BANGOR, Maine — In a grinding, defensive battle, the Penobscot Valley High School Howlers held off a pesky Stearns team Friday night, 41-37, in the Class C North semifinal at the Cross Insurance Center.
PVHS managed to score just three points in the third quarter, but the Minutemen struggled on the offensive end against the Howlers’ aggressive and active 1-3-1 halfcourt zone throughout until making a late comeback that fell just short.
The Howlers led throughout and by as many as 10 points, but Stearns cut the margin to two points on a Katherine Alley 3-pointer with 1:38 left in the game. On PVHS’s next trip, junior Lexi Ireland barreled in for a layup.
Alley scored again on a nifty drive to the hoop with 14 seconds left to again make it a two-point game, but Stearns was forced to foul. Laney Harding missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give Stearns one last chance. Alisyn Alley’s shot in the lane was just off the mark and Ireland put it away with two successful foul shots with two seconds left.
She ended up with 25 points with some strong moves to the basket and connected on her final six free throw attempts.
“It was how we want to play,” said PVHS coach Nathaniel Case. “Lex kind of had to take over and get to the rim. If she catches it at the high post, if they are overplaying like they did, she’s got to turn and get to the rim.”
Ireland ended up attempting 14 free throws, making 11 of them.
Teammate Emily St. Cyr was also in double digits with 11 points.
Fourth-seeded PVHS (17-4) will now play No. 2 Dexter in Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. championship game.
The Howlers’ zone was able to shut down Stearns’ Alley sisters in the first half. They combined to go 2-11 from the field and combined for just seven points.
On offense, PVHS looked often for Ireland and she delivered. She scored seven points in each half. She and sophomore Emily St. Cyr (8 points) combined for all the team’s scoring prior to intermission and they entered halftime up 23-15.
For ninth-seeded Stearns (16-5), Katie Kenyon paced the offense with 12 points in the game. Katherine Alley tallied seven of her 10 points in the final quarter.
The teams had split their regular season meetings, with PVHS winning in Millinocket way back on Dec. 10, 57-52 and Stearns winning on the Howlers’ home floor 39-31 in the rematch on Jan. 21.
“We got outworked, plain and simple. They won every loose ball,” said Stearns coach Nick Cullen. “Everything they needed to do to win they did and everything we needed to do, we didn’t. They wanted it more than we did.”
“We got things going, but it was one quarter too late.”