BANGOR, Maine — The Presque Isle girls basketball team was on a mission this season, win the Eastern Maine Class B tournament.
That goal was accomplished Saturday when the top-seeded Wildcats downed two-time defending East champ and No. 2 seed Nokomis of Newport 52-40 in a battle of unbeatens at the Bangor Auditorium.
The Wildcats’ victory avenged semifinal losses to Nokomis the past two years, but PI coach Jeff Hudson said the Wildcats were just determined to win.
“It didn’t matter if it was Nokomis or whoever, we wanted to win the Eastern Maine championship,” he said.
Presque Isle (21-0) will face West titlist Lake Region of Bridgton in Friday’s state game at 7:05 p.m. at the Bangor Auditorium.
That will be a rematch of the 2006 state final, won by Presque Isle 48-36. The 19-2 Lakers, No. 1 in the West, defeated Greely of Cumberland Center 49-30 on Saturday at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
While the Heal points said Presque Isle and Nokomis (20-1) should meet in the EM final, learning from the tourney losses the Wildcats suffered the past two years would be the key.
“We knew … that we had to rebound better,” said Hudson. “And we mostly played zone defense [in the past] and we went to almost all man-to-man.”
The Wildcats didn’t win the rebounding, but the improvement was significant, according to Hudson.
Junior forward Meredith Stewart is the tallest ’Cat at 5-foot-11, while the other starters — seniors Chelsea Nickerson and Kayla Richards and juniors Megan Ireland and Chandler Guerrette are all listed as 5-5 guards. Freshman guard Hannah Graham (5-10), junior guard Kaylee Bernier (5-8) and freshman forward Krystal Kingsbury (5-10) also get significant time and they add a little height.
“We were giving up a lot of inches,” said Hudson. “We lost the rebounding by eight, but that’s better than 20 like the last couple of years.”
Defensively, Nickerson guarded Nokomis senior guard and top scorer Marissa Shaw.
“Nickerson is a great defensive player and she answered the challenge,” said Hudson.
Shaw finished with a game-high 14 points, but she also spent a significant amount of time on the bench after picking up two fouls in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
“Marissa is a tough, tough, tough, hard-nosed player,” said Hudson, “but Chelsea is just as tough.”
Nokomis coach Kori Dionne acknowledged the PI adjustments.
“Normally, our size is an advantage,” she said. “They did a good job taking that away from us. … They did a good job fronting our post players, and we had to work hard to get what we did.”
Guerrette and Graham powered the Presque Isle offense with 13 points and 11, respectively.
Those points included a 3-pointer each within a minute of each other in the fourth quarter and a conventional three-point play by Guerrette with 1:50 to go that put Presque Isle up 45-36.
Presque Isle closed out its scoring from the line, hitting seven of nine free throws in the last 1:15.
The loss of Shaw’s offense was particularly evident in the second quarter when the Wildcats used an 11-0 run to go from five down to six up in the space of 3 1/2 minutes.
The Wildcats held the lead for good after that.
“We gave them looks we knew we couldn’t give them,” said Dionne.
The Warriors were able to trim the margin to four with 2:22 to go in the third and to five with 7:36 in the game, but they couldn’t get enough offensive possessions after Presque Isle slowed the game down considerably in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t want to force shots,” said Richards. “We were in no hurry where we had the lead.
“We knew we had to keep our composure, handle the ball well and not throw away the win.”
Richards ended with seven points for the Wildcats, and Kingsbury and Ireland each had six.
Sophomore guard Kelsie Richards posted 10 points for Nokomis, and sophomore center Anna Mackenzie added eight.