AUGUSTA — The Hampden Academy girls basketball team had been the epitome of balance this winter, a deep team with no scorers in double figures but a determination to succeed that led the Broncos to their first Eastern Maine championship in 35 years.
But Catherine McAuley of Portland had too much star power and too much defense for the Broncos on Saturday, holding Hampden to two points in the first quarter and scoreless in the final period to earn a 39-23 victory in the Class A state final at the Augusta Civic Center.
The win earned the 20-2 Lions their first state title since 2003.
“It’s very different [as a coach] but it’s great,” said Amy Vachon, McAuley’s first-year head coach who had won two state titles as a player at Cony of Augusta during the mid-1990s. “I’m just so happy for the kids. It’s about them.”
Hampden, a two-win team just three years ago, finished 19-3.
Alexa Coulombe, a 6-foot-2 junior center who has verbally committed to attend Boston College after high school, epitomized McAuley’s star power.
And it wasn’t so much the team-high 15 points she scored or the eight rebounds she grabbed, but her six blocked shots and overall defensive presence enabled her teammates to shut off Hampden’s 3-point shooting.
“She’s always done that for us and it was huge because once she blocked a couple of shots they weren’t going to try going inside again,” said McAuley forward Rebecca Knight.
Knight, a 5-10 senior bound for the University of Maine next fall, added 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, and teamed with Coulombe on high-low offensive sets that produced several easy baskets against the shorter Broncos.
“Our high-low when we run it right is pretty effective, and I think you saw it tonight,” said Vachon. “We went high-low, high-low the whole time, and it worked.”
Freshman guard Allie Clement — the niece of former University of Maine women’s basketball coach Joanne Palombo McCallie — also scored 10 points for McAuley, including the the first six of the game to stake the Lions to a lead they did not relinquish.
“They are strong kids, big kids,” said Hampden coach Chad Bradbury of McAuley. “We couldn’t get anything going inside so we had to change our plan a little bit and go back to trying to win from outside. You can’t live and die with threes, though, and we got a little rattled.”
Senior guard Michaela Stephenson led Hampden with 10 points, while senior forward Courtney Doyon came off the bench to score eight.
But points were difficult to come by for the Broncos, who made just 7 of 46 field-goal attempts, or 15 percent.
“Defense has led us, it’s what has been our rock all season,” said Vachon. “We’ve gone stretches when we haven’t scored, but [the defense] has been our rock. These kids love to play defense, they get after it and having Alexa down low helps a lot.
“But they love it, and it’s fun when you have a team that loves to play defense.”
That defense was focused on Hampden’s perimeter shooters, who combined to make eight 3-pointers during the second half of the Broncos’ 62-40 win over Messalonskee of Oakland in the Eastern Maine final.
Against McAuley, the likes of Stephenson, Katelyn DeRaps and Jordan Maxwell rarely got an open look from beyond the arc, and while Stephenson did make 3-of-4 3-point tries, the Broncos overall shot just 4 of 16 from long range.
That Hampden run came early in the third quarter, when two 3-pointers by Stephenson from the left of the key narrowed a 21-13 halftime deficit to 23-19.
But McAuley limited Hampden to just one field goal and four total points over the game’s final 13 minutes, and used an 8-0 to stretch its lead back to 33-23 by the end of the period.
“I’m proud of the seniors, they turned this program around,” said Bradbury. “Three of them [Stephenson, Julia Snyder and Whitney Moore] remember being 2-16 as freshmen instead of 16-2 now. They’ve been around for four years, so to raise the bar and the expectations here is awesome and something to be proud of.”