AUBURN, Maine — Talk about closeness of competition and lack of a clear favorite in the upcoming Eastern Class A girls’ basketball tournament all you want.
Anybody in attendance at Friday night’s showdown between No. 1 Edward Little and No. 5 Bangor might have witnessed the ‘x’ factor in that loaded bracket.
When Ashlee Arnold catches fire, forget it.
One early hot streak by the Red Eddies senior, and more importantly another one at the end, launched EL to a 57-49 victory.
“I usually relax more in the second half,” Arnold said. “When I know I need to hit a big shot, I make them.”
Arnold scored nine points in a span of 94 seconds early in the fourth quarter, supplying a lead that EL never relinquished.
Her highlight: An NBA-range bomb from in front of the Eddies’ bench that turned into a four-point play, erasing Bangor’s slim 43-42 lead with 4:49 to go.
“The 3-pointer that Ashlee banked in was just a huge, huge shot,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “That’s a huge win. They’re a great basketball team.”
It wasn’t even Arnold’s most prolific stretch of the night. She scored the Eddies’ first 10 points, thanks in large part to her own three steals, within 1:41 of the opening tap.
She finished with a season-high 29 points and seven thefts.
Brooke Reynolds added eight points and eight rebounds. Emily Jacques tore down a team-high 11 boards and Kate Sawyer dished out seven assists to strengthen EL (13-3), which overcame 29 percent shooting on the night and a staggering rebounding disadvantage in the first half.
Their efforts countered a colossal night of 22 points, 20 rebounds and four blocked shots by Bangor sophomore center Cordelia Stewart.
Mary Butler, also a sophomore and the other half of a six-foot tandem for the Rams (11-5), added 11 points and 10 rebounds. Senior point Denae Johnson put up 10 points and 10 boards.
Bangor owned the glass 28-9 in the first half and 52-34 overall.
“They absolutely crushed us on the boards. If we play them a month from now I’m not sure we still won’t get killed on the boards,” Jipson said. “We’re young in that position. Our post players are freshmen and sophomores. They’re young too, but we’re giving up four inches.”
Arnold’s early explosion staked EL to a 15-8 lead after one quarter.
Bangor stuck to its 1-3-1 zone, however, and eventually held the Eddies in check while taking advantage of myriad second chances.
“It seemed like their defense was everywhere,” Arnold said. “You couldn’t drive down the middle.”
Two traditional 3-point plays by Stewart keyed a 10-0 run to give Bangor its first lead.
Jacques scored twice down low to resuscitate the Eddies’ offense, and a pair of free throws by Reynolds in the closing seconds made it 28-28 at the break.
“We don’t see a 1-3-1 very often, and we can’t simulate those big kids,” Jipson said. “We practiced against a 1-3-1 in practice, but a couple of times we still threw it at a kid’s hands.
Arnold hit another of her six 3-pointers in the third, and the Eddies held Stewart and Butler to one field goal apiece in that period.
Calli Murray’s putback pulled EL within two, 39-37, with eight minutes left.
Reynolds knotted it with a jumper to start the fourth prior to Arnold’s flourish.
“We stepped it up a lot and dug down deep,” Arnold said. “We knew we had to win that game. That kept us No. 1.”