BANGOR — There must be something magical or special about being the sixth-ranked team in the Eastern Maine Class C girls basketball tournament.
Calais ran to a state championship out of that end of the bracket last winter, and this year, Washington Academy is trying the glass slipper on for size.
It has fit coach Gary Wood’s Raiders pretty well so far, as they battled back from a five-point deficit and outscored Central 16-3 in the fourth quarter to punch their ticket to Monday’s regional final with a 53-45 victory over the No. 2 Red Devils at the Bangor Auditorium.
Awaiting the 16-4 Raiders is No. 4 Orono, and the two teams will go at it at 4:05 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Central finishes the season 19-1.
Staring at a 43-37 deficit heading into the fourth and with 6-foot-4 Red Devils’ senior Bekah Campbell torching WA inside through three quarters, the Raiders’ interior defense shut down Campbell and got to work on offense.
“We knew we had to come out and outscore them,” said Raiders’ senior forward Taylor Seeley, who led her team with 17 points. “We knew we had to outplay them, we thought maybe towards the end they’d crack and they did.”
Christy Smith was the other Raider in double figures with 14 points while Campbell finished with 20 and Hannah Pray 11 for Central.
Both clubs played excellent defense early in the final period, as nobody scored until WA’s Kayla Bridges scored on a baseline drive with 3:41 left.
After Christy Smith tied it with a 3-pointer from the left wing on the Raiders’ next possession, a follow-up basket by Bridges with 2:08 left gave WA the lead for good.
The Raiders held Central without a field goal the first 7 minutes, 45 seconds of the quarter while going 8-of-11 from the foul line in the final 1:32.
Brandelyn Hodgdon was especially clutch, going 4-of-5.
“That was huge,” Seeley said, “they started fouling us and we had to sink them to put the game away and it worked out.”
The Raiders double-teamed Campbell inside throughout the game, but she often found open teammates cutting along the baseline, and Seeley was one of the WA defenders who would sag back on Campbell and provide help-side defense.
“We kind of figured that the post was going high and I was sagging back and staying behind her,” she explained.
Washington Academy will be playing in its third straight EM final. The Raiders lost to George Stevens in 2009 and Calais last winter, and the Raiders are relishing another title shot.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” said Seeley. “Both teams really wanted this, but I guess we wanted it a little bit more.
The teams traded runs throughout the first half, with WA leading by as much as six on two occasions, including late in the second quarter, but Central responded with a 9-0 run to go into halftime up 30-27.
Campbell scored eight of her points in the third quarter to help the Devils build their five-point lead.