BANGOR, Maine — It’s a win that’s been a long time coming for the Orono girls basketball team.
Eleven years and two presidents have gone by since the Red Riots last emerged victorious at the Bangor Auditorium (1998).
Coach Jessica Libby’s seventh-seeded club steamrolled out to a 21-point lead, watched Stearns of Millinocket whittle it down to two, then made the stops it needed to pull out a 48-44 Eastern Maine Class C quarterfinal victory over the No. 2 Minutemen Tuesday.
The Riots (14-6) advanced to Friday’s 2:05 p.m. semifinal against George Stevens of Blue Hill while Stearns finishes a stellar season 16-3.
The third-ranked Eagles defeated No. 6 Fort Kent 63-36 in the first game of the two-game session.
In the late game, Orono built a 26-14 halftime lead and extended it to 40-19 with 1:21 left in the third quarter, mainly thanks to full-court pressure which forced the Minutemen into multiple mistakes.
But Libby sensed the inevitable Stearns run was coming, and she was right on.
“We knew they were going to make a run, I kept telling my kids its going to happen, they’re too good of a team not to fight back,” said Libby, who was a junior on the last Orono team to win a tourney game.
The Minutemen showed plenty of fight, inching back to within 10 on Sam Lyons’ putback near the halfway mark of the period and closing to within two on Adriana Eurich’s 3-pointer with 24 seconds left.
Orono’s defense stood tall twice more, however, forcing turnovers on Stearns’ final two possessions with Elizabeth Fox and Chelsea Wagner each sinking a free throw in the final 10 seconds to ice it.
“It’s unbelievable, literally no one expected us to win except for our team and our coach and some of our parents. This is so amazing for me,” said senior forward Sarah Thibeault, who paced three Riots in double figures with 17 points, a game-high.
Ally Sherman netted 12 points while Jade Keezer finished with 10.
Lyons led Stearns with 11 points and 18 rebounds while Eurich scored 10 and Kirsten Marter eight.
In the early game, the George Stevens Academy Eagles were expecting Emily Pelletier of Fort Kent.
The Warriors, however, were not expecting George Stevens’ Alida Peake.
The Eagles of Blue Hill shut down 3-point threat Pelletier while Peake’s 19 points powered GSA into the semifinals.
Maddi Park added 17 points and India Frazier had 10 points while Emily Peake and Lydia Clapp were the primary defenders against Pelletier.
Pelletier went 0-for-8 from behind the arc before hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter en route to 10 points.
“We knew they liked to set ball screens so we had to be quick every time, “Emily Peake said. “We just played tough and we shut her down.”
Fort Kent coach Travis Delisle said Pelletier wasn’t feeling well and nearly didn’t come out for the second half, but he said the defense may have frustrated her, too.
While the Eagles knew about Pelletier, Delisle wasn’t worried about Alida Peake. The scouting reports he received said Peake wasn’t going to be a shooting threat.
But Peake hit four of her eight 3-point attempts, including three in the second quarter.
“She got to the tournament and knocked down her shots,” Delisle said. “Hats off to her.”
The Warriors’ 23 turnovers compounded their problems.
“They did a very good job, no question, but we beat ourselves as much as they beat us,” Delisle said. “We turned over the basketball, rebounding was very poor, we had a lot of post entry passes we weren’t making and were settling for jump shots.”
Freshman Sam Carapelluci led Fort Kent with 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, but GSA out-rebounded Fort Kent 37-29 including 20 offensive boards compared to the Warriors’ five.
“We’ve been focusing lately on trusting each other, knowing where help-side is,” Park said. “We were able to put it together.”