Mount Desert Island’s Maddy Candage cuts through the Gray-New Gloucester defense and toward the basket during the first half of the Class B girls’ basketball championship game March 2 at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Candage finished the game with six points for the Trojans, who lost 43-30. BARRY GUTRADT PHOTO

MDI girls fall to Gray-New Gloucester in state championship game

PORTLAND — It was a spirited effort, but the Gold Ball’s return to Bar Harbor must wait.

Looking to win its first state championship in 16 years Saturday afternoon, the Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team went up against the Gray New-Gloucester Patriots in a battle of the No. 1 teams in their respective regions. Although the Trojans stuck with their opponents early and made a game of it late, it wasn’t enough against one of the state’s top defenses.

MDI ended the season as Class B runner-up Saturday with a 43-30 loss to Gray-New Gloucester in the state championship game at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. The game marked the end for a Trojan team that still ended the year as both Big East Conference and Northern Maine champions after a strong 2018-19 campaign.

“We had some good looks today that just didn’t go in the basket,” MDI head coach Brent Barker said. “It wasn’t a lack of effort or a lack of commitment; we just didn’t make enough shots, and that’s sometimes what happens in basketball.”

MDI’s Julia Watras looks to pass against Gray-New Gloucester’s Jordan Grant during the second half of the Class B title game March 2 at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Watras led the Trojans with nine points in the loss. BARRY GUTRADT PHOTO

After Gray-New Gloucester scored the first two baskets to start the game, MDI took a 6-4 lead after a Julia Watras layup, Hannah Chamberlain 3-pointer and Alexis Clarito free throw. Yet the Patriots (20-2) rebounded from MDI’s six-point spurt with a 12-2 run that gave them a 16-8 lead through one period of play.

MDI got back in it to start the second quarter as 3-pointers from Olivia Gray and Watras cut Gray-New Gloucester’s lead to 18-14 with just under four minutes to go. Although Clarito had to sit out the final 2 minutes, 30 seconds after picking up her third foul, MDI (19-3) kept the Patriots at arm’s length the rest of the half and trailed just 23-18 at the break.

Gray-New Gloucester scored two of the first three baskets to begin the second half before Clarito picked up her fourth foul of the game just before the halfway point in the third quarter. With Watras earning her fourth with 22 seconds to play in the period on a questionable charge call, MDI trailed 30-22 entering the final quarter.

“I think that [foul trouble] changed how we approached the game a little bit,” Barker said. “Throughout the year, we’ve had a little bit of issues with foul trouble and have gotten different people to step up, and I was hoping a couple kids would step up and hit some shots. It just didn’t happen for us today.”

After the Patriots got their first double-digit lead of the day when they scored a layup to begin the final period, MDI cut the deficit to 32-28 on a pair of Maddy Candage free throws and baskets from Rachelle Swanson and Clarito. Yet Gray-New Gloucester’s defense was simply too much in the end as the Patriots ended the game on a 13-2 run.

“They hunkered down a little bit defensively [late in the game],” Barker said. “We didn’t hit shots, and we turned the ball over. … That’s what it boiled down to.”

Watras led MDI with nine points in the loss. The Trojans’ other scorers were Chamberlain with seven points, Candage with six points, Clarito with three, Gray with three and Swanson with two. Bri Jordan had 17 points for Gray-New Gloucester.

Members of the MDI girls’ basketball team sport their silver medals as junior Rachelle Swanson carries the runner-up trophy following the Class B championship game March 2 at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

MDI proved to be one of the toughest opponents all season for the Patriots, whose 19 wins entering the game had come by an average of 25.9 points. With the Trojans trailing by as few as four points in the fourth quarter, Gray-New Gloucester head coach Mike Andreasen wanted to make sure his team wasn’t the second to fall victim to an MDI rally this postseason.

“We were really worried because we weren’t in a lot of close games this year,” Andreasen said. “With MDI, we knew they came back and stole the Winslow game, and we didn’t want to be in that situation where we could be the team that lost on a buzzer-beater. The kids just dug in and said, ‘Let’s make it so one basket at the end doesn’t kill us.’”

The Gold Ball win was the second in three years for Gray-New Gloucester, which won its first in program history two years ago when it defeated Houlton’s Kolleen Bouchard-led squad at the Augusta Civic Center. As was the case in that 2017 win over the Shiretowners, a championship game victory against the Trojans this time didn’t come easily.

“If there’s a better team than them in [Northern] Maine, I wouldn’t want to see them,” Andreasen said of the Trojans. “They’re not the biggest team, but they’re really, really tough because they always put five kids on the floor who can score. They looked every bit the part.”

The game was the last for MDI seniors Candage, Chamberlain, Clarito, Watras, Lindsey McEachern and Zoe Parker. Those seniors spent three seasons as the primary contributors for the Trojans, and their coach won’t let their accomplishments at MDI High School be forgotten.

“They have a special place in my heart,” Barker said. “I just can’t say enough to what they’ve done and what they’ve meant for this program. It’s tough to go out like this, but you can’t ask for a better group of kids.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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