June 22, 2018
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Defense, clutch free throws carry Central by Stearns in OT for EM title

By Dave Barber, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The major goal for the Central High girls basketball team Saturday night was stopping, or at least slowing, Stearns of Millinocket playmaker guard Sigrid Koizar in the Eastern Maine Class C final at the Bangor Auditorium.

“She scored 32 in the semifinals,” said Red Devils junior guard Max McHugh. “We wanted to make sure every shot she took she earned. I think we accomplished that.”

But it took senior forward Sam Brownell’s block of a Koizar 3-pointer in the closing seconds of overtime to secure a 42-41 victory for the third-seeded Red Devils (18-3), who will face defending state champ Hall-Dale of Farmingdale, a 42-36 winner over Waynflete of Portland in the Western Maine title game.

“I saw her get by Max, so I raced over there,” said Brownell of her close encounter with Koizar. “I thought I was too late, but apparently I was just in time.”

Brownell got the fingertips of her right hand on the ball just after Koizar released it with 9.4 seconds left and Central up 42-39. The No. 4 Minutemen (18-3) did get a two-point basket with 2.4 seconds left, but there was no stopping the clock.

The fact that Brownell even thought of getting over to the corner was a late defensive adjustment.

Stearns used screens to get Koizar open, so Central coach Diane Rollins knew they had to have a backup defender come over.

“We decided to gamble on the other shooters,” said Rollins.

As the team headed to the game, the coaches elected to send their big players (including the 5-foot-11 Brownell, 6-foot freshman forward Brianna Skolfield and 5-7 senior forward Kaylee Harvey) out to contest any Koizar shots if she got loose.

“My assistant coaches read that,” said Rollins. “So we put that in at 5 p.m., before the game, on the bus.”

McHugh had the primary job of guarding Koizar and she felt she was up to the challenge.

“She’s very good, very quick,” said McHugh. “I knew with my speed I could follow her. Screening was the main issue.”

So when McHugh was screened off Koizar, Brownell knew where she had to go.

“That’s the way we drew [the play] up,” said Stearns coach Justin Page. “They read it, and Brownell got there.”

Koizar shooting a 3-pointer was a concern because she had already hit two key 3s, one to send the game into overtime at 36-all and another to tie the game at 39 with 1:21 left in OT.

Freshman forward Brianna Skolfield and Brownell dominated inside scoring for the Red Devils with 21 and nine points, respectively.

Brownell’s biggest points were two free throws with 22.2 seconds left in overtime as Central clung to a one-point lead that senior guard Brianna Speed had provided with a free throw.

“I just tried to focus the best I could,” said Brownell about standing at the line in a noise-filled auditorium.

Brownell swished both free throws and widened the margin to three. Her defense kept it that way.

Skolfield scored her team’s first eight points of the fourth quarter against a field goal and free throw by Stearns junior guard Emily Wark to give the Devils a two-point edge with 2:40 left.

They were Central’s final field goals, but the Devils hit eight of 13 free throws to hold off Stearns.

Koizar finished with 20 points for Stearns, and Wark had eight.

“We could never get any forward momentum. They plugged us up pretty good,” said Page.

Two of the Red Devils’ final eight free throws came from McHugh 32 seconds into overtime to snap the 36-all tie.

“Them scoring first was a key, too,” said Page. “We’re a zone [defense] team, so we needed to score first.”

Zones don’t cause as many ballhandling turnovers as man-to-man might.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said Brownell. “I’m glad we pulled through a tough week. We survived one and I hope we survive another.”

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