AUGUSTA — It was so far, so good at halftime.
The Rangeley girls' basketball team fell behind by double digits in the first quarter. The Lakers took that Richmond punch and battled their way back to within two points at the break.
"I felt good coming out of halftime," said Rangeley coach Heidi Deery. "We were right where we wanted to be. I just wanted to hang around long enough that they'd start questioning themselves."
The third quarter changed all that. Though Richmond struggled in the second quarter, the defending regional champs reasserted themselves to start the third. Rangeley struggled to answer and watched the Bobcats gradually pull away to a 48-36 win in the Western Class D championship.
It is the third straight regional crown for Richmond (17-3), who will play defending state champion Washburn next Saturday at Bangor Auditorium.
"It means the world," said Richmond senior forward Jamie Plummer, who was named the tourney's most outstanding player for the second year in a row. "This is what we're here to do. We're so blessed to be able to go back to our third state championship. It feels amazing."
Plummer finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds. She led the charge with 11 of her points in the fourth quarter. Ciarra Lancaster also had 15 points and six boards. She had seven points during a decisive third quarter.
"We just tried to stay calm and collected," said Lancaster, a fellow senior forward. "We tried to take our time more and stay with our inside shots instead of throwing it up from the outside."
As Richmond extended its lead in the third, Rangeley (19-2) struggled to answer. The Lakers shot just 1-for-8 in the third and 4-for-16 in the fourth.
"I didn't expect that offensively we'd only have nine field goals," said Deery, whose team averaged nearly 57 points per game during the regular season. "That's not characteristic of our team. I was very happy with our foul shooting, 17-for-22. That's what you need in the tournament. I felt rebounding, we held our own. That didn't kill us but our offensive looks and only getting one opportunity did kill us."
Senior Abby Abbott led the Lakers with 11 points while Blayke Morin added 10. Tori Letarte finished with nine.
"Offensively, we had some people that usually perform for us that didn't," said Deery. "They're young, but still, we needed some offense out of some people and we didn't get it."
Richmond used an 11-0 run in the first to open a 16-4 lead. The Lakers were plagued by eight turnovers and 1-for-5 shooting from the floor.
In the second quarter, the Bobcats had the chance to extend the lead but failed. Instead, Rangeley clawed its way back.
The Bobcats were battling foul issues from the start and the Lakers took advantage from the line. Letarte had four straight points to start the second quarter. Then Abbott and Taylor Esty scored baskets and Morin sank two free throws to make it 19-17 at the half.
Richmond shot 1-for-12 in the second quarter and turned the ball over six times.
"We wanted to limit them to one bad shot, and I think we did that in the second quarter," said Deery. "That allowed us to stay in it. As the game started to get away, we didn't do that at all."
Richmond knew it had squandered its lead in the first half. The goal was to settle down and start anew in the third.
"When they came into the locker room, they were pretty quiet," said Richmond coach Molly Bishop. "They knew they had let it slide a little more than they wanted to in that second period. So they decided 'Whatever. We'll start over and do it again like we did in the first.'"
Lancaster led the Bobcats in the third. She scored off a feed from Plummer and then hit a 3-pointer. That was moments after getting a good whack in the face during a scrum for a loose ball.
"When one of us gets it started and makes a shot, it starts to flow more," said Lancaster.
Rangeley had just one shot from the floor, a basket by Abbott with 4:25 left. Lancaster scored in the paint again. Alyssa Pearson added a basket inside and Lancaster finished off another Plummer pass to make it 32-23 after three.
"We really tried to get Jamie inside more," said Lancaster. "She's such a threat inside. We work really well together. We've always been like that since fifth grade."
Plummer put it away in the fourth as the Bobcats continued to make Rangeley pay on the offensive boards. She had two 3-point plays early in the fourth to make it 37-27. Then Pearson scored off an inbounds pass for a 39-27 advantage with 3:39 left.
Rangeley got within eight on free throws by Abbott and a baseline jumper from Morin. Plummer answered with a 3-pointer and helped pad the lead with free throws in the final minute.
"Our intensity slipped a little bit," said Plummer, "so we just tried to pick that back up in the second half. We were able to do that. We kept our defense and (took) only easy shots."