AUGUSTA – There was no mold, no frame of reference and no reliable game plan for defeating the Dirigo High School girls’ basketball team in a regional championship game at Augusta Civic Center.

Eleven years will do that. Imagine how many coaches and players have filtered through the Mountain Valley Conference and Western Class C since Gavin Kane took the reins and ushered in the Cougars’ decade-plus of dominance in 1995.

Seven schools, including Hall-Dale, tried and failed to derail the Dirigo express in a Western title game. Some were touted as the next big thing. Some talked a little smack on their way to the final. Some snuck in the back door.

Some put up a fight. Some took their 30-point beating and haven’t been seen on this side of the semifinals again.

The third time was a charm for Hall-Dale, which proved in a 40-38 victory Saturday night that to beat Dirigo, you have to be Dirigo.

Or at least be like them, as in mimic their confidence, their unselfish team play, their persistence through one or two cold snaps early in the game, and their apparent disregard for any negative vibes from the scoreboard.

“This is the third time we’ve beaten Dirigo this season. We’re very respectful of them, no question, but we’re not in awe of anyone,” said Hall-Dale coach Sam Hayes.

Expecting to win served the Bulldogs well when they watched an 18-13 lead unravel into a 20-19 halftime deficit.

It did them even more favors when that disparity grew to seven in the third quarter, and Dirigo threatened to turn Hall-Dale into just another team that would be queen.

“We’ve been chasing this for three years,” said junior Katie Frett. “We have more than just our two 1,000-point scorers.”

One reason the Bulldogs’ bite didn’t match their bark in the 2004 and 2005 finals was the emergence of unsung heroes for Dirigo. While Alexa Kaubris was the go-to Cougar on previous teams and Michelle Holmquist provided that presence this winter, Dirigo could always count on two points, a steal or a blocked shot from an unexpected friend when it was needed most. Caitlyn Laflin and Chelsey Dionne didn’t get that same kind of support on the other side.

Holly Knight, Shannon Daley and Katie Hutchinson stepped up for Dirigo throughout the first three quarters Saturday night. In the fourth, however, all the role players etching their names permanently into tournament lore belonged to the Bulldogs.

“I thought we overachieved in getting here these seniors’ sophomore year,” Hayes said. “But last year we felt we had a good chance to win, and this year from the beginning we believed was a great opportunity.”

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