CLEVELAND – Nothing could ruin the love-in held by busloads of Maine fans here Saturday night.
Nearly 250 self-admitted “Maine-iacs” traveled to Gund Arena to see their favorite daughter, Cindy Blodgett, play for the Cleveland Rockers of the Women’s National Basketball Association.
“I’m taken back by this,” Blodgett told her fans at a postgame party. “I knew you supported our program at Maine but I never expected anything like this tonight.”
Her fans probably did not expect a scoreless performance, either. After all, Blodgett had averaged 25.5 points during her four seasons at Maine, leading the nation in scoring in 1995-96 at 27.6 ppg and in 1996-97 at 27.0 ppg.
“It doesn’t make any difference if Cindy scores,” said Michelle Libby of Old Town. “Just to see her play is why we are here. We are elated.”
Libby organized the trip.
“It took a little longer than we expected to get here, about 16 hours,” she said. “There were 154 on the buses. With others who decided to drive on their own or fly here there are 217 total.
“There’s a few Maine alumni from the Cleveland area, too, so the total is probably higher.”
Blodgett entered the game third in the WNBA in 3-point shooting accuracy, having hit eight of 16 from long range. She shot 0-for-4 in the disappointing 84-73 loss to the Detroit Shock that dropped the Rockers’ record to 4-3.
“This is by far the worst game we have played,” Blodgett said after Cleveland rolled to a 15-point halftime lead but was outscored 21-0 to start the second half. “We sort of gave this one away. We did a lot of things poorly.”
It didn’t seem to matter to her fans, who greeted her warmly afterward, presenting her with a T-shirt that read: “Proud to be a University of Maine Alumni.”
The Maine fans wore T-shirts that had Cindy’s No. 5 on a basketball on the front, with the slogan, “Maine Rocks With Cindy.” The back of the shirt said: “Maine Day In Cleveland, 6/26/98.”
The Maine fans got to the arena early, toting signs that read:
“We Love You Cindy.”
“1. Cindy. 2. Stephen King.”
That was in reference to Blodgett’s popularity compared to legendary novelist King, who had showed his support by attending the Rockers’ season opener.
Saturday night, the cheers were deafening as Blodgett was introducted. The Maine fans then began their traditional rhythmic clapping, which lasted until Isabelle Fijalkowski scored the first Rockers basket.
Blodgett joined in the clapping.
“My teammates said they were amazed at the Maine fans,” Blodgett said. “They thought the clapping would stop. I knew it wouldn’t. A couple of the girls on the bench joined in, too.”
Rockers coach Linda Hill-McDonald said she hoped Blodgett’s fans understood why Cindy played only 11 minutes.
“She was getting picked on defensively,” the coach said. “They were going after the rookie and I didn’t want Cindy to lose confidence. I would rather have Cindy play well for the remainder of the season. I hope her fans understand she is a rookie and has lots of playing time to come.
“She is a great kid, extremely coachable. I love her ability to process information and apply it. She makes a mistake once, learns from it, then you don’t see her do it again.”
Blodgett’s older brother, Scott, was among those on the trip. He said he had not seen Cindy make too many mistakes over the years.
“I used to play one-on-one against her,” he said. “I couldn’t take getting beat anymore.”
Most of the fans said they would make a return trip to Cleveland, “hopefully for a playoff game.” The group plans a similar trek to New York’s Madison Square Garden on Aug. 17 to see the Rockers play the Liberty.
Said Elisha Nichols of the UMaine Alumni office:
“We thank Cindy for deciding to play at Maine. We know she could have written her own ticket to any school in the country. We love her.”
C.Brown 4-8 0-0 8, Porter 2-7 2-5 7, Mujanovic 3-5 2-3 8, Brondello 10-17 3-3 23, Hlede 8-17 5-6 23, Sporn 3-4 0-0 6, Branzova 0-2 0-0 0, Blades 0-0 1-2 1, Woodard 3-7 0-1 6, Abraham 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 33-67 15-22 84. CLEVELAND (73)
Nemcova 5-6 2-2 14, Braxton 1-9 3-6 5, Fijalkowski 10-16 5-5 25, McConnell-Serio 2-7 0-0 5, Jones 4-8 3-3 11, R.Brown 2-3 1-3 5, Bevilaqua 1-1 0-2 2, Blodgett 0-4 0-0 0, Johnson 2-5 1-2 6, Scott 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-59 15-23 73.
Detroit 36 48-84 Cleveland 51 22-73
3-Pt. goals-Detroit 3-5 (Hlede 2-2, Porter 1-1, C.Brown 0-2), Cleveland 4-13 (Nemcova 2-2, Johnson 1-1, McConnell-Serio 1-3, Fijalkowski 0-1, Braxton 0-2, Blodgett 0-4). Rebounds-Detroit 45 (C.Brown 10), Cleveland 36 (Braxton 13). Assists-Detroit 19 (Brondello, Hlede 4), Cleveland 21 (Nemcova 5).