BANGOR, Maine — The Woodland girls didn’t look much like a young, inexperienced team going through some growing pains while compiling a 17-0 regular-season record, but that wasn’t the case Saturday morning at the Bangor Auditorium.
The top-seeded Dragons appeared tentative and unsure as they committed 17 first-half turnovers and clung to a one-point halftime lead over No. 3 Fort Fairfield, but the later they got into Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class D championship game, the more composed they became.
The Dragons shook off early jitters and came back strong in the fourth quarter, using an 11-4 run in the last 6½ minutes to seize momentum for good en route to a 49-34 victory over the Tigers and their third regional title in the last four years.
The 20-0 Dragons play 17-3 Valley of Bingham in the state final Saturday at 1 p.m. in Bangor.
“I really don’t know what it was,” Woodland coach Arnie Clark said of his team’s slow start. “Even in transition, we didn’t get the ball up, we didn’t get it out, we didn’t hit our spots. I hope the West champs watch this one and say, ‘what a bunch of dubs, they can’t throw the ball in the ocean,’ because it’s not our usual game.”
No, the Dragons are the ones usually creating the havoc, and they did that Saturday as well.
The Tigers committed 18 turnovers in the first half and another 12 in the second. Woodland had nine more in the second half.
“We’re pretty aggressive and we’re deep, but they’re probably deeper than we are and we don’t see that kind of sustained pressure for 32 minutes,” said Tigers coach Larry Gardner.
Still, it wasn’t until there were 6 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game that Woodland started pulling away. Ashley Laking ignited the key run with a basket off a drive to the left block and pass from Julia Nicholas and two free throws 24 seconds later. She capped it with two more free throws to make it 43-31 Dragons with 1:38 to play.
“They played really good defense, but we finally settled down in the second half,” said Laking, who led the Dragons with 12 points. “We switched point guards to enable our whole team to score and put more pressure on them. We tried to move the ball more and attack the weak side.
“We also started picking up our defensive intensity and that helped us a lot.”
Laking returned to action just before the tournament began after breaking her finger three weeks ago. In her absence, Julia Nicholas took over at point guard.
“Nicholas ran the point four games and that may have benefited us in a way because we’re able to change who’s running the point now, depending on what type of defense they’re using on us,” Clark said.
Although Laking was Woodland’s only double-digit scorer, the Dragons did get offensive balance. Sophomore forward Molly White had eight points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Fellow starter Nicholas had nine points and three assists against the Tigers’ zone defense.
“We needed to take better care of the ball, so we started running our 1-3-1, which doesn’t stall, but only leads to layups or fouls,” Nicholas said.
Freshman forward Taylor Cochran came off Woodland’s bench to get eight points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Freshman forward Amanda Hotham led the Tigers with 17 points. Sophomore Brooke Beaulieu had a game-high nine rebounds as the Tigers led by as many as five and never trailed by more than five until 1:53 left in the third quarter.
“Once we get the ball over the front line, we’re going to attack the rim,” Gardner said. “We did that more in the first half and didn’t do it so much in the second.”