BANGOR, Maine — Amanda Hotham admitted experiencing jitters last Thursday during Fort Fairfield’s semifinal game against Southern Aroostook.
The talented sophomore had missed four of her first five free throws, citing worries about losing the game.
“I think I was just afraid to lose and I was like, ‘if I miss this, we might lose by like one [point],’” she recalled.
By Saturday morning, the jitters were long gone.
Hotham connected for 11 of her game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter on her way to two tournament records while leading Fort Fairfield to the Eastern Maine Class D title with a 50-38 victory over No. 1 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill at the Bangor Auditorium.
It is the first regional championship for coach Larry Gardner’s Tigers (20-1), who play Western Maine winner Greenville (17-2) in Saturday’s 2:05 p.m. state title game at the Augusta Civic Center.
“It’s awesome, so overwhelming,” said Fort Fairfield senior co-captain Kelsie Wilson. “This is the first time we’ve ever won for Fort, for girls, so it was really cool.”
Hotham, a 5-foot-6 forward, made 15 free throws, a Class D tournament record, and sank 35 during the week, the most ever for a girl in the EM tourney regardless of class.
Fort Fairfield, which split the regular-season series with CAHS, avenged its only loss.
Hotham, the focus of the Panthers’ defensive efforts — a 2-3 zone and a box-and-one — could not be stopped. She went 9-for-16 from the field and 15-for-17 from the line. She also pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.
“We did pretty good and I have to give a lot of thanks to my teammates for passing me the ball when I’m open and seeing me inside,” said Hotham, who still hadn’t grasped the magnitude of the moment.
“I don’t even know [how I feel] ,” she said. “I probably will when I get home. I’ll be like, ‘Wow!”
The complexion of the contest changed in the second quarter, shortly after the Tigers switched from a 2-3 zone to a triangle-and-two that keyed on Central Aroostook’s Victoria McIntyre and Rachael Grew.
McIntyre (16 points, 10 rebounds) had scored nine first-quarter points to help the Panthers build a 20-12 lead with 5:26 left in the first half.
However, a shorthanded Central Aroostook squad struggled offensively from that point on, managing only 18 points while committing 19 turnovers in the contest.
“We decided we’d go to that triangle-and-two and Danielle Tracy and Kelsie Wilson did a great job on them, really shut them down, after the first quarter,” Gardner said.
“I think that was the big difference in game.”
The Tigers began to solve the Panthers’ 2-3 zone and got the ball into the paint with regularity. Hotham scored eight points — six from the foul line — to spark a 16-2 surge.
Tracy and Sydney Churchill also each hit a 3-pointer during the run, which gave the Tigers a 28-22 halftime lead.
“The problem was, we did not want to lose the McIntyre girl with fouls, so we had to back off her,” said CAHS coach Rodney Codrey, who later implemented a box-and-one against Hotham.
The Panthers lacked their usual depth Saturday as senior starters Chelsea Hartin and Brianna Hartin sat out for religious reasons. They are Seventh-Day Adventists, who consider the Sabbath, the hours from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, as a day of rest, worship and ministry.
The youthful Panthers received solid efforts from freshman reserves Olivia Garrison and Paige Garrison and went into the fourth quarter trailing only 35-32.
However, Fort controlled the fourth quarter behind the play of Hotham, who scored six points during an 8-0 run that put the Tigers in control 43-32 with 3:55 left.
“Amanda was huge, as she has been all tournament,” Gardner said. “She was tough.”