Edward Little’s Jade Perry pushes past Lewiston’s Cece Racine on the way to the basket during the teams’ quarterfinal game in Auburn. (Sun Journal File Photo)

By virtue of the 70 inches from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet, it’s been up to Jade Perry to take over in the post for Edward Little this season.

“I’ve had to take over the position of being the center, and that’s not my natural position,” Perry said. “I’m used to playing like a guard-forward, and I’ve had to be the big person under the basket.

“I don’t mind it. I actually like it. I enjoy being under there.”

The Edward Little girls’ basketball team is making its second appearance in three years at the Class AA championship, Friday against Gorham. While there are some holdovers from 2015-16, this year’s Red Eddies are a completely different, and much shorter squad.

Edward Little, this decade, has had what coach Chris Cifelli called an “embarrassment of riches” in the post.

Last season, there was Jordyn Reynolds, who teamed up in the post with Karli Stubbs and Emily Jacques the year before, when Edward Little reached the program’s first state title game. Before that, there were post players such as Brooke Reynolds and Eraleena Gethers-Hairston.

Cifelli was around all that height as an EL assistant for several years, but everything changed this year, his first as head coach, when the Red Eddies found themselves without a true post player.

So, they adjusted, and embraced who they are rather than dwell on what they lack.

“For a while, we’ve always had to address the fact that, ‘Oh, you’re so undersized,’’’ Cifelli said. “And I think we’ve kind of worn that with a little bit of pride: We work a little bit harder on rebounding, we work a little bit harder on limiting second shots. It took us a while to learn it, but at the same time, it’s been something that we’ve addressed.”

At the center of their adjustments is Perry. Now in the post, the junior is in a much different role than she played her first two seasons.

“What I’m really proud of her (for) is she just went and did it,” Cifelli said. “There wasn’t a feeling out process of, you know, ‘Is this something I should do?’ She came right out and she decided that what was best for the team was for her to take a little more responsibility on her shoulders, and she’s just done an unbelievable job.”

As the season progressed, Perry became more and more comfortable in her new role, just as the Red Eddies became more accustomed to their new style of play.

“She’s grown as a player. She gets better and better every game,” senior guard Piper Norcross said.

Now the Red Eddies face Gorham, which features 6-foot-2 junior McKenzie Holmes, who averaged 21.7 points per game in the regular season, along with 13.2 rebounds and 5.1 blocks.

“My goal is to just hold her to as little as we can,” Perry said. “There’s no stopping a good player like her, just have to try your best to hold her, and make the other teammates beat us.”

While Holmes presents a matchup problem for the Red Eddies, so, too, does Perry for the Rams.

“When we do see that big 6-foot kid, that is a bit of an issue,” Cifelli said. “But, on the offensive side, now they have a problem, too.”

Perry’s versatility makes her a difficult defensive assignment for most post players.

Sometimes Perry wil set up in the post, other times she will roam the perimeter and become a 3-point shooter. She’ll also bring the ball upcourt.

“I’m not a very (traditional) post player on offense,” Perry said, “I’m more of a guard player, which helps us, too, as a team, because then if they have a post, then I’m more of like a wing, so they can’t step out, unless they’re very good at guarding both.”

Perry was Edward Little’s third-leading scorer during the regular season, averaging 8.7 points per game. She led the team in rebounding (5.3 per game) and 3-point percentage (36 percent, 14 of 39) and was second in assists (3.4).

On the other end of the floor, Perry plays on the back end of a disruptive defense — which is probably the biggest factor in the Red Eddies’ success this season — and she led AA North in blocks shots with 3.1 per game.

“She’s an excellent defender, too,” Cifelli said. “I think that’s lost in the mix.”

The Red Eddies have been in several close games in the past month. When the Red Eddies are in close games — as they have often during the last month or so — Perry tends to be heavily involved in their late-game situations.

She hit the game-winning free throw when Edward Little handed South Portland its first loss.

“She usually hits her shots. She’s, like, stone cold,” Norcross said. “She can hit a shot whenever. If you gotta put her on the foul line to hit a last-minute free throw or whatever, she can do it. She really hits her shots when we need her to.”

Other times, EL has exploited the match-up difficulty Perry creates to set up opportunities for other players, such as Grace Fontaine’s go-ahead layup in the AA North final win over Oxford Hills.

Perry stepping in to fill a need is a microcosm of the 2017-18 Red Eddies: several other players have stepped into roles for the sole purpose of helping the team win.

“Piper mentioned it last week after the regional that the kids have really gotten to the point where they don’t really care who gets that credit, they just want to move onto the next one,” Cifelli said. “At the risk of using the cliche of ‘survive and advance,’ they just want to keep going one more game, one more game, and so they don’t really mind who’s going to get that glory, as long as they get that one more game.”

Lewiston’s Maddy Foster tries to blast past Edward Little’s Jade Perry during their basketball game in Lewiston this past season. (Sun Journal File Photo)


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