ORONO, Maine — With three girls at 6 feet tall and a fourth at 5-10, Orono High School girls basketball coach Jessica Witham knew her squad had a height advantage over rival Old Town on Thursday night.
It took a while, but the Red Riots were able to to take advantage of their edge eventually.
Six-foot senior forward Jillian Woodward poured in 18 points and grabbed 18 rebounds as Orono downed Old Town 56-39 at the Orono High gym.
“Against Old Town, we know we’re going to face a tough defense,” said Witham. “We had to adjust, and the focus of our game plan was to get the ball inside.”
The tallest Coyote starter is 5-8 center Brooke Cole and their tallest player is 5-10 backup center Kate Rawson.
“Teams have noticed our lack of interior defense,” said Old Town coach Dana Maxim. “They have a height advantage on us, and Jillian, she can play.”
The Coyotes are scrappy, though.
“We knew they have quick hands and like to double down,” said Woodward.
The Red Riots, who jumped to the top of the Eastern Maine Class C girls hoop points with their ninth win in 10 games, struggled early against the energetic defense of the Class B Coyotes (5-5).
Holding only a three-point edge after the first quarter, Orono kept pounding the ball inside to Woodward, 6-foot Katie Sypher and 5-10 Katie Smith, while guards Elea Kass and Hannah Clement popped from outside.
“We are fortunate we have a strong post and guards who can shoot the 3[-pointer],” said Witham. “If teams cover the post, they can pass it out for a 3. If they cover the 3, the guards can pass it into the post.”
An 18-2 run from the last 5:07 of the second quarter through the first 2:33 of the third gave Orono a 38-15 edge, and the Red Riots turned back one last Old Town charge that cut the margin to 13.
“At Old Town [a 56-49 Orono victory], they came back from 15 down,” said Woodward. “We knew we had to set the tone early in the second half and that’s what we did.”
A free throw from Woodward, a hoop by Sypher to close the third quarter and a 3-pointer by Clement to start the fourth put Orono back in firm control.
“They’re tenacious and very well disciplined,” said Maxim.
Maxim felt the game got away from the Coyotes in the second quarter as Cole started collecting fouls. She picked up her third with 2:19 left before halftime and didn’t return to the floor until well after the start of the third quarter.
“They shoot very well, and we committed a lot of fouls in the first half,” said Kelsey Maxim, the coach’s daughter and a senior captain for the Coyotes.
Smith finished with 11 points and five offensive rebounds for Orono, and Sypher added 10 points.
“Katie Smith is our silent weapon,” said Witham. “She gets offensive rebounds and she makes good passes. She knows the direction we need to go in.”
Cole, Kelsey Maxim and Kelsey Hesseltine scored six points each to lead the Coyotes.
Old Town jumped ahead 8-5 on two baskets by Cole and one each from Kayla Madden and Lauren Martin, but the Red Riots gained the upper hand with six straight points — a free throw each from Woodward and Sypher and baskets from Smith and Woodward to take an 11-8 edge. Orono never trailed again.