CORINTH, Maine — Tournament time brings with it a sense of urgency unlike the 18 regular-season games that precede it, for a single loss now marks the end of a team’s championship quest.
Sixth-ranked Central of Corinth experienced some of that uncertainty Tuesday evening but shook off a rocky shooting start to defeat No. 11 Washington Academy of East Machias 43-32 in a Class B North preliminary-round contest.
“We just kept shooting, and eventually, we started making them,” said Central junior guard Sydney Allen, who scored a game-high 18 points as Central shot 11 of 23 (48 percent) from the field in the second half after making just four of 27 tries (15 percent) before intermission.
“Coach [Diane Rollins] just said to keep shooting and keep your head up and keep doing what you know how to do,” she said.
The victory advances the Red Devils (14-5) to the regional quarterfinal against No. 3 Foxcroft Academy (14-4) at 8 p.m. Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Those teams split two regular-season meetings with Foxcroft winning 42-38 at Dover-Foxcroft on Dec. 28, 2016, and Central winning the rematch 49-39 in their regular-season finale on Feb. 8 — a result that marked Rollins’ 200th coaching victory at her alma mater.
Washington Academy ended its season at 6-13.
While better accuracy on the offensive end proved pivotal as Central outscored Washington Academy 23-14 after intermission, so did a defensive switch from zone to player-to-player after Washington Academy senior Rylea Steeves scored all of her team’s points during a 9-9 first-quarter stalemate and then buried a 3-pointer early in the second period to give her team a three-point lead.
With Central senior Emma Campbell given the defensive assignment on Steeves, the Washington Academy forward did not score again until after the Red Devils had built a 42-26 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
“Emma’s just everywhere, she makes things happen,” said Rollins, 201-116 in her 16 years as Central’s head coach. “She has great ball sense, a good IQ for basketball, and she just works hard. She might not light it up in the scoring department, but she’s that player on the court who really is the glue for our defense.”
That defensive switch helped spark a run of 16 points late in the first half and early in the third quarter that enabled the Red Devils to take control.
Central, which missed its first six free throws of the night, made six straight to close out the second quarter and turn an 18-14 deficit into a 20-18 lead.
The Red Devils got its offense going full tilt immediately after the break, with Allen and senior forward Libby Cook each scoring twice as Central made its first four field-goal tries and stretched its lead to 28-18.
Campbell then scored from the lane before Washington Academy’s River Hodgdon hit a jumper from the wing to end her team’s scoreless drought of more than five minutes, but the Raiders got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“It seemed like there was a lid on the basket, but I told them, ‘We’re a good team, and they’ll start falling,’” said Rollins. “They started to relax more, and halftime was really good for us because we talked through some things that were going on, and obviously we came out for the third quarter ready to play.”
Allen also contributed eight rebounds, five assists and three steals for Central, Cook scored 11 points, and Campbell had six points and eight rebounds.
Steeves finished with 16 points for Washington Academy. Paige Richardson added six points and nine rebounds for coach Vincent Emery’s Raiders, and Caitlyn Lyons scored five points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.