Two Maine Firecrackers AAU girls’ basketball teams traveled to Florida last week and stole the show.
The eighth grade squad, featuring several players from Forecaster Country, made it all the way to the Division II championship game before falling just short.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the ninth grade team also made the finals Sunday and finished the job in dramatic fashion, becoming the finest team in the country.
That champion squad included Ashley Briggs of Scarborough, Allie Clement of Falmouth (who played a huge role on McAuley’s 2011 Gold Ball winner), Sarah Clement, Bailey Cote of Biddeford, Nina Davenport of Freeport (who also played at McAuley last winter), Sam Frost of Windham, Camille Giardina, Brianne Maloney of South Portland, Olivia Shaw of Saco, Olivia Smith of Yarmouth (who will attend McAuley this year) and Alisha Starbird of Scarborough.
Don Briggs and Brian Clement served as coaches.
The Firecrackers defeated teams from Maryland, Connecticut, North Carolina and Massachusetts to reach the final four, where they downed Blessed Sacred Heart, the Canadian national team, 62-45. In the final, the Firecrackers capped their magical run with a 55-48 victory over Ohio. Allie Clement led the way with 17 points (13 in the second half). Shaw added 12 points and Smith and Briggs each had eight.
“Nina and Allie were able to be part of a high school state title and D2 national championship, they worked hard but are extremely fortunate,” said coach Clement. “We struggled in the first half but got it going in the second. The odds of our eighth grade team making it to the final out of 61 teams and our ninth making it out of 36 is extremely low. When you consider we are from Maine, even much lower. As far as I know, 11th place is the highest finish ever by a Maine team, so to have two teams from Maine and from the same program finish so well is a nice story.”
If the title wasn’t enough of a thrill for the players, what made it even better was the presence of Duke women’s coach Joanne McCallie (Allie Clement’s aunt) and new University of Maine women’s coach Richard Barron.
“It was good Coach Barron was there to see,” said coach Clement. “Joanne was cheering like crazy and I had to think that what she has done helped us. Hopefully we are elevating the level of Maine girls’ basketball further.”
The eighth graders wound up second out of 61 teams, beating the state champions from Maryland and Tennessee, along with others from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
The Firecrackers beat the Tennessee Glory, 49-43, in the final four before falling short to the Texas Tigers, 63-43, in the national championship game. Camille Giardina and Vic Lux each scored 13 points, while Ashley Storey of Cumberland had eight and Sarah Clement from Falmouth added seven.
Giardina and Clement lead the team in scoring for the tournament, averaging 13 points each. Lux averaged eight points and nine rebounds, Storey seven rebounds and four blocks.
Both the eighth and ninth grade championship games can be replayed over the next 30 days on espn3.com.
The newly crowned ninth grade AAU national champion Maine Firecrackers.
Front row (left to right): Sam Frost, Camille Giardina, Ashley Briggs, Alisha Starbird, Sarah Clement.
Back row: Head coach Don Briggs, Nina Davenport, Brianne Maloney, Olivia Smith, Olivia Shaw, Bailey Cote, Allie Clement, assistant coach Brian Clement.
The Maine Firecrackers eighth grade team reached the finals of the national tournament before losing to Texas.
Back row (left to right): Coach Doug Adams, Casey Simpson, Alexis Redmond, Victoria Lux, Ashley Storey, Sam Sparda, Coach Brian Clement.
Front row: Abby Hamilton, Camille Giardina, Bailey Adams, Sarah Clement, Ashley Briggs, Katie McCrum.