AUGUSTA — The free-throw line was a perilous place for the Hampden Academy girls basketball team for much of Wednesday’s Eastern Maine Class A semifinal against Edward Little of Auburn.
But after making just four of their first 15 tries from the line during the fourth quarter, the Broncos finally found the range — hitting five of seven attempts over the final 53 seconds of play to outlast the Red Eddies 50-47 at the Augusta Civic Center.
“It was a little scary for a while,” said Hampden senior forward Julia Snyder, who went 3 of 4 in the final seconds, “but we finally started making them.”
No. 3 Hampden, seeking its first EM title since winning the 1976 Class A state championship, will play No. 8 Messalonskee of Oakland in Friday’s 7 p.m. regional final. Messalonskee edged No. 4 Cony of Augusta 48-44 in its semifinal.
Hampden defeated Messalonskee twice during the regular season, 50-43 on Jan. 11 and 51-32 on Feb. 8.
“We were expected to do good things this year, and it was tough to play one of the better teams in the semifinals,” said Katelyn DeRaps, like Snyder one of seven Hampden’s seniors back from last year’s semifinalists. “But getting it done today and getting to the finals is great.”
Michaela Stephenson led Hampden with 13 points, while DeRaps scored 11, Whitney Moore had nine points and nine rebounds, Helene Sherburne scored eight points and Snyder scored six points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds as the Broncos avenged a 54-34 loss at Edward Little on Jan. 4.
Ashlee Arnold led Edward Little with 14 points, while Frankie Lally scored 10.
Hampden (18-2) held a 27-26 lead after a back-and-forth first half that included a 13-0 run by EL and a 12-1 counter-surge by the Broncos.
But Hampden took control in the third quarter on the strength of its rebounding, particularly by Snyder and Moore, who combined for eight rebounds and eight points — six by Moore — during the period as the Broncos gained a 39-32 lead.
“We’re strong,” said Hampden coach Chad Bradbury. “We’ve had the girls lifting weights this season, which may be the problem with some of our shooting, but today we controlled the rebounds and the fact we were able to hang onto the ball at the end of the game and take the fouls and not turn it over was huge.”
When Hampden struggled at the line early in the fourth quarter, EL kept fouling and the tactic worked except the Red Eddies couldn’t convert enough at the offensive end to take full advantage.
“Defense was really key in this game,” said DeRaps. “They have some great shooters and they also have other players who penetrate, so shutting everybody down was big. We really stepped up our defense.”
EL (16-4) finally clawed within a point on two occasions, the last time at 46-45 on a drive by Arnold with 38 seconds left.
But Snyder answered with two from the line, then followed an EL miss from the field by making another free throw to give the Broncos a two-possession (49-45) lead with 20.4 seconds left.
EL’s Katherine Sawyer scored on a drive eight seconds later, but Sherburne’s free throw with 10.7 seconds left gave Hampden a three-point lead, and Snyder then blocked a 3-pointer by Arnold before another 3-point try by Sawyer sailed wide at the buzzer.