BANGOR, Maine — At first, Calais tried to slow Houlton down with their deliberate offense. Later, the Blue Devils tried to speed the Shiretowners up with some full-court pressure.
Top-seeded Houlton had answers for both tactics.
The Shiretowners executed patiently in the first half, then were able to negotiate the pressure late while earning a 51-38 Eastern Maine Class C semifinal victory at the Bangor Auditorium.
Coach Rob Moran’s 19-1 Shiretowners advance to Saturday’s 8:45 p.m. regional championship game against No. 2 Penquis of Milo, a 45-23 winner over Dexter in Friday’s early semifinal.
“We’ve had some teams get deliberate and try to spread us out, but maybe not to that extent,” Moran said. “We just kind of melted a couple different times [against the press].”
Fifth-seeded Calais wound up 16-5.
The Shires built an 11-point first-half lead and led 23-9 before experiencing some turnover woes against a 2-2-1 zone press in the third quarter. Houlton committed six of its 15 turnovers in the period.
“They got into some pressure in the second half and it really did get to us a little bit. That’s how they got back in it,” said Houlton sophomore Kyle Bouchard (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals).
Calais responded by going on a 14-2 run that included four points from senior Devin Hall (14 points, 3 steals) and cut the deficit to 25-23 with 1:29 to play in the third.
However, Houlton scored six straight points, including four free throws, to stay in front.
The Shires were forced to repel one more charge as Kyle Johnson (8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) scored three points during a 7-0 fourth-quarter surge. However, Bouchard netted four points in a 9-0 Houlton burst that ended the suspense.
“We fight to the end and the kids showed a lot of pride,” Leeman said. “When you try to make runs and you miss some foul shots, it’s hard to get back.”
Calais was 7-for-17 from the foul line.
Junior guard Nick Guiod (11 points) was instrumental in helping Houlton negotiate the press in the fourth quarter.
“He’s quick and he’s got a real good handle,” Moran said. “He had some huge plays for us down the stretch, some big baskets.”
Junior guard Kyle Buzzeo posted 11 points and six rebounds, while Dan Swallow (4 points, 5 rebounds) and Jacob Drew (5 points, 4 rebounds) also were key contributors.
Houlton shot 56 percent (19-for-34) from the field and made 12 of 18 foul shots.
Tyler Niles added five points and seven rebounds for the Blue Devils.