Basketball

Skowhegan clicks as full team en route to state finals

Skowhegan clicks as full team en route to state finals

Brewer’s Riley Umel, left, and Skowhegan’s Annabelle Morris chase a loose ball during a Class A North women’s basketball quarterfinal game February 18 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SKOWHEGAN – Heading into this season, the Skowhegan women’s basketball team knew it could be special. But he also knew he had work to do.

The River Hawks were knocked out in the regional semifinals by Gardiner in 2020. And then last year, Skowhegan was ousted in the first round of the Central Maine tournament by Maranacook.

The River Hawks had as good a comeback as they could ask for in Jaycie Christopher senior. But coach Mike LeBlanc stressed to his team that to beat teams like Lawrence and Gardiner who had seemingly passed them, they would need more.

“He was always telling us, ‘Somebody’s got to step in,'” junior forward Callaway LePage said. “’It won’t just be Jaycie’s show. People are going to find ways to protect her, and we need other people who can shoot or steal balls and play good defense.

All these months later, and this development that LeBlanc was hoping for has come to fruition. Skowhegan has a 21-0 record, a Class A North trophy in his cabinet and a Golden Ball for which he will play against Greely on Saturday.

The River Hawks did that by transforming into a deep, complete team. People who watch Skowhegan play while waiting for another episode of the Jaycie show see her play her starring role, but also see a team that gets contributions from all over the field, plays tight defense, and effectively capitalizes on their mistakes. opponents.

This is the progress LeBlanc was eager to see, but even he admitted to being surprised by everything that happened.

“Our pre-game speech against Lawrence (in the regional final) was that no one expected us to be here, including me,” he said. “I told them bluntly that we had exceeded expectations. They bought into everything we talked about and they played so hard and tough.

Christopher said she recognized the team’s potential early on.

“I kind of saw it coming all summer long, and a lot of us played softball together (and won a state championship),” she said. “Seeing the competitiveness and convergence in softball, it kind of carried over into the summer in basketball.

“Did we necessarily expect to play in a state championship this weekend? Maybe not. But it’s definitely something we all knew was a possibility and we all wanted it to happen.

Skowhegan’s Callaway LePage dives for the loose ball with Erskine’s Mackenzie Roderick (12) as teammate Jaycie Christopher (3) assists during a Class A North semifinal match February 23 at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

Building that supporting cast was a big reason for Skowhegan’s surge.

“Every game, you see it more and more, people can come in and knock down shots, or just make plays,” Christopher said. “It’s not just about knocking down shots. We have people coming in and taking big loads, or getting into painting and finding some more. It was a very good development.

Skowhegan ranked No. 1 in scoring in all of Class A with 64.9 points per game during the regular season, and exceeded 70 points five times and 60 points 13 times. Christopher and her 24 points per game were a big part of that, but so was LePage and her 16-point average as she became the River Hawks’ reliable No. 2 option, one of A North’s top insiders and the Christopher’s partner in Skowhegan’s Quick Transition Game.

“I knew we were going to be young, very young and someone had to step in. I feel like I took on that role,” LePage said. “All the starters connected really well, and it brought us all together.”

This emerging depth was showcased in the playoffs. While LePage, who has led the River Hawks to scoring multiple times this season, had 17 points in a semi-final win over Erskine, runner-up Maddy Morris had 18 in the quarter-final against Brewer after making her presence all season as an outside shooting threat.

“It’s huge. We’ve been talking about this from the start, it can’t be Jay being the only one stepping in. We all have to help,” Morris said. “It’s not enough for one person. … I think that helps the other players too. They just have to open up, and Jay knows who will be open.

Adding to the depth are players like Annabelle Morris (12 points against Brewer), Reese Danforth and Aryana Lewis, players who don’t post flashy scoring averages but do just enough to keep teams honest.

“It’s the other numbers that aren’t high, but they’re high enough for people to keep them,” LeBlanc said. “It makes us look better. We’ve been talking about denial all year, deny your shot for a better teammate shot. They have done a great job in this regard.

And the River Hawks know that helping out doesn’t always mean scoring. Danforth and Annabelle Morris aren’t the roster’s top scorers, but they’re two defensive leaders for a team that gave up 33.78 points per game (again best in Class A) and allowed only an average of 30.3 during the tournament. .

“It doesn’t really matter how many points you get,” Annabelle Morris said. “Defense is a big key to any team, really. Defense wins games.

For all of Skowhegan’s scoring prowess, defense is LeBlanc’s focal point. In a 78-33 win over Messalonskee early in the season, the River Hawks raced to 29 points in the first quarter, only to hear an ear from their coach late in the period for allowing 19.

“We’ve been proud of our defense all year,” said LeBlanc. “We talk about what we can control, and our defense is what we can control, so that’s what we’re betting on.”

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