BANGOR, Maine — Any way you want to break it down, free throws were the difference in Wednesday night’s Eastern Maine Class B girls basketball semifinal.
It was fourth-seeded Nokomis that best took advantage of the foul line.
The Warriors made seven of their 10 foul shots in the fourth quarter and held on for a 41-35 victory over top-seeded Presque Isle at the Bangor Auditorium.
Coach Kori Dionne’s Nokomis team (16-4) plays No. 2 Mount Desert Island, a 32-23 winner over No. 3 Winslow, in Saturday’s 2:05 p.m. regional championship game in Bangor.
“Wonderful,” sophomore forward Marissa Shaw said of Nokomis’ title-game berth, the program’s first since 2003. “I’ve been there in field hockey and it’s great. I’m so excited.”
In the nightcap, the Warriors’ patience and inside-oriented offensive game plan proved too much for a quick, but undersized Presque Isle ballclub (18-2). The 5-foot-8 Shaw and 5-10 center Danielle Watson combined for 26 points, 30 rebounds and four blocks.
Shaw finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Watson provided 10 points and 14 boards. Nokomis dominated the rebounding 49-22.
“Marissa is just an animal, for her size, on the boards anyway, but we had the size advantage going in and I told them that between her and Danielle Watson they needed to dominate on the boards tonight,” Dionne said.
The Warriors went 12-for-23 from the foul line, but made eight of their last 12.
The Wildcats posed some problems for the Warriors with their speed and dribble-penetration. Chandler Guerrette (15 points) and Kayla Richards (7 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) led that effort.
Presque Isle’s Achilles’ heel was its foul shooting. The Wildcats were a dismal 6-for-21 (29 percent) from the line, including 3-for-11 in the second half.
Those missed chances eventually caught up with them.
Nokomis took the lead for good with a 7-0 third-quarter run that included Watson’s foul shot and 3-pointers by Kara Batchelder (9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Mary Badeen (8 points).
The Warriors, who remained steadfast in their deliberate, half-court style, eventually pushed the lead to six on another Badeen 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve got two point guards out on the floor in Mary Badeen and Julie Smith and I trust my girls to take care of it,” Dionne said. “We ended up with some layups and when we didn’t they fouled and we made what we needed to make from the line.”
With the feisty Richards leading the charge, PI made a determined challenge in the fourth. Her driving layup got the Wildcats within one (35-34) with 3:19 to play, but Shaw answered with a close-range hoop that kept Nokomis on top.
PI had a handful of chances to tie or go ahead after that, but could not capitalize.
Smith and Badeen made two free throws each in the last 11 seconds to preserve the victory.
In the first game, Mount Desert Island girls basketball coach Brent Barker was not going to let Winslow’s post duo of 6-foot-1 Megan Pelletier and 5-11 Liz Ferry have their way in the post.
The Trojans doubled-teamed those two effectively throughout the night, and beat the No. 3 Black Raiders at their own game with a patient offensive attack.
Barker figured the magic number for a victory would be 40 points — and while MDI fell short of that goal, it attained the other one of keeping Pelletier and Ferry in check.
“What we worked on in practice was stopping their high-low, and we sort of picked [Alliyah Veilleux], we were going to use Jessica Swanson to help off her, and if she’s going to beat us she’s going to beat us,” Barker said.
That plan worked, as the Black Raiders, who never led, couldn’t get anything going from the outside.
“When you throw three defenders at our two kids and other kids aren’t able to step up and hit outside shots, that’s really what it comes down to,” Winslow coach Tom Nadeau said.
The pace of the game was slow and deliberate throughout, and MDI used its offensive patience to outscore Winslow 15-10 over the second and third quarters to take a seven-point cushion into the fourth.
The Trojans increased that up to eight on Brailee Black’s driving shot down the lane with 5:27 left, but Winslow scored the next five points to get within three.
But Megan Phelps, who led all scorers with 12 points, went 6-for-7 from the foul line over the game’s final 4:02, and she regained her focus after missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:05 to play.
“I was like, OK, relax, it’s just a game, everything’s fine, and on the next couple, I took my time and took an extra breath,” said Phelps, who also gathered 10 rebounds.
MDI struggled offensively in the early going, missing its first 10 field-goal attempts but attacked the basket better as the game wore on.
Trojans’ senior guard Sara Carroll said the defensive plan was fairly simple: Play tough man-to-man defense and track Ferry and Pelletier like hounds.
“We basically just played man right on them [and] really helped on the taller girls and that’s what we did,” said Carroll.
MDI senior Brigitte Pratt, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament and sprained her MCL playing ball over the summer, saw her first action of the season in the final seconds, coming in to sink two free throws after Jessica Swanson was hit in the eye and couldn’t shoot.
Pelletier was Winslow’s high scorer with eight points.