Girls' basketball: 'Seacoast Six' overcome small roster to return to Class D final
Mar. 5—Ellie Leech remembers going into this girls' basketball season, finding out her Seacoast Christian team would have only six players, and the feeling that set in.
"I was concerned in the beginning," she said. "You never know what each game is going to bring, between fouls and all that. It was a little nerve-wracking in the beginning."
Nearly three months later, Seacoast's skeleton crew is still going strong. The Guardians (12-9) won their second straight Class D South title, and will test themselves in the state final against Southern Aroostook (18-3) for the second consecutive year. The championship game is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Monday at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
"It's a little different. I'm a little less nervous this year," said Leech, a junior guard who had 37 points and 17 rebounds in a 63-52 victory over Valley in the regional final. "It's just a great opportunity, and a great experience to get to go again. Some people don't even get the chance."
Twenty basketball teams advanced to state championship games across five classes, but only one has a nickname in addition to the school mascot. The Guardians have gained modest celebrity as the "Seacoast Six," and have drawn praise from onlookers as they've beaten teams with twice as many players.
"These kids are trying to shock everybody," Coach Lee Petrie said. "When everybody saw us walk in with six, they were like 'Oh, how are you going to do this?' They showed you. They just play hard, and they never stop playing."
After a regular-season game against North Yarmouth Academy, a parent of one of the Panthers' players coined the term "Seacoast Six." The Guardians have embraced the moniker.
"It shows ... we have definitely made an impact," said senior forward Breckyn Winship. "In previous years, it's been 'Just Seacoast from South Berwick, the small private school, we'll beat them, we'll schedule them for all of our senior nights.' It's so rewarding, and so exciting that we've made a name for ourselves."
The Guardians had more players last year and were hoping to have eight for this season, but a combination of injury and decisions not to play left Seacoast with Leech, Winship, Ellie Odess — who had to recover from a COVID-related heart condition — Bri Cluff, Adaline Luther and Keira Hart.
Playing a season with such small numbers is, predictably, difficult. Rest is a luxury. Injuries are crippling. Foul trouble is devastating. In three of their first five games, the Guardians had to finish with four players on the court. On one December day, only one girl was able to practice.
"It truly shows that these six girls want to be here and want to play, because it's not easy," Winship said. "There was definitely nervousness. 'There's only six of us. What are we going to do?' "
Petrie helped his team rally around a word, "praus," which in Greek means meek, but also pertains to resilience. The word is on the Guardians' practice tops.
"There are all kinds of tenets of it, and one of the first ones is accept your circumstances," he said. "Don't wish for things you don't have. We can't sit and say 'Oh, we don't have a 6-1 girl, we don't have this or that.' We've got six girls. What are we going to do with it?"
The Guardians got some assistance from their boys' team. Petrie coaches the Seacoast boys as well, and every day the teams practiced together and against each other.
"We really see ourselves as one big team, we just happen to play two separate games every time," Petrie said. "But there's a lot to be said for what we've done. I don't know if many other schools in the state could pull it off. You've got to have the right kids."
The arrangement paid off for the girls, who became conditioned enough, and poised enough, to thrive at a fast pace.
"You get that next level of competitiveness. ... They're faster, they're stronger, and they build us," Leech said of the boys. "We learn different things, like how to maybe push in transition better, but from us they learn how to pass better. We really build off each other."
That competitiveness paid off in the tournament. Seacoast took down North Haven 51-27, Forest Hills 40-34, and finally, Valley in the regional final. Afterward, the Guardians' locker room was quiet. The joy was inward, not outward.
"We were definitely excited, but we had played so hard, running and trying to trap and playing in a long game," Leech said. "We were absolutely dead. ... We had no energy left."
The energy was back in practice on Monday. It was just the girls at practice this past week — Maine Principals' Association rules restrict eliminated teams from practicing after the regional finals, Petrie said — but the Guardians are eager for another crack at Southern Aroostook, which beat them 58-18 last year.
"We are all very ready," Winship said. "I feel like we have done very different things this season, and it has shaped us to be where we are now. I honestly believe that (Monday) will be a game, and it will be a fun game to watch."