AUGUSTA — It was a fourth quarter that could make fans fear the worst and make coaches old before their time.
Clinging to a narrow lead, the Rangeley girls’ basketball team watched turnovers and fouls slowly erode the firm footing the Lakers thought they had in the final quarter Thursday. With the game on the line and the Vinalhaven Vikings nipping at their heels, Rangeley knew it had to find a way to win their Western D semifinal.
So even though Rangeley’s lead was threatened in the final minutes, the Lakers resolve never wavered. Rangeley hit the shots that mattered most and pulled away for a 54-46 win.
“I don’t know how some of those coaches stay coaching,” said Rangeley coach Heidi Deery. “If it doesn’t kill you, I guess you can get through anything.”
The Lakers watched a lead slip away last year in a heartbreaking semifinal loss to Valley. Rangeley suffered similar losses the previous two years in the regional final to Greenville and Valley.
“My whole thing this year, because of those, I was like, ‘Can we just play?'” said Deery. “Good, bad or indifferent, even if we end up losing, we made some mistakes. I’ve never seen a perfect game yet, but if we can just play and not hope the clock runs faster than it’s going or hope that we win, we have to play. We really focused a lot on that this year.
“Credit to Vinalhaven. They brought it. They played hard. I don’t think they did something to lose it. I just felt like we stepped up and won it.”
The second-seeded Lakers advance to Saturday’s regional final to play top-ranked Richmond. The Bobcats beat Seacoast in the other semifinal.
“It’s really exciting,” said senior guard Emily Carrier. “Richmond beat us twice before this year. So it will be nice to play them again.”
Rangeley had beaten the Vikings twice this season, 49-42 and 34-27. So the Lakers expected another tough battle. The largest lead of the first three quarters was seven points. Though Rangeley had the lead most of the way, the Vikings were always in reach.
“We knew they were going to come out strong, and we knew we had to come out stronger,” said sophomore guard Tori Letarte. “We just had to play the game we know how to play.”
Letarte led the Lakers (18-2) with 12 points while Emily Carrier added 10. Taylor Esty and Chantal Carrier each added eight. The Lakers also got a boost from the addition of Jenney Abbott, who bolstered Rangeley’s post game and added three points.
“This was the first game she played in two weeks,” said Deery. “She hasn’t been in practice. I thought she played big.”
Vinalhaven (11-9) got 14 from Alex Slivinsky and 11 each from Ashley Hamilton and Izza Drury.
It was Drury that tied the game midway through the third, 30-30. After an Esty basket, Emily Carrier hit a jumper. Blayke Morin added two free throws and a steal as part of a 9-2 run for the Lakers.
Leading 39-32 entering the fourth, Emily Carrier hit a 3 while Morin hit a jumper to give Rangeley its largest lead of the game, 44-34.
“She’s a player,” said Deery of Emily Carrier. “She’s fun to watch. If she’s open, she’s going to take it. She knows if she doesn’t take it, I’m going to get on her.”
Vinalhaven tried to rally. The Vikings forced 10 turnovers in the fourth. Rangeley also watched both Taylor Esty and Abbott foul out. That limited the Lakers size advantage that had been a factor much of the game.
“Being here is nerve-wracking, but you just have to be strong and know you have your team behind you,” said Letarte.
Despite the mistakes, Rangeley still hit its first four shots and sank 6-of-8 from the floor in the fourth.
“We were kind of nervous, but we just had to keep playing and we did,” said Emily Carrier. “We’ve been in pressure situations all season. That definitely helped.”
Each time Vinalhaven got close, the Lakers had answer down the stretch. Two free throws by Eliza Davidson made it 48-41 with 2:51 left. The Vikings had the ball with a chance to get closer. Vinalhaven missed numerous shots and then watched the Lakers take it the other way. Letarte finished off her own rebound to make it 50-41 with 1:56 left.
“I thought the biggest play of the game was when Tori Letarte got two offensive rebounds inside and scored,” said Deery. “That kind of just broke their backs. That showed the intensity and belief that no matter what we’re going to keep working.”
The Vikings got a Slivinsky basket and a free throw by Drury to cut it to 50-44 with 51 seconds left. Seve Deery-Deraps hit two free throws and a Chantal Carrier rebound in the final minute sealed it.
“It was a complete team effort,” said Deery. “I think its’ a lot harder to stop five people than it is one person. Defensively, I thought everybody stepped up and made our adjustments. It’s a real credit to these girls. I think they really wanted to get back to Saturday.”
Vinalhaven led for all of the first quarter, building a 10-8 after one. Rangeley used an 11-4 run to open the second, making it 19-14. The Vikings cut it to one after back-to-back hoops by Slivinsky. Baskets by Chantal Carrier, Morin and free throws by Letarte built the lead back to 25-18, but the Vikings ended the half down 25-22 after a Hamilton rebound and Drury jumper.
“We did the little things right and that definitely helped us to win,”said Emily Carrier.