The Central Aroostook bench erupts in jubilation after the No. 4 Panthers upset No. 1 Stearns 61-55 on Feb. 22 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor for the Class C North championship. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

The Central Aroostook High School girls basketball team defied the odds in capturing its first Class C North championship since 1982.

The 18-4 Panthers went into the tournament as the sixth seed and knocked off the top three teams: No. 3 Fort Fairfield (45-41), No. 2 Dexter (35-32) and top seed Stearns of Millinocket (61-55).

They now face 19-2 South titlist Winthrop in Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center.

Winthrop, 19-2, hasn’t played in a state game since it topped Limestone in the 1990 final. The school dropped its varsity program five years ago in order to rebuild it.

But Joe Burnham’s Ramblers captured the South title by upending defending state champ Boothbay Region 38-34 in the final behind tourney Most Valuable Player Aaliyah Wilson Falcone, a senior guard.

Senior forward Kena Souza and freshman guard Sage Fortin are other key players.

Junior guards Maci Beals and Libby Grass and senior forward Breann Bradbury lead Dillon Kingsbury’s Panthers. Tourney MVP Beals, a point guard with exceptional quickness, averaged 14.7 points per game. Grass, a 3-point specialist, averaged 15.4 ppg, and Bradbury was the catalyst in the paint averaging 11.7 points and 10 rebounds.

Senior forward Sydney Garrison is a relentless shutdown defender who nearly always draws the opposing team’s best scorer.

Central Aroostook won back-to-back state titles in 1981 and 1982.