In the past 11 years, no matter which team wins the Eastern Maine Class C title, one team has been there to greet them: Dirigo. The Western Maine champion Cougars of Dixfield are back in tonight's Class C state game to face Dexter, another team that has become a familiar face.
The game starts at 7:35 p.m. at the Bangor Auditorium.
Dirigo will be trying to avenge last year's 50-31 loss to the Tigers at the Augusta Civic Center. It was the first time in 10 years the Cougars had lost a playoff game at the Civic Center, including four state title matchups.
Dirigo won the two teams' first state championship meeting, which was in 2003 at the Bangor Auditorium. Cougars coach Gavin Kane likes what he saw from his team in the Western Maine tournament, especially in the semifinal against Jay and final against Hall-Dale of Farmingdale. "I thought we played one of our best games of the year against Jay in the semifinals," he said. "We had a great defensive effort against Hall-Dale, which had some great weapons."
Senior guard and Western Maine tourney MVP Alexa Kaubris, who scored a team-high 12 points in last year's state final, averaged 15 ppg in the tournament and 16.9 ppg in the regular season.
Sophomore forward Michelle Holmquist followed with 12.2 ppg and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game in the regular season. From there the scoring has been spread out between players such as center Holly Knights, guard Brooke Weston, and sixth man Katie Hutchinson. "That's been the key for us in the second half of the year," Kane said. "We've been playing five or six kids consistently who contribute, and that's been a help. We have to rely on defense to carry us."
The defense - a pressing, trapping full-court man that Dirigo teams traditionally play to near-perfection - will be especially important against Dexter and its Ames sisters.
Senior forward Ashley Ames, who is 6-foot-4, and sophomore center Mallory Ames, who is 6-6, will be a formidable challenge for the Cougars, whose tallest starters are the 5-11 Knights and 5-9 Holmquist.
The Ames sisters combined for 17 points and seven blocks in last year's state final.
"You get into a half-court game with them and it's just so tough to be able to deal with a 6-4 girl and a 6-6 girl," Kane said. "It creates so many problems." Dexter coach Jody Grant said he's not going to change much despite facing potentially the toughest defense the Tigers will see all year.
Two things to expect: Dexter guard Sabrina Cote will be on Kaubris in the Tigers' man-to-man defense, and Dexter will look to use its height advantage by going inside a lot.
"We've focused on two things all year long, taking care of the basketball and playing good half-court defense," Grant said. "They're going to press us, I would expect them to trap. But we're going to do the things that got us here and see what happens."
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