BANGOR, Maine — It has been a rebuilding season for the girls basketball teams at Mt. Blue and Bangor High Schools.
The Rams, coming off an Eastern Maine championship, and the Cougars, who reached the semifinals last year, both had to replace four starters among several seniors.
Mt. Blue of Farmington demonstrated Friday night that it has been better able to put the new pieces of the puzzle together.
Senior Miranda Nicely, her team’s only returning starter, scored 15 of her game-high 17 points in the second half, leading the Cougars to a 48-36 victory over the Rams at Red Barry Gym.
Coach Tom Philbrick’s Cougars (7-6) made the Rams work for points and possessions, forcing many of Bangor’s 23 turnovers with an aggressive defensive approach.
“We wanted to go uptempo,” Philbrick said. “[Bangor’s] really playing with a natural point guard, so we wanted to force that issue and see if we could get some sort of lead and then pull it back in and control the game.”
Mt. Blue went 14-for-18 from the foul line in the fourth quarter to hold off defending regional champion Bangor, which slipped to 4-11. The Cougars, in seventh place entering the night, needed a lift heading into a tough stretch of games against the top three teams in the standings.
“We knew Bangor was going to come out to play,” Nicely said. “They want in the tournament and we have Lawrence coming up, Edward Little, Oxford Hills and we knew this game was important to win for us.”
Junior forward Addie Brinkman contributed 10 points and four rebounds for Mt. Blue, which beat Bangor 46-33 in Jan. 2 meeting at Farmington. Caitlin Kane and Kiana Thompson netted nine and eight points, respectively, while Nicely also grabbed eight rebounds.
Junior guard/forward Mary Butler was the catalyst for Bangor, which was plagued by its turnover woes and subpar shooting. She registered a double-double with 16 points and a game-leading 20 rebounds to go with four blocked shots.
Freshman Katie Butler, Mary’s sister, finished with 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks, while Sarah Bragg added seven points.
The loss likely will preclude Bangor from trying to defend its title as the Rams remain outside the top 10.
“It’s hard to be 4-11 and still come to practice every, single day and work hard and not give up on it. These kids certainly haven’t,” said Bangor coach Katie Herbine, who admitted there were a lot of expectations coming into the season. “They’ve come in every day wanting to learn, wanting to get better.”
The Rams outrebounded the Cougars 35-22, including 22-10 in the first half. Mt. Blue wound up with 14 turnovers.
Mt. Blue began to make its move during the last 3 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. Nicely scored from underneath off a dish from Brinkman, who later converted from down low off a Kane assist.
Brinkman’s driving layup on the front of a conventional three-point play with 31 seconds left gave the Cougars a 28-23 lead.
“You want to post hard and you want to go strong to the hole and not let their size be a deterrent,” Philbrick said of Mt. Blue’s approach against the Butler sisters. “I think we accomplished that. Whether we had success or not, we had to take it to them.”
Bangor hung around well into the final period as Ali Boulier’s 10-footer cut the deficit to 33-29, but Nicely scored on a baseline drive and later added a foul shot to go with a Thompson free throw that made it 37-29 with 3:34 to play.
Mt. Blue worked the clock and used the foul line to close out the victory, scoring its last 13 points from the line.
The Rams were able to get the ball inside most of the contest, but often did not convert.
“Turnovers have been an issue, but the missed layups were a little bit of a surprise tonight because it’s something we haven’t seen,” Herbine said. “I think we had some good shots, some good chances.”