharpshooter wasn’t even aware of the record until she was informed of it in a post-game interview. More important to Chamberlain was the Trojans’ Northern Maine championship plaque, which she carried around the court with a wide smile on her face as she posed for photos, hugged teammates and parents and wiped a tear of joy or two from her face.
“She’s done it to help our team out,” Barker said of Chamberlain, whom he called one of the best shooters in the state. “None of us even talked about the record because we don’t talk about those things; we talked about our next game, and we talked about what we had to do compete in that game. I thought we did a great job of that here tonight.”
MDI’s opponent in the state title game will be Class B South No. 1 seed Gray-New Gloucester (19-2), who beat Freeport 42-31 on Saturday to win the Southern Maine crown. Gray-New Gloucester’s only two losses on the season have come against Greely, which entered Saturday’s Class A South title game with a record of 20-0.
The Trojans and Patriots will face one another at 1:05 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. With a win, MDI would claim its first state championship since 2003, when Barker’s father, Burt, coached the current MDI head coach’s sister, Bracey, to the third of the team’s back-to-back-to-back Class B titles.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” Candage said. “It’s kind of crazy. We’re all just really happy right now, and we’ll get a week to prepare and be ready to win one more.”