Class A East Girls’ Championship: Vikings’ defense too tall an order for Eddies

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AUGUSTA — Oxford Hills survived four overtimes to beat Skowhegan by four points, then outlasted Messalonskee by a bucket.

Anybody who had been paying attention to Tourney 2014 knew the Vikings had a chance to beat top-seeded Edward Little. They were the ones who dealt the Red Eddies their only prior loss of this girls’ basketball season, after all.

But blow out EL in a regional final? Let’s get serious.

Oh, Oxford Hills got suffocatingly serious Friday night. The simultaneous tears of elation and agony flowed well before the horn that signaled a 54-34 Viking conquest in the Class A East championship at Augusta Civic Center.

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“At the end, we’re like, ‘When is enough time?’ With a team that can shoot 3s so well, we were a little mixed about that,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier, who wrestled with when to remove his starters before allowing them to bask in a group standing ovation with just under a minute to go.

Hard to imagine a defensive effort more richly deserving. Through three quarters, Edward Little, a team that averaged 55 points per game this winter, was 7-for-33 from the field.

If you go by the tournament program, in which Oxford Hills’ heights aren’t even listed, the Vikings start a center, three forwards and a guard. And maybe that tells the story of their long-armed, quick-footed zone defense.

Mikayla Morin, Anna Winslow and Crystal West shared the duty of stifling EL guards Tianna Harriman and Kory Norcross, who labored feverishly for their 12 and 6 points, respectively.

West won the Bob Whytock Award emblematic of the tournament’s outstanding player and sportswoman. Winslow scored a game-high 22 points. But there’s little doubt who makes the Vikings’ defense hum.

“It’s Mikayla,” said Winslow. “Her length and speed and athleticism. I’m just trying to help her up top and pick up what she can’t. She’s really the key.”

Oxford Hills held EL to its previous low ebb, hammering out a 52-41 win in South Paris. Pelletier still was scared to death of the Eddies’ perimeter acumen, however, and rightfully so.

Four of EL’s five made field goals in the first half were 3-pointers. The Eddies didn’t sink any from beyond the arc after intermission.

“We forced some in the second quarter,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “But the second half we got a lot of good looks. We didn’t make free throws, didn’t make those shots, and the kids got frustrated at the other end.”

Jipson unofficially pronounced Oxford Hills as the pre-tournament favorite because of its defense, and he was ever the prophet.

The Vikings held seven regular-season opponents to 33 points or fewer. That’s exactly where Messalonskee wound up on Wednesday, and it took an 11-point outburst in the fourth quarter for EL to get there Friday.

“They have some good shooters on their team. They’re strong offensively. They’re tough to defend. We had to battle and buckle down and really focus on our defense to win that game,” said Morin, who made five steals to go with her 16 points. “We knew if we could stop them from getting open 3s and having to get it in the paint, with our big girls, we’d rather have them going there.”

Oxford Hills trusted center Tianna Sugars enough to let her handle both Brooke Reynolds and Emily Jacques of EL under the basket while the other Vikings turned their attention to the Eddies’ long-distance attack.

Sugars scored six points to Jacques’ seven and Reynolds’ four, but more significant were her 12 rebounds — 10 of them on the defensive glass.

The reason offensive caroms were infrequent was that the tidy Vikings didn’t miss many. They were 11-for-15 in the two middle quarters, when an 11-9 lead grew to 26-17 at halftime and 39-23 after three.

“Our defense has been there,” Pelletier said. “We always seem to play consistently defensively. They bought into that philosophy, and tonight we were able to get a lot of easy shots because of it.”

And so for all the elevated blood pressure the Vikings experienced on the journey to the final, the Eddies couldn’t get close enough to give them sweaty palms.

“I give a lot of credit to Oxford Hills,” Jipson said. “They’re tall. They’re long. They played hard. They made their shots. It was just frustrating how we executed offensively.”

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