AUGUSTA — On each hand was scribbled a plus sign.
It was a reminder and a motivator for the Richmond girls’ basketball team Saturday. No matter what happened, the defending Western D champs were going to persevere.
“They’re plus signs, so when we look at our hands, we’ll remember to stay positive” said junior forward Jamie Plummer.
Richmond needed that in the first quarter of Saturday’s Western D final. Plummer picked up two quick fouls and had to sit on the bench for much of the first eight minutes. The power of positive thinking ultimately paid off as Plummer returned and led the Bobcats to a second straight regional title with a 46-33 win over Rangeley.
“That’s definitely nerve-wracking, especially since she’s such a big part of our team,” said Danica Hurley, one of just two Richmond seniors. “It was important for us to stay calm and important for all of us to stay out of foul trouble.”
Rangeley (18-3) couldn’t take advantage of the situation, and when Plummer returned, the Bobcats got rolling. All the Lakers could do was watch.
“We didn’t play,” said Rangeley coach Heidi Deery. “I don’t want to take anything away from Richmond. They have a great program and a great coach. But we didn’t play, and that’s disappointing.”
Rangeley was outscored 16-3 in the second quarter. Plummer led the way with 12 of her game-high 21 points.
“For three quarters, we were even as pathetic as that is,” said Deery. “The first quarter was 5-5 and the third and fourth quarters were 25-25. I don’t know. We prepared. I think our game plan would have worked if we’d executed it.
“I think we’ve had a lot of injuries down the stretch. Jenney (Abbott) not playing the last two weeks hurt us in a pressure situation. Another thing is age. We’ve got two freshmen and a sophomore, and they showed it today. They’re great kids and they work extremely hard, but they weren’t polished basketball players today.”
It was the fifth time in the last eight years that Rangeley has been to the regional final, but the Lakers have lost them all. Their last title came in 2004.
“I think it was pressure,” said Deery, whose team lost twice to Richmond by two points and three points in the regular season. “We’re better than that. We didn’t come to play with an attitude I thought we would. We’ve got nothing to lose. We knew we can play with them, but we didn’t play like that today.”
The Lakers had 11 turnovers in the first quarter and four more in the second. Rangeley shot just 2-for-6 in the first and 1-for-9 in the second.
Emily Carrier finished with 11 points while Taylor Esty added seven. Abbott, who missed the last two weeks with a knee injury, had six.
“They still played a great game,” said Plummer. “We just played intense defense. I think it was the best defense we played all year. Our shots went in and we just left everything on the court.”
In addition to Plummer’s 21, Hurley added 12. It was the seventh regional final for the Bobcats. Richmond gets a rematch with Washburn in next Saturday’s state game. The Bobcats have lost all six previous state championship games.
“We came into this game knowing we had to play our best game yet,” said Hurley. “We just really used that to come out on top.
Plummer’s two quick fouls put an immediate damper on Richmond’s plans and was just what the Lakers ordered. The Bobcats were able to stalemate the first quarter without Plummer. A basket by Hurley and a free throw by Ciarra Lancaster actually had Richmond ahead before an Esty basket tied it 5-5 late in the quarter.
“I didn’t really like that,” said Plummer of sitting and watching. “I just calmed myself down and knew that when I got back in the game, I had to play smart and take over.”
The time on the bench may have proved beneficial. When she returned in the second, she was an unstoppable force. Richmond opened the quarter with 11 straight points. Plummer had nine of those and finished with 12 in the quarter.
“I was hyped up,” said Plummer. “So I sat down and relaxed a little and stretched. I played smart and did what I needed.”
The Bobcats settled in around her nicely and Richmond raised its level of play. Rangeley couldn’t match it.
“If I had it all to do over again, I would have burned every timeout,” said Deery. “I don’t like doing that. I like to think I’m going to be in the game and I’m going to need them at the end. But if I had it to do over again, I would have used every timeout, and I wish I had now.”
The Lakers hoped to just hang close enough to settle in, but Richmond didn’t allow that to happen. The 11 straight points made it 16-5 and Rangeley didn’t get its first basket until an Esty hoop with 1:51 left in the half. Plummer added a rebound and a free throw. Alyssa Pearson scored in the post and all Rangeley could do was get a free throw from Tori Letarte.
“They were struggling and we were struggling,” said Deery. “When they started not to struggle, and we were still struggling, I hoped to just keep it to five or seven points.”
The lead was 21-8 at the half. Rangeley had a couple of bursts in the second half. Rangeley had an 8-2 run on baskets by Letarte, Emily Carrier and a pair by Chantal Carrier. Richmond countered that with seven straight, five coming from Plummer that led to a 34-17 lead after three.
A basket by Abbott and a 3 by Emily Carrier opened the fourth. Emily Carrier added a 3 and Abbott scored a three-point play midway through the quarter, but the Lakers just couldn’t dent the lead.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” said Richmond coach Molly Bishop. “Now I know I have another week of basketball.”