BANGOR, Maine — Many preseason prognostications pegged the Fort Fairfield boys to reach the Eastern Maine Class D regional finals, as opposed to the girls.
That’s why the play the games.
Coach Larry Gardner’s third-seeded Tigers advanced to just the second EM final in school history, using a blend of 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defenses to frustrate No. 2 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and earn a 54-47 win over the Warriors at the Bangor Auditorium Thursday night.
The Tigers (20-1) and advance to Saturday’s 9:05 a.m. regional championship game while SAHS completes a strong campaign at 17-3.
Junior forward Courtney Churchill didn’t let the aftereffects of the flu bother her any, as her 12 points and three steals in the second quarter fueled a 20-5 run which gave Fort Fairfield a 30-16 halftime lead.
Gardner switched things up defensively in the second period, mixing up his zones after playing man all of the first, and the Warriors managed just two field goals — one being a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“Every trip down the floor we were making a change,” said Gardner, who led the Fort Fairfield boys
to regional Class C titles in 1984 and ’88.
The Warriors fought back in the second half after the Tigers scored the first six points of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 20, embarking on a 15-0 run to close within six in the final minute of the third.
“[Coach] told us to stick to our game, we needed to keep going,” said Churchill, who finished with 16 points and four steals.
“He just told us to relax,” added freshman Amanda Hotham.
The Tigers responded at the end of the third going into the fourth, with Amber Forsman’s putback capping a 10-0 spurt which put Fort Fairfield back up by 15 with 4:51 remaining.
Hotham, who has been dynamite for FF all season, scored 13 points and was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line while Churchill’s 16 led all scorers.
Southern Aroostook did a better job on the offensive glass in the second half, which enabled it to stay in striking distance most of the way.
“I told the girls before the game there’ll be runs in the game, we’ll make one, they’ll make one, we just need to limit theirs,” said Gardner.
But Fort Fairfield held its own from the foul line, which proved to be the difference.
The Tigers were 19-for-28 from the line as a unit, which helped keep the Warriors at bay down the stretch.
There’s no doubt the Tigers have exceeded preseason expectations.
“We thought 11, 12 wins would be good, but we’ve got a real nice mix of seniors, juniors sophomores and freshmen,” Gardner said. “They’ve just worked really hard.”
Evangeline Goodall and Brittany Charette finished with 11 points apiece for the Warriors while Liz Goodall finished with nine.