BREWER, Maine — A big strength for the Bangor High School girls basketball team are the two 6-foot-2 girls who figure prominently underneath the basket offensively and defensively — sophomores Mary Butler and Cordelia Stewart.
But when Butler picked up her second foul one minute into Monday night’s game with archrival Brewer at the Brewer High gym, Bangor coach Katie Herbine didn’t hesitant to get even younger on the front line.
Freshman Sarah Bragg came off the bench to score a dozen points and help propel the Rams to a 61-57 victory over the Witches.
“When you come in as a freshman, it’s frightening,” said Herbine. “Now that the semester is coming to a close and we’re nearing the second half of the season, she’s starting to feel more comfortable.”
Bragg mentioned the same thing.
“I feel really comfortable with these girls,” she said. “There’s a lot of support on the bench and from the fans.”
Bragg, even at 5-6, is a good substitute for Butler, according to Herbine. She uses Butler at power forward and guard.
“[Bragg] can play both the 3 [small forward] and the 4 [power forward],” said Herbine. “She’s doing a great job.”
Starting senior forward Rachel Taft also picked up the pace for the Rams, scoring 13 points.
Brewer tried to take the game to the Rams right from the start.
“Our plan was to attack early and as often as possible,” said Brewer coach Andy Nickerson.
Freshman center Emily Gilmore and senior forward Morgan Small tried hard to create havoc against the Rams and points for the Witches.
Butler’s foul trouble was partly a result of that plan, and Stewart also locked up two fouls in the first quarter, just not as quickly.
“We got their kids in foul trouble,” said Nickerson.
The Witches scored 10 points in the final 1:05 of the first quarter to take a 17-14 lead, but the momentum swung back and forth through the second quarter and the first half of the third.
Eventually, the Rams settled down.
“They withstood everything we threw at them,” Nickerson said.
Stewart started swatting shots more effectively in the second half, including four blocks in a two-minute stretch of the third quarter.
Bangor stretched the lead to six points a couple of times, and the Witches came back each time.
“I have said all along, get the ball inside, then go out; get it inside, then go outside,” said Herbine.
“We started to go a little crazy with the ball when the crowd got loud, but once we started to hold onto the ball and get some good shots, then we hung in.”
Bangor’s defense forced Brewer to try a lot of 3-pointers as the game wound down in the fourth quarter.
“It all starts with our defense,” said Bragg. “Once we get the defense going, it’s all smooth.”
The Witches’ Alexa Grindle made the Bangor ride a little bumpy with her shooting in the fourth.
With 1:03 remaining, Grindle poured in eight points in 30 seconds while Bangor (6-2) added only a Butler free throw as Brewer (4-4) trimmed the Rams’ lead to 59-57 with 33.1 seconds to go.
Grindle missed another 3 with 26.8 left that would have given the Witches the lead.
After two free throws by Bangor’s Denae Johnson in two separate trips to the line, Lindsay Houp’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer fell short.
Johnson led the Rams with 15 points, Stewart added 10 and Butler nine.
Grindle topped all scorers with 25 points for the Witches, including five 3-pointers. Small posted 13 points and Gilmore nine.
Nickerson saw a bright spot for his Witches.
“The kids are getting some competitive confidence,” he said. “I hope [they] feed off what they did tonight.”