The No. 1 Dexter girls basketball team got a tough test from No. 7 Central, but the Tigers overcame the rival Red Devils to win their fourth straight regional championship with a 42-38 victory at the Bangor Auditorium Saturday night.
Dexter suffered through offensive droughts, turnover problems and an injury to 6-foot-6 junior center Mallory Ames.
For the second straight night, none of that mattered in the end. Defense and rebounding again helped Dexter pull out the win.
"These kids had the heart of a champion," said coach Jody Grant. "There were about 15, 20 situations in that game where things would start to slip a little bit, and somebody would make a play. Different kids at different times stepped up and I couldn't be any prouder."
Senior Sabrina Cote scored 20 points, including seven in the fourth quarter - each one of her baskets and free throws seemed to be critical - to lead the Tigers into next Saturday's 7:05 p.m. Class C state final against Western Maine winner Hall-Dale of Farmingdale.
Hall-Dale is the first team to win a WM Class C title other than Dirigo of Dixfield since Madison won in 1994.
After seven ties in the first half, the Tigers rallied from a five-point deficit in the third quarter to take a 31-30 lead until Central freshman Rachel Trafton scored on the play after a Kim LeBlanc steal with 26.4 seconds left in the third.
The teams went back and forth again in the fourth quarter, with Dexter taking the lead for good on a Cote jumper with 4:15 left.
Cote had another big play 20 seconds later when she stole the ball from the Devils and drove inside to score with 3:25 left.
"She hit some big shots for us coming down the stretch," Grant said. "We tried to isolate her at the top, give her a chance to go one-on-one."
She hit a free throw with 1:32 left, which proved to be key when Central's Mackie Davis drained a 3-pointer from the left side with about 57 seconds remaining. Central got the ball back and Davis tried another jumper, but the rebound rolled out of bounds off a Central player and the Devils fouled from there.
"The turning point for me was when we made some bad passes into Dexter's hands," Central coach Diane Rollins said. "We were starting to come unglued a little and we weren't that patient. But I couldn't ask for anything more. We played great."
The Red Devils had three of their eight turnovers in the fourth. The Tigers, meanwhile, had an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers.
Ames was playing on a sore right ankle that had been taped and braced after she re-injured herself during Friday's semifinal, but the bigger issue was a blister on her left foot. Still, she finished with eight points, eight blocks and seven rebounds.
Central's Teresa Libby, a 6-1 forward, got the best of Ames offensively with 14 points and eight rebounds. Libby defended Ames most of the game.
Erica Brownell and Traci Underhill shared defensive duties on Cote, who had just one field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
Cote, meanwhile, held athletic senior forward Caitlin Elliott to two points.
"I've been guarding her since middle school," Cote said. "I just tried to play her really tough, because
she's a good player."
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