AUGUSTA — Sometimes they fall. Sometimes they fail.
That’s the unpredictable life of a shooting team. There will be nights that shots rain down with ease. Then other games, a basket proves frustratingly elusive.
Wednesday, that was the case for Skowhegan and Edward Little. Both teams fired up the shots, but only the Red Eddies could find some consistency. EL outshot the Indians for a 54-34 Eastern A semifinal win.
The Red Eddies advance to the regional final for the first time in 10 years.
“It’s great,” said junior guard Ashlee Arnold. “It feels amazing. I’m pumped to play in it.”
EL plays Friday night at 7:05 at the Augusta Civic Center. They’ll meet top-ranked Cony for the fourth time this season.
EL has lost the previous three meetings with the Rams and also lost in all four regional final appearances in 2002, 2001, 1992 and 1991.
“This is my 15th year varsity coaching, and I’ve had a lot of good teams,” said EL coach Craig Jipson. “This is the first regional final that I get to coach in.”
The Indians were coming off a thrilling overtime comeback and overtime win against Mt. Blue. EL was prepared for hard-nosed Skowhegan’s play and was determined to put a damper in the play of Amanda Johnson.
“We played them in a preseason game at the Augusta Civic Center,” said Arnold. “We kind of knew what their game was. We knew Amanda Johnson was a great player and 3-point shooter. We knew we needed to stop her.”
Johnson was held to just seven points. She missed her first nine shots of the game and didn’t score until the second half. That was indicative of Skowhegan’s day. The Indians shot just 5-for-30 in the first half.
“She has a shooter’s mentality,” said Skowhegan coach Heath Cowan of Johnson. “You keep missing, you have to keep taking the shot. You have to be willing to take it. Part of the responsibility in taking that shot is you’ve got to be able to take the shot and miss. I think she does that. She knows we need her to score points.”
It frustrated the Indians early on. Though EL (18-2) didn’t shoot the lights out, going 5-for-24 in the first half, the Red Eddies hit some shots that opened up a lead.
Arnold and Kory Norcross each had 12 for EL. Kate Sawyer added 11 while Brooke Reynolds chipped in 10.
“Hats of to EL,” said Cowan. “Kate Sawyer made a bunch of shots today. Quite frankly, they were the better team today.”
Cheyenne Malloy and Adriana Martineau each had eight for Skowhegan (12-8).
Despite a slow start offensively, EL broke a 7-7 tie with a 10-0 run to end the first quarter. After Reynolds sank two free throws, Sawyer scored on a steal. Arnold hit a short jumper and then was fouled taking a 3 with one second left. She sank all three free throws, as EL hit seven straight from the line.
EL opened the lead to 18-7 in the second with an Arnold jumper and free throws by Reynolds, but Skowhegan made a surge that cut the lead to 19-15 at the half. Malloy had back-to-back baskets and a late foul shot by Natasha Thompson had the Indians rallying.
“It definitely made me a little nervous,” said Arnold. “We had to get back on defense. Our defense just stopped them. I couldn’t be any more proud of my team.”
EL opened the third with six straight points and a 12-2 run. EL shot 8-for-14 in the third and opened a 31-17 lead.
“I thought the baskets early in the third quarter were huge,” said Jipson. “We struggled in the third quarter the other day, and it was absolutely huge to start the half that way.”
After a Reynolds rebound, Arnold and Sawyer both hit jumpers. Skowhegan got a basket by Thompson, but a pair of hoops from Norcross and a bucket by Reynolds had EL in command.
“They made a little bit of a run,” said Jipson. “I keep telling the girls, ‘You’ve won 17 games now. You know how to win. Don’t panic. Don’t freak out.'”
Norcross had seven points in the third while Sawyer and Reynolds added five and four respectively. Then in the fourth, EL finished it off. Tianna Harriman proved to be the closer again with six points. Sawyer had five while Reynolds, Kennedy Hubbard and Norcross all sank free throws down the stretch.
“They hit some shots,” said Jipson. “They’re still young. Some still tend to panic some. All we talked about at halftime was to go have fun and enjoy the moment.”