BANGOR, Maine — All season long, Stearns coach Justin Page has been encouraging Sigrid Koizar to shoot more.
A nice crowd at the Bangor Auditorium saw why Friday night.
The Austrian exchange student poured in a game-high 32 points on 13-for-17 shooting, sparking fourth-seeded Stearns to a 54-34 Eastern Maine Class C girls semifinal victory over No. 8 Houlton.
“Yeah, he did,” the unassuming and unselfish Koizar said when asked about her coach’s request to shoot more.
Koizar also grabbed 13 rebounds and registered three assists and two steals for the 19-2 Minutemen, who play No. 3 Central of Corinth, a 45-30 winner over Calais, in Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. regional championship game.
The teams had split their regular-season meetings, but Koizar was sick and did not play in Houlton’s 59-39 win on Jan 7.
The versatile Koizar was the catalyst for Stearns with her heady play at the point. She worked all night to get the ball to open teammates, but also took advantage of openings when the Shiretowners (14-7) gave her room to operate.
“She had a phenomenal game,” Page said. “We’ve been stressing all year for her to shoot a little bit more and in this Eastern Maine tournament she’s decided to explode and the kids are happy with that. It frees them up for shots when she gets rid of it.”
Houlton tried different defensive strategies to hold her in check, but could not shut her and the Minutemen down.
“She was double-teamed, she was jumped in the half-court, but she persevered,” Page said. “We made a couple of adjustments, getting some early screens for her.”
Alexandria Mooney provided eight points for the winners, who got six points and five rebounds each from Emily Wark (4 assists, 1 steal) and Taylor Pelkey. Stearns outrebounded Houlton 33-28, despite surrendering 13 offensive boards to the Shires.
“They played a zone, so we had to move the ball a lot, so we had open shots,” Koizar said.
Victoria Hanson led Houlton with 15 points and six rebounds. Marina Cameron chipped in with seven points and Amanda Fogarty provided six points, four rebounds and four assists.
“Hats off to his (coach Shane Graham’s) kids,” Page said. “We had a hard time rebounding tonight. They were very active, they were very hungry, they scrapped.”
The Shires struggled to 28 percent shooting (13-for-47) against Stearns’ 3-2 and 2-3 zones.
The Minutemen opened the game with a 13-3 scoring run and finished the second quarter with another spurt to take a 33-17 halftime lead. Stearns’ lead never dipped below 10 points after that.
Stearns shot 50 percent (12-for-24) from the floor in the half, with Koizar going 7-for-8 and pulling down eight rebounds. She scored 13 points in the second quarter.
The Minutemen led 20-14 when they rattled off the second scoring run.
Koizar grabbed a rebound and drove the length of the court for the first hoop, then knocked down a 16-foot jumper. Samantha Keegan countered with a conventional three-point play for Houlton, but Koizar, Wark and Mooney made 3-pointers in a span of three minutes to make it 33-17.
The Shires rattled off six unanswered points late in the third quarter to close the gap to 41-31, but Koizar went coast to coast after pulling down a rebound and then hit a 12-footer to restore the margin to 14 after three quarters.