He predicted his Oxford Hills girls would show tremendous growth, but he likely never imagined the results that would accompany it.
The Vikings claimed their second regional title Friday with an impressive performance in a resounding 54-34 win over Edward Little at the Augusta Civic Center.
“The thing is, they still have a ways to go,” said Pelletier, whose team won the Eastern A crown in 2008 before losing to Deering in the state final. “They showed it tonight. I felt like at times we haven’t played up to our potential. We were waiting for that one game where they’d put it all together and it really happened tonight.”
Oxford Hills will play Saturday’s winner of the Western A final between McAuley and Windham. The Class A state game is at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Saturday, March 1 at 4 p.m.
“This season we beat all the teams in our conference,” junior guard Mikayla Morin said. “So we knew going in that we could beat anybody. We knew the only one that could stop us was ourselves. We knew we had to be ready to play.”
The Vikings jumped out to an 11-2 lead early, but watched EL rally and tie the game in the second quarter. From there, there was no stopping the Vikings, who started the year 1-3, but have won 16 of their past 17 games, including eight in a row.
“At the beginning of the season, we kind of had a rough start,” Morin said. “We flip-flopped the season and we started winning and started playing the way we can play. We’re now playing our best basketball.”
EL won the first game the teams played, 44-38, but Vikings won at home, 52-41. It was a disappointing loss for the Red Eddies, who finished the year 19-2. Both losses came against the Vikings.
“We were playing well,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “The frustrating thing is, we averaged 55 points during the year and we had 20 points late in the third quarter.”
The Vikings defense thoroughly frustrated EL. Oxford’s Hills 2-3 zone completely took away EL’s inside game. Brooke Murch and Tiana Sugars defended the paint while the guard play of Winslow, Morin and Crystal West denied the pass and defended against the 3. EL had little recourse and never found any offensive rhythm. EL shot 3-for-22 through the second and third quarters and watched the game slip away as the Vikings went 11-for-13 during that stretch.
“I was really frustrated with how we executed our zone offense,” Jipson said. “We worked so well on it. We have no excuses because a lot of teams played zone against us this year. So we’ve seen a lot of zone. They’re the best. They, by far, are the best defensive team in our league.”
Winslow led the Vikings (17-4) with 22, while Morin finished with 15. The Vikings also got offensive input from Sugars, Murch, West, Alyssa Hanley and Claire Gregory as EL struggled to keep pace.
“Everybody brings something different and that really helped us,” Winslow said.
EL had just one player in double figures, Tianna Harriman, with 12. Emily Jacques finished with seven and Kory Norcross added six.
“We told our seniors in the locker room that we were going to do everything in our power to get them one more game,” said Winslow, a junior forward. “I think that calmed everyne’s nerves.”
The Vikings came out looking calm and confident. Oxford Hills built a quick lead and immediately put doubt in the minds of the Red Eddies. The potential the Vikings saw coming into the year was coming to fruition.
“During summer ball, with the athleticism we had and the different dynamics that everyone brought to the team, we were unstoppable and we knew it,” Winslow said. “We lost to McAuley in the preseason by two points. That was an amazing feeling.”
Winslow scored four quick points and a 3 by Morin made it 7-0. EL missed its first six shots and sputtered from the start as the Vikings built a 9-0 lead. EL’s first basket came with 3:24 left from Brooke Reynolds. After a Winslow hoop, EL ran off seven in a row. Molly Murray and Tianna Harriman 3s cut the deficit to 11-9.
“When we played them at home, we got off to a really good start, too,” Pelletier said. “We knew we had to ability to do that. We were hoping to be able to do that. They battled back and I thought it was going to be close the rest of the game but we buckled down and made a lot of shots.”
EL tied the game in the second. Norcross and Harriman each hit 3’s to make it 15-15. That was the last glimpse EL had. Murch scored back-to-back hoops inside. Then Sugars scored off a Winslow pass and the Vikings were on a 10-0 run. It became a 13-2 spurt, padded by baskets by Morin and Sugars. Then a hoop from Hanley and a free throw from Morin made it 26-17 at the half.
Oxford Hills shot 6-for-8 in the quarter while EL was 2-for-11.
“Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and kind of panic,” Morin said. “We knew we just had to keep calm and relax with the ball and play smart. That’s what we did today.”
The Vikings broke the game wide open in the third with 11 in a row, putting Oxford Hills up 39-23 after three. After an EL basket by Harriman, West hit a 3. Sugars, Winslow and Morin all scored as the Vikings hit their first five shots and finished the quarter 5-for-6. EL finished 1-for-11 in the third.
EL could never regroup. The Red Eddies missed their first nine shots of the fourth and finished the game shooting 9-for-46. The Vikings were 16-for-27.
“We felt like we really had nothing to lose,” Pelletier said. “We talked about the growth during the season. We weren’t really sure if we were good enough to be here at the beginning of the year. Halfway through the year, we really felt like we could. The girls were just relaxed. It was awesome.”