Monmouth Academy’s Abby Allen shoot against Houlton in the Class C state championship basketball game Saturday in the Paul G. Poulin Auditorium at the Augusta Civic Center. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

AUGUSTA — Many high school basketball teams live or die by the 3.  Monmouth Academy thrived by it.

Monmouth Academy used the 3-point shot to fuel its dominance of Class C the last two seasons. Saturday night’s 56-50 win over Houlton may have been the Mustangs’ ultimate crowning achievement as they set a new Class C state record for 3-pointers in a game and became the first Class C team to win back-to-back state titles in 15 years.

In their home away from home, the Augusta Civic Center, the Mustangs had their ultimate weapon locked and loaded from the start. And if their vast big-game experience taught them anything, it is that the first 3-pointer is often worth more than just three points.

“Once we start hitting a few, that’s what usually gets us rolling,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “Even in the regular season, when we didn’t start out shooting the ball well, it usually got initiated five or six minutes into the game with a kid coming down and hitting a 3. Then all of a sudden, it seemed like everybody started making shots.”

“It’s just a momentum thing, and it’s such a psychological thing,” he added. “It’s one more point than any other basket, but it is a psychological thing when it comes down to it.”

Monmouth didn’t have to wait long for the 3s to start falling Saturday night. Day delivered the first points of the game from behind the arc. Hannah Anderson knocked down the first of her two of the game, and then Day drilled back-to-back treys to cap an 11-0 quarter-ending run that put the Mustangs in control for the night with a 22-9 lead.

“It’s definitely been our shot,” Day said. “We’re either a fast-breaking team or we’re kicking it back out for a 3. It’s kind of our comfort shot.”

The fast start clearly set the Shiretowners back on their heels, as they were only able to trim one point off the deficit by halftime.

Day’s fourth 3-pointer of the game gave the Mustangs their largest lead at 46-29 in the third quarter. The Mustangs didn’t know it at the time, but they needed most of that cushion to withstand the second-half onslaught of Houlton’s Miss Basketball finalist (and should-be favorite), Kolleen Bouchard (35 points).

But Monmouth withstood it, in part because it was able to regain its championship poise after Houlton cut it to six with 2:32 left.

The last Class C team to regain its championship trophy was Dirigo in 2003. That back-to-back was near the tail end of its unprecedented 11-year run. Since then, four teams, Dirigo, Dexter (twice) and Hall-Dale have gone back to the state game after hoisting the gold ball the year before. All had failed.

“It’s pretty rare territory,” Wing said. “You look at programs that have won multiple and back-to-back gold balls, it’s a pretty slim number.”

Wing said his goal before the season wasn’t another gold ball but for the Mustangs to get back to the championship game “to give us a chance,” he said, “because whatever will be will be when we got here.”

“Definitely (repeating) was in our mind,” Day said. “I think winning it back-to-back made it even more special for me as a senior, but I at least wanted to make it back to this point.”

Led by the senior trio of Day, Anderson and Abbey Allen, the Mustangs shot their shot Saturday night, and made history because of it.

“They’ve worked hard for it,” Wing said. “That senior group, when they came in a freshmen, there were 12 of them. There are four of them now. But they didn’t just stick together. As the kids in their class dropped out. they started pulling in those kids that were behind them, those juniors and those sophomores, just because they knew the team was going to be even stronger with them. And they just kept pulling them along and showing them that work ethic.”

Monmouth Academy’s Julia Johnson shoots in the Class C state championship basketball game against Houlton on Saturday in the Paul G. Poulin Auditorium at the Augusta Civic Center. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)