Butler giving Rams big lift down the stretch

Katie Butler admitted that it took a while to settle into her new role.

The Bangor High School senior center had always been surrounded by talented, experienced players like older sister Mary and Cordelia Stewart inside and guards Sarah Bragg and Emily Gilmore.

Thrust into a more prominent role this season, Butler has responded with an exceptional stretch run and an exceptional performance in Thursday night’s 46-44 win over Cheverus of Portland in their Class AA quarterfinal game at the Augusta Civic Center.

The 6-foot Butler had 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots against Cheverus and the victory earns the 9-10 Rams a date with top seed Oxford Hills of South Paris (17-1) in Tuesday’s 5:30 semifinal in Augusta.

Bangor dealt Oxford Hills its only loss, 49-42 on Jan. 16, but the Vikings avenged the loss 60-50 on Jan. 31.

Bangor coach Joe Johnson said Butler has been terrific down the stretch, averaging 16 points and 15 rebounds over the last 10 games.

“Her confidence is up and she is greatly improved. It is all coming together for her. Her skills are matching her athleticism,” said Johnson, who also coached her in soccer.

Johnson has been trying to get Butler to anchor herself in the paint and she is obliging.

The result has been Butler emerging into an excellent shot blocker and rim protector and she also cleans up rebounds.

“It has been really fun to watch,” said Johnson.

“(Johnson) has been on me throughout the season to stay under the basket as much as I can and be an inside presence,” said Butler.

Johnson and Butler said it has taken a while for the team to form an identity because so many players who had been in supporting roles have had to adapt to being in more prominent roles.

“At the beginning of the season, we were a little nervous. We didn’t know how things were going to go for us. We struggled to figure out our roles the first half of the season. But once we started winning some games, we got some confidence,” said Butler. “Everybody has done a good job filling their roles.”

The Rams struggled mightily with turnovers early in the season as they got off to a 1-3 start.

But junior Lauren Young has taken over the point guard role and Johnson said she has improved “dramatically” and has helped the Rams reduce their turnovers.

Butler and Johnson said the game with Oxford Hills should be a very competitive one.

“We match up well with them,” said Johnson who feels the game could come down to which team executes better in their half-court offense.

“We’re confident we can compete with them but we know it will be a challenge,” said Butler.