AUGUSTA — The role of underdog can be a dangerous one, and that’s something the Hampden Academy girls basketball team knows all too well.
The Broncos entered last year’s Eastern Maine Class A tournament as the No. 7 seed — and no pressure — and used that to pull an upset.
This time around, Mount Ararat of Topsham was the attempted spoiler, and the third-ranked Broncos weren’t about to become victims of their own game.
Senior Michaela Stephenson led a balanced HA attack with 14 points as coach Chad Bradbury’s club forced 28 turnovers to coast to a 47-27 win over the sixth-ranked Eagles at the Augusta Civic Center Friday afternoon.
Seventh-ranked Bangor fell to No. 2 Edward Little of Auburn 74-56 in the second game of the afternoon session.
The Broncos and Red Eddies will square off in a Wednesday afternoon semifinal.
In the first game, even though the score suggests an easy Bronco win, it was anything but, as the feisty Eagles hung around for a quarter and a half as Hampden struggled offensively.
“We forced a lot a lot of shots. We just weren’t moving the ball around, everyone was pretty anxious,” said Bradbury, whose club improved to 17-2 while Mount Ararat concludes the season 9-10.
The Broncos took the lead for good on Katelyn DeRaps’ 3-pointer from the left wing with just over two minutes left until halftime, and that jumpstarted an 8-0 run to close the half, capped by Jordan Maxwell’s perimeter shot from the left side.
Hampden’s quickness and depth on defense gave the Eagles fits, and Mount Ararat couldn’t get any solid looks at the basket.
“We just had to get into our rhythm and we knew our defense would stop them, we just had to put the ball in the basket,” said Stephenson.
The Broncos finally stretched their lead out in the third quarter, closing that period on a 10-2 run, with DeRaps scoring four of the points.
Stephenson knew Mount Ararat was coming into this game with nothing to lose, but the Broncos were able to settle in and play their game.
“Last year we didn’t have a lot of pressure on us because we had nothing to lose,” she said. “This year that was Mount Ararat’s role.”
Stephenson also had four steals and Julia Snyder three for Hampden.
Mariah Cropley and Molly Estes paced Mount Ararat with six points apiece.
In the late game, Edward Little (16-3) steamrolled out to a 38-24 halftime lead behind sophomore Ashlee Arnold’s 17 points, then held off a furious rally by Bangor (12-7) in the third quarter.
Francesca Lally led coach Craig Jipson’s club with a career-high 25 points, and she was 5-for-8 from beyond the arc and a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line.
All of Lally’s free throws came in the fourth quarter, during which EL outscored the Rams 20-12.
Arnold’s efforts were outstanding considering she wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
“Ashlee Arnold was sick as a dog all night. We didn’t even know if she was going to play today,” said Jipson.
The Eddies’ perimeter shooters picked apart the Rams’ 2-3 zone in the first half, going 7-for-22 from 3-point range. Coach Katie Herbine’s club made the proper defensive adjustments at halftime, while Hillary Throckmorton caught fire offensively, scoring 10 points in a 16-6 Bangor run which made it a two-point game.
But EL’s defense held Bangor to just one field goal the rest of the period, and back-to-back pull-ups by Katherine Sawyer restored the Eddies’ lead to double digits.
“When you make a big comeback, it’s just hard to get over the hump,” Herbine said.
Jipson knew the inevitable Bangor run was to come despite his team’s double-digit halftime edge.
“I think they’re a very good basketball team. I mean we were worried to death because they had won seven of their last eight,” he said.
Bangor had won seven of its final eight regular-season contests to earn its tourney berth.
Kory Norcross was EL’s other double-figure scorer with 16 points, while Kristen Henigan’s 14 points led the Rams. Throckmorton finished with 13.