The Spruce Mountain girls basketball team lived a nightmare in the first half and much of the third quarter in the Class B state championship game Tuesday.

The Phoenix struggled to make shots, and Ellsworth hardly missed. And when Spruce Mountain did get the ball through the net, the Eagles usually answered with another basket.

Spruce Mountain battled throughout the game at the Portland Expo, pulling down several offensive rebounds, but even those didn’t yield many second-chance points.

Spruce Mountain players react to a play late in the fourth quarter of the Class B state final Tuesday at the Portland Expo. The Phoenix rallied from an 18-point deficit in the fourth, and even took the lead, but ultimately fell to Ellsworth 57-56. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

The Phoenix entered the fourth quarter trailing by 15 points, 48-33, a deficit that soon grew to 18 points after a 3-pointer by Ellsworth’s Morgan Clifford early in the fourth.

Spruce Mountain finally cracked the code, scoring 11 straight points and then nine straight, the last two of the second spurt on a drive by Olivia Mastine that give the Phoenix their first lead of the game, 53-52, with 2:07 left.

“They understood what was at hand, they understood the opportunity they had,” Phoenix coach Zach Keene said. “No matter how poorly they played in the first half, they chose to keep fighting. And that’s really all you can ask for. And they put themselves in a position to win, which is a crazy thing.”


The teams traded baskets and the lead for the next two minutes, but, as Keene said, “Ellsworth literally just made one more play than we did,” and the Eagles survived to win, 57-56.

“Certainly just unbelievably proud of the effort they put in, we just came up short, unfortunately,” Keene said.

It was a devastating way to lose — a potential foul that wasn’t called in the final seconds made it even more so — after such a valiant comeback.

The Spruce Mountain players’ red eyes as they left their locker room in the basement of the Portland Expo showed the pain of coming so close, the anger of knowing one play going differently might have changed everything, and of struggling to accept that this special season was over.

“They’ll remember what this felt like,” Keene said. “It’ll be motivation for them going into the offseason.

“… That’s what’s kind of unique about this group. They didn’t forget the Oceanside loss last year, it fueled them all along. I don’t think they’ll forget this loss, either.”


The rest of the state won’t forget, either.

It won’t be forgotten that the Phoenix took down the giant, Oceanside, in the B South final. They lost to the soon-to-be state champion Mariners in last year’s regional semifinals, but this time around they ended Oceanside’s title defense and 53-game win streak and gave Spruce Mountain High School its first basketball regional title.

It won’t be forgotten that other schools from bigger conferences put up little resistance against the Phoenix in the first couple of rounds of the regional tournament.

The mostly Class C Mountain Valley Conference often becomes a target of criticism during the Class B tournament. Spruce Mountain repped the MVC well.

“I think they shut down a lot of those people that said MVC teams can’t come here and do well and compete or win,” Keene said. “And they don’t take that stuff lightly. So that was a huge part of their motivation, as well, to prove they belong. And I think they did that, and then some.”

It won’t be forgotten that Spruce Mountain has a lot of good players, most of whom will be back next season. In Tuesday’s state final, Olivia Mastine and Jaydn Pingree led the rally, each scoring nine points in the fourth. Mastine finished with a game-high 20 and Pingree had 16.


“They’re unbelievable competitors, Jaydn and Olivia. Unbelievable basketball players, unbelievable people,” Keene said. “I’ve been screaming from the rooftops (that) they’re two of the best guards in Maine, and people need to start giving a little more credit than they get. They’re just tough. They’re exactly what you want in kids on your team. And once they get in that mindset, the team kind of follows. And you saw that in the third, into the fourth.”

It won’t be forgotten that Spruce Mountain is a team to watch out for.

“I know they’ll keep working,” Keene said, “and they’ll keep doing what they need to do to get better, to put themselves in a position to make another run at it next year.”

If Maine didn’t know one, two or three weeks ago, it does now.

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