AUGUSTA, Maine — Top-ranked and undefeated Skowhegan used its collective experience and smothering defense to subdue No. 5 Messalonskee of Oakland 58-37 in its Class A North girls basketball semifinal Tuesday night at the Augusta Civic Center.
“Our biggest thing was our intensity level,” Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc said. “We came out a little flat against Camden [Hills of Rockport in the quarters]. Tonight we worked on being ready to go, to focus and to match their intensity and I was very proud of the way we came out and played.”
Senior forward Annie Cooke, a 1,000-point career scorer for the Indians, worked the lane for a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
And while Skowhegan features five starting seniors in Cooke, Sydney Ames, Sydney Reed, Alyssa Everett and Mariah Dunbar, the future looks bright, too, as 5-foot-11 freshman Jaycie Christopher came off the bench to contribute 17 points, 10 in the first half.
“She’s a special kid,” LeBlanc said. “She really understands the game, which probably makes her a step better than the kids she plays against, and she breaks down the game.
“She’ll probably go home and watch this game tonight to see what she could have done better.”
Skowhegan (20-0) advances to Friday’s 7 p.m. regional championship game against second-ranked Hampden Academy, a 50-36 winner over No. 3 Lawrence of Fairfield in Tuesday night’s first semifinal.
Skowhegan owns two regular-season victories over Hampden, 50-35 at Hampden last Dec. 18 and 51-27 at Skowhegan on Jan. 21.
Messalonskee, which edged Skowhegan 52-49 in last year’s semifinals, ends its season with an 11-9 record.
Junior forward Gabrielle Wener led the Eagles offensively with 11 points.
Skowhegan defeated Messalonskee twice during the regular season, 62-40 at Oakland on Jan. 13 and 70-45 at Skowhegan on Feb. 5.
The third meeting of the winter may have been more defensive-minded, but the outcome was the same.
Skowhegan came out applying considerable defensive pressure, forcing eight turnovers in the first quarter alone while building a 14-3 lead.
“Our defense all comes together if we all talk and work as a team, and I think we did a very good job with that tonight,” said Ames, who finished with eight points.
Messalonskee began to find some offense rhythm during the second quarter, but there was no gaining ground on the Indians as they maintained a 29-16 halftime cushion.
“We played really well as a team,” Cooke said. “We were just pumping each other up and keeping after it.”