Sixth-ranked Skowhegan avenged a pair of regular-season losses with a 57-40 victory over No. 3 Messalonskee of Oakland in the opening game of the Class A North girls basketball quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center on Friday afternoon.
Skowhegan (10-9) advances to next Wednesday’s 2 p.m. semifinal against No. 2 Gardiner (16-3), which defeated No. 7 Medomak Valley of Waldoboro 58-30 in Friday’s second game.
Three Skowhegan players combined for 55 points, led by sophomore guard Jaycie Christopher’s game-high 29 points.
“She’s nonstop energy,” Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc said of Christopher. “I do not sub for her unless we’re winning or getting beat by quite a bit because everything we do goes through her and we need her on the floor.”
Emma Duffy added 17 points for Skowhegan while Callaway LePage chipped in nine.
Gabrielle Wener led 11-8 Messalonskee with 16 points.
“Basically it was our defensive intensity and the emotion our seniors brought into the game,” LeBlanc said. “[Senior forward] Jordan Boone didn’t score a point but I told her in the locker room she was our MVP because she set the tone defensively.
“We decided we weren’t going to let them dictate what we do, we just went right after them.”
Skowhegan built a 29-19 halftime lead, but Messalonskee rallied within 32-26 after two free throws and a fast-break layup by the 6-foot-3 Wener late in the third period.
But Skowhegan had the answer in Christopher, who hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, had a steal that led to another basket and later got back on defense to prevent a last-second Messalonskee fast break as the lower seed took a 41-30 lead into the final quarter.
“When I’m in a situation like that when they’re starting to come back, I’ve been in some games that my teams have lost because we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” Christopher said.
“Those games have helped me so that when we get in those situations I say to myself, ‘OK, play to win, don’t be afraid to fail.’ That was what was going through my head.”
Duffy made a 3-pointer and LePage added a long two-pointer as Skowhegan opened the final period with five straight points to extend its lead to 46-30 and the winners extended their run to 25-10 to build their cushion to 57-40 entering the game’s final minute.