BANGOR, Maine — Having faced each other six times over the last two seasons, there is plenty of familiarity between the Foxcroft Academy and Central girls basketball teams.
But it was a new defensive wrinkle by Ponies head coach Blake Smith that was the deciding factor as the Class B North rivals met in a quarterfinal showdown Friday night.
A 1-3-1 zone defense implemented by Foxcroft helped limit the Red Devils of Corinth to five second-half field goals as the third-seeded Ponies rode the inside play of senior center Abigail Simpson to a 52-44 victory over No. 6 Central of Corinth at the Cross Insurance Center.
Foxcroft (15-4) meets the winner of Saturday morning’s quarterfinal between No. 2 Presque Isle and No. 7 John Bapst on Feb. 22, while Central finishes at 14-6.
The two teams had split their regular-season meetings.
The Ponies roared out to a 12-0 lead in the first five-plus minutes as Central missed its first nine field-goal attempts.
Central was able to battle back in the second quarter thanks to the play of Sydney Allen, who scored eight of her game-high 24 points in that span, all from the foul line. Her aggressive dribble-penetration was able to force the Ponies into foul trouble.
The Red Devils trailed by two at halftime, and coach Diane Rollins’ club was able to take a two-point lead early in the third quarter on a perimeter shot by Allen.
But Simpson responded with a 3-pointer of her own, and the Ponies held the Red Devils to just two field goals for the remainder of the contest.
Simpson’s perimeter bucket ignited a quarter-ending 12-4 run that gave the Ponies some breathing room.
“Abby really stepped up and was finishing a lot of stuff around the basket for us,” said Smith. “She’s a tough post player.”
Simpson scored 11 of her 19 points in the second half, and the Red Devils had no answers for her penetration.
“Previously this season we’ve had trouble getting it into the post, but we worked on it in practice a little bit,” Simpson said.
Abbi Bourget gave the Ponies some balance on offense with 10 points, and Foxcroft’s zone held Allen to just one field goal in the fourth quarter.
“Sydney Allen is so quick off the dribble, we talked about it all week in practice to try to keep her in front,” Smith said. “She’s got such a quick first step.”
That was a factor in Allen’s getting Foxcroft in some early foul trouble in the second quarter, but no other Central player finished in double figures in scoring.
“We had never used that against them before,” Smith said, referring to the 1-3-1.
“I think we worked well together as a unit,” Simpson said.