BANGOR, Maine — The Presque Isle Wildcats earned the right to defend their state Class B girls basketball title based on strong guard play against Nokomis of Newport on Saturday afternoon.
Senior guard Megan Ireland scored a game-high 18 points and senior point guard Chandler Guerrette added 16 as Presque Isle, now 21-0, defeated the Warriors 66-51 at the Bangor Auditorium.
In a rematch of last year’s state final, Presque Isle, top-seeded in the East, will take on Lake Region of Bridgton in Friday’s 7 p.m. state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. West No. 1 Lake Region defeated No. 2 York 50-24 on Saturday.
“I was pretty anxious [before the game],” said Ireland. “We knew we needed to go out strong — and be sure to rebound — but I knew we could do it.”
Nokomis coach Michelle Paradis saw some anxiousness in her players, too, when the game started. It was something she hadn’t seen this year.
“They looked like they were scared a little,” she said.
That led to problems on defense.
“It’s hard to play straight-up defense when you’re back on your heels,” Paradis said. “You can’t be on your heels against Presque Isle.”
Both teams like an up-tempo game and stuck with it.
“We were hoping for a fast-paced game,” said PI coach Jeff Hudson. “We think a fast-paced game favors us.”
Paradis felt the same way.
“We like a transition game,” said Paradis. “We know we can score off it.”
The Wildcats’ tight defense often slowed the Warriors down, though, and Paradis saw a problem there.
“When we were in the half-court, we settled down and didn’t capitalize,” said Paradis.
The Warriors (18-3) were still within one of Presque Isle 2 1/2 minutes into the second quarter after Nokomis’ Kelsie Richards nailed a 3-pointer.
That’s when Guerrette kicked off a 14-1 run as the Wildcats ended the half with a 35-21 lead.
Ireland scored five points during the run and eight in the second quarter, including two 3-pointers.
“In the middle of the second quarter, we started to make shots,” said Hudson. “I think we tired them out.”
“We just knew we had to make our open shots, Karlee [Bernier], Chandler and me,” said Ireland. “My [teammates] get me the ball when they see I’m open, and they make great passes.”
Guerrette was the key Wildcat in the third as she scored her team’s first eight points on three field goals and two free throws. Those points sandwiched a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Mikayla Charters and an Anna Mackenzie hoop and pushed Presque Isle’s lead to 20 points (45-25).
Nokomis wasn’t ready to give up, though.
Down 50-29 with a minute to go in the third, the Warriors’ Taylor Shaw started an 11-0 spurt that cut PI’s lead to 10 with 5:21 left in the game.
Ireland stopped the run with a 3 and added a layup when Guerrette stole the ball and passed ahead to a racing Ireland. Bernier added a 3 at the 4:15 mark to extend Presque Isle’s margin to 18.
“We knew they would make a run, and they made another one at the end of the game,” said Wildcats coach Jeff Hudson. “To answer their run with one of our own was big.”
On the late run, the nearest Nokomis could get was 13 points with 1:11 remaining.
Senior forward Bernier and sophomore guard Hannah Graham each added nine points for Presque Isle.
Junior center Mackenzie topped Nokomis with 14 points, junior guard Kelsie Richards added 11 and junior forward Shaw had nine.