SOUTH BERWICK — A year ago, Lee Petrie became the girls’ basketball coach at the small Seacoast Christian School, adding to his already busy duties as the Guardians’ boys basketball coach.
At the time, he said it was important to just lay a foundation for what the girls’ program could be: “We’re so far from thinking about a state championship, but we’re trying to build it so to get more out of this than just basketball.
On Saturday, the Guardians (13-6) play for the Class D state championship.
Seacoast Christian, one of the smallest schools in the state with just 110 K-12 students, will play Class D powerhouse Southern Aroostook at 1 p.m. at Augusta Civic Center. The Warriors (21-0) will play in their fourth straight state final, having won championships in 2018 and 2019. Their average winning margin this year is 54 points.
The Guardians, who play their home games at the Eliot Baptist Church (and practice there three times a week) because their field is too small, have no such history. This is the first time in the school’s 38-year history that a team has qualified for the national final.
“Incredible,” said athletic director Nikki Winship. “Their sportsmanship, how hard they worked, the different things they had to overcome, they deserve it.”
Recalling his one-year-old quote the other day, Petrie laughed. When asked how they got here, he had a simple answer.
“I have amazing kids,” Petrie said. ” Let’s be realistic. I mean, you’re not going anywhere without kids who are willing to buy whatever you want to do.
But there are several levels in this team. Start with the fact that the Guardians were 6-5 at one point this season and looked to be struggling. Petrie said that was not the case.
“You keep going on records and it doesn’t look so good,” Petrie said. “But you have to know what you’re doing and you have to set goals and you have to be real.”
Petrie and his players knew that record was misleading. All of the losses had come against Class C schools. In fact, the Guardians are 8-0 against Class D opponents and 5-6 against Class C opponents. Two of those Class C losses are came against North Yarmouth Academy, who played in the regional final, and two against Old Orchard Beach, who reached the semi-finals.
And the Guardians have learned from each of those Class C plays. In games against Class D opponents, Seacoast Christian is allowing just 28.9 points per game.
“That’s the one thing about this team,” Petrie said. “They asked, ‘How can we learn from this? How do we play like that? How to get to this level? ”
Second-year goaltender Ellie Leech said the team learned to dictate the pace of games for Class C opponents. Junior forward Breckyn Winship said the Guardians learned to play a tougher defense against a better competetion.
And with Petrie coaching the boys’ and girls’ teams, they train together. Yes, there are drills they do separately – shooting drills, for example, due to the difference in size of basketballs – but they do most drills together and often play against each other.
Again, the girls see this as an advantage. The boys played more physically and at a faster, more intense pace.
“They always put pressure on us in practice and we put pressure on them too,” said senior guard Kaitlyn Jandreau.
But it also helped in other ways, Petrie said. The boys and girls talked about basketball all the time, he said, not just on the court but “in the lunchroom and in the classroom and on the buses.” They watched movies together and learned games from each other.
There are three leaders on this team: Winship (12.4 points, 8.7 rebounds per game), Jandreau (8.0 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Leech (6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4 ,1 pass). “They have synergy,” Petrie said. “Something you can’t make.”
“We have a lot of chemistry,” said Leech, who started in eighth grade. “It started in college and it’s still going.”
Petrie also held a summer camp – the first time the Guardians had done this. He mostly focused on fundamental skills, with a few matches. “I don’t think we’d be where we are without it,” Jandreau said, noting that one player in particular, junior forward Bri Cluff, worked diligently on her inside movements.
And when Cluff displayed one of the moves of a game this season, Breckyn Winship said everyone cheered.
“These kids love watching themselves improve,” Petrie said. “They don’t care who scores the points, they just want to win.”
And now they have a chance to win the biggest trophy – the Ballon d’Or.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” Petrie said. ” Let’s be realistic. We are. What’s crazy is that they appreciate it. It’s not only exciting for them, but they enjoy it too. Couldn’t be happier for a group of kids.
Jandreau still isn’t sure it’s real.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I can’t even put words to it yet. It still feels like a dream.
Wednesday’s high school roundup: Cape Elizabeth advances to Class B South semifinals