Central Aroostook didn’t have long to prepare for Saturday night’s Class C North girls basketball championship game against Stearns.
Rather than overevaluate their opponent, the Panthers simply went out and did what they do best.
Sixth-seeded Central Aroostook of Mars Hill followed the aggressive lead of junior point guard Maci Beals in attacking the basket and cashed in from the foul line while earning a 61-55 victory over No. 1 Stearns of Millinocket at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise that we played back to back [nights] because I didn’t have time to overthink it and we played the way we played all year and we did it almost perfect,” CAHS coach Dillon Kingsbury said.
Central Aroostook (18-4) plays South champion Winthrop (19-2) in next Saturday’s 7 p.m. state title game at the Augusta Civic Center.
The top-seeded Minutemen from Millinocket wound up 18-3.
Beals utilized her aggressiveness and playmaking skills to serve as the catalyst for the Panthers. She tossed in a game-high 22 points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Beals went 10-for-12 from the foul line amid Central Aroostook’s 19-for-29 performance.
“Coach tells me to run the floor, so that’s what I do,” the savvy guard said. “I try to find my teammates and set up my own shot, anything that can help us out.”
Junior Libby Grass connected for four 3-pointers on her way to 20 points for the winners, while senior Bre Bradbury took care of things close to the basket with 12 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Kira Fitzherbert added eight points and six rebounds and Sydney Garrison played a solid two-way game. CAHS used only five players as sophomore guard Liberty Fulton was home with the flu.
Stearns had ended the Panthers’ title hopes in the 2019 quarterfinals. CAHS prevailed this time by playing a style similar to that of the Minutemen.
“It was exactly what everybody thought we couldn’t do: Run with them, shoot with them, drive it,” Kingsbury said. “That’s what they do well, but we do it pretty well, too.”
Stearns was in the game throughout thanks to the dynamic play of senior guard Katie Alley, who connected for 21 points, 14 of which came in the first half. Katie Kenyon tallied 13 points and five rebounds and Kasey Kenyon provided eight points and a game-high 18 rebounds.
Alisyn Alley (9 rebounds, 3 assists) added seven points and Annalys Robinson (3 rebounds, 4 blocks) had six points for the Minutemen.
Stearns led by as many as seven points early behind the play of Katie Alley, but CAHS prevailed thanks to a strong fourth quarter.
With the Panthers up three to open the period, Beals was the aggressor. She sandwiched a runner from the lane and a 3-pointer around a 3 by Kenyon, then she and Fitzherbert made a free throw each to give them a 51-43 advantage with 5:27 remaining.
Kasey Kenyon scored twice from underneath as Stearns sliced the deficit to 54-50 with 2:39 to play, but Beals made sure the Panthers prevailed. She knocked down a 15-footer, then made three of four from the foul line in the next two possessions to make it a nine-point contest with 1:14 left.
“I feel awesome,” Beals said. “This is our goal. We’ve been waiting for this.”