AUGUSTA — For a fleeting moment, Kori Coro heard nothing.
The Forest Hills senior guard was alone with her thoughts, watching the biggest shot of her life homing in on the basket.
“Everything went silent,” Coro said. “I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t think. I was just hoping and praying it would go in.”
The silence only lasted an agonizing moment. When Coro’s shot swished through the net and the buzzer sounded, the Augusta Civic Center erupted. Her last-second effort lifted the Tigers to a Western Class D regional title in stunning fashion, 53-52 over Rangeley.
“At midair, I saw the line and knew it was going in,” Coro said.
Her shot finished off a Forest Hills comeback and dashed the title hopes of the Lakers for another year. Rangeley has been to the regional final seven times in the past nine years, and lost them all.
“The girls worked extremely hard,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery, whose team lost to Richmond the past two years in the title game, said. “They’ve been here before. I think they were focused. I don’t think anybody didn’t show up, which has been the case in the past. I’m really proud of the work they put in. You put in all that work, it’s pretty tough to lose that way.”
It is the first regional title for the Tigers (21-0) since 1997. Forest Hills will play three-time defending state champion Washburn next Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.
“When I called a timeout with like 23 seconds left, I was smiling” Forest Hills coach Mike LeBlanc said. “They were like, ‘Why are you laughing, why are you smiling?’ I told them, ‘Because this is right where we want to be. We have an opportunity to win. We’re known for our 3-point shooting. Let’s let the apples fall. We’re going to come down and win or lose it as the buzzer.'”
Forest Hills finished the game on a 15-4 run. After the Lakers dominated the third, Rangeley couldn’t finish off the Tigers in the fourth. Rangeley shot 2-for-8 from the floor and had six turnovers. Rangeley also hit just 3-of-9 free throws, including three straight at the end that could have padded the lead.
“I knew they were going to make a run back at us,” Deery said. “When it comes down to it they had to foul us. We went to the foul line. These kids are put in pressure situations every single night in practice. They’re young and they’re kids. More than winning, I wish they had made those shots because they feel so badly now. We went 12-for-19 from the line. That’s not horrible but when it came down to it, it just didn’t happen.”
Coro and Keely Taylor each finished with 16 for the Tigers. Dana McNally had nine. Taylor Esty led the Lakers (19-2) with 16 while Tori Letarte had 14. Blayke Morin and Seve Deery-Deraps each had 10. In the fourth, only Deery-Deraps, with five, and Letarte, with two, scored for the Lakers.
“We needed to continue executing like we did in the third quarter or hit our foul shots,” Deery, whose team’s two losses were to Forest Hills, said. “It was one or the other, and it didn’t happen.”
Forest Hills had tied the game with 1:53 left on a Haley Cuddy 3. Rangeley quickly retook the lead when Letarte drove to the basket and scored, making it 52-50 with 1:41 left.
Forest Hills had numerous chances to answer but had a missed shot by McNally with 16 seconds left and a pair of critical turnovers that cost them opportunities. When Rangeley missed another free throw with nine seconds remaining, the Tigers had one chance left.
“We took that previous 3 a little bit too early” LeBlanc said. “I told them to take the first open shot. I think Dana forced it up a little bit. We were fortunate enough to get it back. Once the ball is in Kori’s hands, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Anna Carrier got the rebound on the missed free throw. She fed Cuddy and pushed the ball up and got it to McNally. While screening two defenders, she dished off to Coro for an open look.
“We’re trained to turn and look at the basket right when you get the ball,” said Coro, who tied the Western D record for 3’s in a game with five on Thursday. “Once I got the ball, I put it up at the basket.”
The Tigers had the lead early in the game. Rangeley tied it late in the first on a pair of baskets by Morin. A 3 by Coro helped put the Tigers up 12-10 after one.
Rangeley utilized its size to control the boards and did an effective job pushing the ball up the floor. The Lakers got a number of fast break baskets and opened a lead in the second. Rangeley scored eight straight t make it 21-17 but after a Coro 3 tied the game late in the half, a McNally drive put the Tigers up 27-25.
In the third, Rangeley roared into the second half and opened the lead to as many as 10. Esty led the charge with 12 points in the quarter as the Lakers ran off 10 straight to make it 45-36 after three. Rangeley shot 8-for-10 in the quarter while the Tigers were 4-for-14.
“My defense was getting down,” said Coro. “My legs hurt. I have shin splints. It was getting hard. But in the end, I just picked myself up and my teammates picked themselves up and that’s what helped us out today.”
LeBlanc says his team typically wants to come out and send a message the second half but it was the opposite result.
“They took it to us,” LeBlanc said. “We didn’t play very good defense.”
In the fourth, a drive by Deery-Deraps had the lead up to 48-38 with 5:55 left left. Rangeley would have just one more field goal the rest of the way. Forest Hills shot 7-for-15 in the fourth and hit four of its first six.
“We didn’t want to be in that situation with that time left on the clock and with the kind of shooters they have,” Deery said. “What we really wanted was to have the four, five, six or 10-point lead and have the clock winding down.”
Instead, the Tigers ran off seven straight. McNally scored and added a free throw. Then Taylor scored twice to get the lead down to 48-45. The Lakers got free throws from Deery-Deraps with 4:22 left to make it 50-45. Forest Hills got a rebound basket by McNally with 2:31 left and then the tying 3 from Cuddy.
“They’re a great bunch of kids,” said Deery. “I love everyone of them. I feel bad because I feel like they did a lot of the things we needed to do. I just feel so bad for them because they worked so hard to get back here.”