BANGOR — Even as its comfortable 15-point lead was sliced to two, the Nokomis girls basketball team wasn’t the least bit worried Saturday night.
This was almost like a replay for the Warriors, who faced a similar situation against Presque Isle in the semifinal round.
Coach Kori Dionne’s club once again showed the resolve of a champion, holding off a determined Medomak Valley team to claim its second straight Eastern Maine Class B championship with a 50-41 victory at the Bangor Auditorium.
Free throws were instrumental in the Warriors holding off Medomak, as they were 12-of-14 from the charity stripe in the game’s final 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
“The first time we played them it came down to foul shots, we kind of had a feeling it would this time,” said Nokomis’ senior point guard Julie Smith, who was 11-of-15 at the line en route to 13 points, a team high. “We played together, we have a deep bench and we pulled it out as a team.”
The 19-2 Warriors’ victory sets up an all-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference state championship game with Leavitt of Turner Center at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland at 6 p.m. Friday.
Leavitt ended defending state champion York’s 42-game winning streak with a 55-52 win in the Western Maine title game.
Third-seeded Medomak finishes its season 18-3.
Nokomis once again found itself in foul trouble early, with Marissa Shaw picking up two in the first half, but the Warriors showed their depth off the bench, as freshman Kylie Richards scored all 12 of her points in the first half to help Nokomis build a six-point halftime lead.
“I knew that Marissa had some fouls so I had to step up,” said Richards.
Richards ignited an 8-2 Nokomis run with a pair of 3-pointers and a driving layup, while she hit four free throws at the end of the half.
Four free throws from Smith and a driving layup from Kelsie Richards, Kylie’s twin sister, gave the Warriors a 34-19 lead with 2:27 left in the third.
But coach Randy Hooper’s Panthers refused to quit, as Alanna Vose provided a spark with a conventional 3-point play and two free throws to get the Panthers within 36-24 at the end of the period.
Medomak then extended its defense and gave the Warriors fits, scoring the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, capped by an elbow pull-up jumper by Vose to make it a 36-34 game with 5:20 remaining.
The Warriors’ leaders then responded, as Danielle Watson scored on a backdoor layup after a timeout and Smith went 6-of-8 from the line in the final 2:30.
“We were a little shaky because they switched defenses a lot,” said Smith. “We adapt to it very well and we’re very confident in each other.”
That’s also where Nokomis’ big-game experience came into play, and Dionne praised the leadership of Watson, Smith and Shaw.
“I saw both Julie and Marissa on separate occasions bringing kids in and talking to them out on the floor and during a timeout, and that kind of stuff is huge,” said Dionne.
After watching Presque Isle battle back from a double-digit deficit in Wednesday’s semifinal game, Dionne had a feeling the inevitable Medomak run was coming.
“Just like Presque Isle did they were playing with such an urgency because they were trying to claw back,” Dionne said. “That’s something we talked about after Wednesday’s game and something we talked about after tonight’s game because we’re not going to keep getting away with it.”
Along with its clutch free-throw shooting, Nokomis relied on its defense to turn back the Panthers, as Medomak was held to one field goal after junior guard Vose fouled out with 3:31 remaining.
“Once Nokomis gets a lead in the fourth quarter, they’re very, very good,” said Hooper. “For (us) to make a run and cut it to two, that’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Ericka Christensen led all scorers with 17 points for Medomak while Lindsay Ranquist had 10 and Vose nine.