BANGOR — One way for a basketball team to cope with an opponent’s superior height is to not let those big players get the ball in the first place.
Top-ranked Washburn used intense defensive pressure by its guards not only to get that job done Thursday, but also force 26 Fort Fairfield turnovers in ousting the defending Class D state champions 49-37 in their Eastern Maine girls semifinal at the Bangor Auditorium.
“We knew what we needed to do defensively,” said Washburn senior forward Rebecca Campbell, who scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Beavers defeated Fort Fairfield for the third time this season and improved their record to 18-2.
“We’ve worked so hard with everyone on defense, and we’ve done a pretty good job with it.”
Washburn will play No. 6 Deer Isle-Stonington for the regional title at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Mariners defeated Central Aroostook of Mars Hill 42-36.
Fifth-ranked Fort Fairfield finishes with a 15-5 record.
Freshman Nicole Olson added 11 points for Washburn, while classmates Carmen Bragg and Carsyn Koch combined for 14 points and generated much of the perimeter defensive pressure that didn’t allow Fort Fairfield to get the ball inside to center Brooke Beaulieu and forward Amanda Hotham, the Tigers’ two biggest offensive threats.
“They had some good shooters and Beaulieu and Hotham are both powerhouses down in the post,” said Koch, who came off the bench to contribute eight points, five rebounds and three steals. “So we had to have girls shut them down and get in their faces so they couldn’t shoot.”
Hotham, the MVP of the 2010 Eastern D tournament, also was slowed by an injury to her left ankle late in the first half.
Hotham landed on another player’s foot while shooting from the lane with 1:06 left in the second quarter and Fort Fairfield trailing by a point.
After she left, Koch — a state cross country champion last fall — made a 15-foot jumper, then knocked the ball away on defense and raced down the court to take a pass from Bragg for a layup to give Washburn a 22-17 lead at the break.
Hotham returned to the game after intermission, but managed just four field-goal attempts in the second half before finishing with team-high totals of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think they lost a little emotion when Amanda went down,” said Fort Fairfield coach Larry Gardner. “Her ankle was swollen and she got it taped up and we knew she was going to be slower than her normal self, but that wasn’t the difference in the game.”
Washburn then outscored Fort Fairfield 9-1 during the first two minutes of the third quarter, a run kicked off by another Koch basket off a Tigers’ turnover and capped off by a 3-pointer by Olson that gave the Beavers a 29-18 cushion.
Fort Fairfield rallied within 33-27 on a 3-pointer by Hotham near the end of the period, but got no closer than that in the fourth quarter.
Danielle Tracy added 12 points for the Tigers.