BANGOR, Maine — Besides its big-game experience, there was one key element the Calais Blue Devils possessed Friday night that Houlton lacked — an inside game.
The top-seeded Blue Devils kept the No. 5 Shiretowners out of the paint with a cohesive 2-3 zone defense and they excelled with their post offense behind Paige Gillespie to score a 53-29 Eastern Maine Class C semifinal victory at the Cross Insurance Center.
Coach Dana Redding’s Calais squad (18-2) will meet No. 2 Orono (19-1), a winner over Mattanawcook Academy in Friday’s first game, in Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. regional final.
“We do do well in big games,” Gillespie said. “We were here last year and I think we’re going to come hungry this year again, so we should be ready.”
Gillspie, a 5-foot-11 senior center, scored 12 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to spearhead a balanced offense for the Blue Devils.
“I definitely know that [Houlton’s] Katie Condon’s a good player and she’s a big girl just like myself, so I do have to be a lot more aggressive up against her and I know I’m not just going to be able to easily make shots and get rebounds, I have to work up against her,” Gillespie said.
Junior guard Maddy McVicar tossed in 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while running the offense. Kaylee Johnson posted 10 points for the winners and Taylorae Carter added seven points and seven rebounds.
Katie Condon paced Houlton (13-7) with 12 points while Jessica Dickison and Bri Longstaff chipped in with six points each.
The teams had split their regular-season meetings, with Houlton taking a 61-52 victory at home on Jan. 9 and Calais posting a 50-25 win on its home floor nine days later.
“The second time we were coming out and we were hungry, we were out to get them, and we beat them by 25 at home so we knew what to expect when we came up here; we knew what to do,” Gillespie said.
Calais pulled away in the second half, using a 10-3 surge in the third quarter to make it a 15-point contest and end the suspense. Houlton was beset by turnovers in the final period and managed only one point.
The Blue Devils took a 29-20 lead into the locker room at halftime after dominating play in the paint during the first 16 minutes.
Gillespie scored nine points with her strong play in the post and also grabbed nine rebounds to give Calais an inside presence the Shiretowners could not counter.
The Blue Devils outrebounded Houlton 22-9 and grabbed 11 offensive boards. Calais also was able to get into the paint off the dribble and made four 3-pointers against the Shires’ box-and-one and player-to-player defenses.
Houlton was able to hang tough behind its perimeter shooting, which also included four 3-pointers. However, the Shires were unable to get the ball into the paint or on the baseline against an active 2-3 zone employed by the Blue Devils.
Calais seized the upper hand with an 11-3 run that began in the final minute of the first quarter. Kate Cundiff scored from down low off an Olivia Smith feed, then Gillespie sank a foul shot.
McVicar followed by sandwiching 3-pointers around a 3 by Houlton’s Katie Condon, then Gillespie connected from underneath to give the Blue Devils a 20-12 lead with 5:37 left in the first half.