BANGOR, Maine — In a tourney with top seeds falling, the No. 1 Presque Isle Wildcats showed early they wouldn’t join that unenviable club as they rolled to a 67-42 girls basketball victory over the No. 9 Gardiner Tigers in an East Class B quarterfinal Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center.
The two-time defending state champion Wildcats recorded their 63rd straight victory while earning a semifinal berth against the fifth-seeded Foxcroft Academy Ponies, who used a strong inside game to pull away from the stubborn Waterville Panthers for a 33-25 win in the early game.
After the Tigers scored the game’s first four points, the Wildcats ran off nine unanswered points and never trailed again, improving to 19-0 while Gardiner finished at 12-7.
The Wildcats showed off a strong balanced scoring attack, propelled by 5-foot-8 junior center Krystal Kingsbury and 5-10 junior guard Hannah Graham. Kingsbury featured some strong post moves and was often the recipient of some precision Graham passes while finishing with 23 points, including a 9-for-12 effort from the field.
The smooth-shooting Graham showed off a pretty pullup jumper and was equally adept at driving to the basket as she finished with 20 points.
“She’s had a great year. Her point guard skills have improved 100 percent over the course of the year,” Presque Isle coach Jeff Hudson said. “She’s been in this tournament before. Both she and Krystal know what it’s all about and they played like it today.”
Junior center Regan Nelson added to Presque Isle inside game as she powered in 13 points, featuring a 5-for-7 performance from the floor.
Perhaps the only lowlight in PI’s victory was a season-low two 3-point field goals (2 of 12).
“We thought they would have a hard time with Regan and Krystal inside. We scored a lot inside in the first half,” Hudson said. “We start making more shots outside, I think we’ll be very tough to stop.”
Freshman guard Lauren Chadwick paced the Tigers with 14 points and junior guard Morgan Carver chipped in with seven.
The Tigers were bothered by some occasional intense Presque Isle pressure defense that held the Tigers to a 16-for-55 shooting effort (29 percent) while the Wildcats countered with a 26-of-49 effort (53 percent).
In the early game, junior Brianna Skolfield, a 6-foot-1 center, sparked the Ponies inside attack with 13 points and 15 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, leading her team to the semifinal.
“We were passing the ball very well and our defense ran out at their shooters. We didn’t let them drive by us,” Skolfield said.
Junior forward Amber Anderson also helped the Ponies control the inside game with eight rebounds as Foxcroft held a 40-23 team advantage. Junior forward Julia Annis chipped in with eight points and six rebounds while freshman guard Grace Bickford contributed three steals, two assists and four points.
“We did a very good job on the boards, controlling both ends of the court and most of the time kept them to one shot,” Foxcroft coach Blake Smith said. “We talked to them at halftime about capitalizing on every possession we had and we did a better job of that.”
Senior center Hannah Allen paced Waterville with eight points and five rebounds while senior guard Colleen O’Donnell contributed seven points, four rebounds and two assists.
Foxcroft improved to 13-7 while the No. 13 Panthers finished at 11-9.
Strong defensive play caused both teams to struggle from the floor as Waterville hit only 9 of 36 shots (25 percent) while Foxcroft converted 13 of 38 (34 percent).
The Panthers forced a slow tempo in the first half, particularly in the first quarter when they held the ball for two minutes and eventually pulled the Ponies out of their zone while both teams struggled offensively with the Ponies taking a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Ponies turned to their inside game to produce some hard-fought points in the third quarter when they outscored the Panthers 11-8 to build a 21-15 advantage at the end of quarter.
After Waterville’s Jordan Jabar opened the half with a baseline jumper, the Ponies responded with a 7-0 scoring surge on a nice cutting move to the hoop by Amber Anderson, a Skolfield basket off an offensive rebound, another put-back by Annis and a Mackenzie Coiley free throw.
Presque Isle swept Foxcroft during the regular season, with a 75-35 victory in PI on Dec. 21, but then escaped with a 50-48 win at Dover-Foxcroft on Jan. 11.