BANGOR, Maine — Winning a championship is an incredible feeling for any team.
It’s the next one, however, that’s even sweeter.
The Houlton girls basketball team, which had hoisted a gold ball playing in Class C last winter, was faced with the challenge of moving up to Class B under the state’s new five-class format this season. If that wasn’t enough, coach Shawn Graham’s team lost standout forward Katie Condon to a knee injury earlier in the season.
The top-ranked Shiretowners were able to overcome those challenges and then some, winning their second consecutive regional crown with a 51-35 victory over No. 7 Hermon in the Class B North final at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday.
“It feels better because we did it with more and more challenges with losing Katie and stuff,” said Kolleen Bouchard, who led all scorers with 19 points for the 20-1 Shiretowners.
Houlton will return to the Cross Center on Friday night to take on Class B South champ Gray-New Gloucester in pursuit of its second consecutive state championship.
Hermon, which had upset No. 2 MDI and third-ranked and defending regional Class B champion Presque Isle to reach championship Saturday, finishes 13-9.
It appeared as though the Hawks had the ingredients for a third straight upset early on, as Alex Allain scored eight first-quarter points to help the Hawks forge ahead 12-9 after the first eight minutes.
Houlton subsequently turned up its defensive pressure, wearing the Hawks down with a 2-2-1 zone press while Bouchard scored seven second-quarter points to help the Shires forge a 27-23 halftime lead.
“We were confusing them. We mixed our defense up a lot,” said Bouchard.
Hermon came out of the locker room with a defensive answer of its own for the Shires’ sophomore star, double-teaming Bouchard on the low block, but Houlton was able to counter with its depth.
Natalie Hill, who was the Shires’ other double-figures scorer with 15 points, burned the Hawks on several backdoor layups to help fuel Houlton’s 16-9 third-quarter run which put the game away. Hill had six third-quarter points.
The Hawks would only make one field goal in the fourth quarter.
“Kolleen is our bread and butter on offense, but we’ve got some other girls who can put the ball in the hoop as well,” said Graham.
That’s the thing, you can’t key in on one of us,” Bouchard added. “ We’ve got a lot of weapons, which is good.”
The Shires did a phenomenal job of limiting Hermon’s high-low offense, which had burned Presque Isle in the semifinals.
“I guess the biggest thing that concerned me with Hermon was how well they’ve been playing down the stretch,” Graham said. “Their high-low game against Presque Isle was spectacular so our goal was to take that away.”
Emi Higgins paced coach Chris Cameron’s Hermon club with 11 points.
“We had some lapses that we haven’t had over the last few games,” Cameron said. “I give a lot of credit to Houlton. They’re a great team, very well coached. They’re battle-tested. Today, they showed why.”
Aspen Flewelling added eight points for the Shires.