DEXTER - During winter vacation the Dexter girls basketball team played in a Christmas tournament hosted by Cony High School.The Tigers had some success playing against the larger schools in that non-countable tourney. But more importantly, the team got a chance to play at and get used to the Augusta Civic Center - where the Tigers were hoping, at the time, they would be playing for a Class C state championship.
Indeed, Dexter was there for Saturday's state title game. And that's where the Tigers' Civic Center experience came in handy. The Eastern Maine champs had to face Western Maine entry Dirigo of Dixfield, which hadn't lost a playoff game at the facility in 10 years, including four state championship games.
But Saturday, Dexter's height, defense and bench were too much for the two-time defending state champions. The Tigers had six players score at least six points, including 10 apiece from seniors Brittany Veazie and Keriann Patterson, in a 50-31 victory over the Cougars.
"It was good that we came down here and played at Christmas, so we've been here," Dexter coach Margaret Veazie said. "We've got some big-time players, and when the going gets tough they rise up."
It was the first state basketball crown for Dexter, which lost to Dirigo last year at the Bangor Auditorium. It was also Margaret Veazie's last game as head coach (she had already announced her resignation).
Both teams were undefeated entering Saturday's game.
Fans wondered what Dirigo coach Gavin Kane would try against Dexter's Ames sisters (junior Ashley is 6-foot-4, freshman Mallory is 6-6).
The Cougars started out in a 2-3 zone with a double-team on whichever Ames sister was planted inside, but Brittany Veazie hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter to spoil the defense.
"... We knew that would only be effective if they did not come out shooting the ball well from the perimeter," Kane said. "And they hit some shots early and got by us with some penetration early and we had to step out of that in a hurry."
It also opened things up for the Ames sisters, who combined for 17 points and seven blocks. Neither sister had a foul called against them until late in the fourth quarter.
"In practice we've been working on hands straight up, taking charges," said Mallory Ames, who had seven of her game-high 10 rebounds in the second half. "We knew [getting the sisters into foul trouble] would Dirigo's goal."
Dexter had a three-point edge at halftime and started off the third quarter with a 9-2 run to take a 32-22 lead. Sabrina Cote kicked off the stretch with a driving basket and Ashley Ames scored four points, including a layup off a Veazie pass.
The Tigers used excellent ball movement in the third quarter and early in the fourth to wear down Dirigo.
The Cougars, who looked tired at times chasing Dexter's guards, didn't score for a stretch of about eight minutes and didn't have a fourth-quarter field goal until Alexa Kaubris scored with 1:31 left in the game.
"We just had to control the ball," said Brittany Veazie, Margaret Veazie's daughter. "We were ahead and we didn't have any urgency to score but we wanted to be really patient and make them work to get the ball."
Dexter got defensive help from bench players Nikki Chapman and Vanessa Hartford. Sixth-man Meagan Fogarty scored seven points, including a third-quarter basket with 38.2 seconds left after Dirigo scored on two straight possessions.
Patterson hit seven of eight free throws in the second half to stretch the lead.
Dexter played man-to-man defense with Brittany Veazie guarding Brooke Weston (six points) and Cote on Kaubris (12 points). Weston and Kaubris have been the Cougars' top scorers this season.
Eastern Maine tourney MVP Ashley Ames chipped in with eight points and nine rebounds in a 35-14 advantage on the boards.
"We know Brittany and Sabrina are great defensive players and they could shut them down," Margaret Veazie said. "The rest of the [Dexter team] had to get the rebounds, and that's what worked better in the second half."
Veazie also coached the field hockey team - most of the basketball players also play field hockey - to an undefeated season and Class C state title last fall.
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