Having knocked down 27 points Friday afternoon, Skowhegan’s star senior guard left no doubt who would receive both the ball and Mt. Blue’s double or triple defensive attention with her team down a point in the closing seconds of overtime.
That left junior Chelsey Whittemore open for the second half of the penetrate-and-pitch. Whittemore cashed in off the window with less than three seconds remaining, capping No. 6 Skowhegan’s sensational comeback to a 56-55 victory over No. 3 Mt. Blue in the Eastern Class A girls’ quarterfinals at Augusta Civic Center.
“We’ve always had trouble with layups, so we’ve worked on passing it inside over and over again,” Johnson said. “We feel like if we don’t get the first one, we’ll get the next one, and we got the layup that counted.”
Skowhegan (12-7) trailed by 17 points and was shut out in the second quarter before Johnson scored 19 of her 27 in the second half and overtime.
Junior Adriana Martineau added 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Indians. Whittemore finished with seven points, all post-intermission.
“As the second half went on, you could see our kids settle in a little bit,” Skowhegan coach Heath Cowan said. “You could see the confidence growing. You have to respect that in our kids. We just kept working.”
And the collars tightened just a smidgen for Mt. Blue (12-7), which had made a huge early splash in ending a long tourney absence.
The Cougars were 3-for-16 from the field in the second half. Only an 11-for-13 showing from the free-throw line, aided by an early double bonus, allowed the Cougars to extend the game.
‘We didn’t do anything differently. I thought they stepped it up. We didn’t give them anything,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “We battled back and battled back and it went back-and-forth. We didn’t feel the game was over at halftime. I’ve seen them do it too many times.”
Gabby Foy led Mt. Blue with 17 points on the strength of five 3-pointers, punctuated by two in overtime.
Further evidence of the ebb and flow: Miranda Nicely scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half for the Cougars. All nine of Amy Hilton’s points came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
There were 16 lead changes — 13 in the final 12 minutes — and six ties.
“It wasn’t so much a coaching adjustment as an attitude adjustment,” Cowan said of Skowhegan‘s rally. “The kids came out in the second half and played aggressive. We were playing to win the game. We came out with an energy that we didn’t have in the first half.”
Skowhegan snagged its initial lead of the fourth quarter on Whittemore’s inside bucket with 7:10 to go.
Four straight free throws from Hilton and Makenzie Conlogue and a Hilton hoop helped produce a 45-41 Mt. Blue lead under the three-minute mark. But hurried shots and turnovers continued taking their toll. The Indians pulled even again when Taylor Johnson and Natasha Thompson went 4-of-4 from the line.
Two free throws by Foy and a Martineau second-chance bucket kept it even and set up a chance for both teams to win it in the final 10 seconds of regulation.
Amanda Johnson was called for a five-second violation. Hilton lost her footing near half court on Mt. Blue’s possession, fumbling the ball out of bounds.
Foy’s 3-pointer from in front of her own bench gave Mt. Blue a 55-54 cushion with 40 seconds left in OT. It looked like the final volley in a furious overtime after a Corinne Dingley steal for the Cougars.
But a traveling call — Mt. Blue’s 27th turnover — set up Johnson and Whittemore’s fateful connection.
“They feel very bad. Sometimes you’ve got to take care of the ball. I don’t feel we did at times,” Philbrick said. “Fifteen seconds left and we get a travel. It just happens. We turned the ball over two or three times when we shouldn’t, and so did Skowhegan.”
Eighteen offensive rebounds in the second half and overtime helped Skowhegan overcome its 30 percent shooting and the daunting 29-12 halftime deficit.
Of 14 Skowhegan possessions in the second quarter, six ended in a missed field goal, six with a turnover and two with a failed free throw.
All was forgiven and forgotten less than an hour later.
“In practice we preach that defense is what gets us started, and once we make one stop we make another one,” Johnson said.
Mt. Blue had a final chance to set up a desperation heave after Whittemore’s overtime basket, but its player stepped over the baseline while delivering the inbounds pass.
Skowhegan quickly got the ball to Johnson, and she dribbled out the remaining time.