Edward Little girls’ basketball: Defense silences Skowhegan standout

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AUGUSTA — Amanda Johnson wore Skowhegan’s black road jersey, decked out with orange numerals.

As the senior guard slashed around the Augusta Civic Center court Wednesday afternoon, though, she might as well have been marked with a halo underneath her feet, like in a video game.

Or with a comet trailing from her shoulders, like the failed, flaming hockey puck special effect of yesteryear.

Perhaps a red arrow pointing her out to the Edward Little defense with the words “she is here” flashing in neon above her head.

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If anybody beat the Red Eddies in the Eastern Class A semifinals, it wasn’t going to be Johnson.

“We talked about not letting the best player hurt you,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “If some other kid steps up and has 12 points, God bless them.”

Johnson, who erupted for 27 points in an overtime quarterfinal victory over Mt. Blue, was contained to a nearly silent seven. EL kept her off the scoreboard for the entire first half and for the first five minutes of the third quarter.

And that secondary scorer Jipson and the Eddies were willing to concede? She never showed up.

Nobody reached double figures for Skowhegan, while EL’s transition-fueled offense put four players into that category in a 54-34 rout.

“Our defense was amazing tonight,” EL junior Ashlee Arnold said. “We played with great intensity. We were incredible.”

Skowhegan was 5-for-29 from the field in the first half. EL used a run of 13 unanswered points to snag a 19-15 lead, and the Red Eddies launched the third quarter with another six straight to begin the process of putting it away early.

The Eddies’ weapon of choice was its matchup zone, an approach that had a different player shadowing Johnson at every turn.

Arnold and Tianna Harriman were terrific, but the player Johnson might see in her sleep is junior Kate Sawyer. The 5-foot-5 Sawyer matched Arnold with a team-high 12 points, but her six steals, six rebounds and two blocked shots loomed even larger.

“The adrenaline was pumping a little,” Sawyer said. “(Johnson) is a great player. She’s worked her butt off all four years. We needed to stop her. That was the key. We worked on it a lot. We just have a great bunch of girls who get it done in practice and that leads into our game.”

Even when Johnson did finally get on the board, it required a painstaking effort.

Arnold and Sawyer each got a hand on the ball, briefly knocking it free before Johnson recovered it and sank a heavily contested shot.

By the time Johnson ended her personal shutout, EL led 31-19.

“Edward Little did what they do. I thought we handled their pressure OK,” Skowhegan coach Heath Cowan said. “I thought we settled for some shots early in the possessions a little bit. It’s going to happen. Kids get excited. We made those shots the other day. On any given day we’re going to make more of those shots that we missed today.

“They didn’t really do anything special. Amanda got her looks, got her shots, but today they didn’t fall.”

Maybe not, but the Red Eddies got special contributions from many on the defensive end.

Kennedy Hubbard, Kory Norcross, Arnold and Kelly Philbrook all made steals.

Crissy Lewis collected seven defensive rebounds, enduring that Skowhegan possessions were one-and-done most of the day.

“In practice we’ve been switching on screens,” Arnold said. “We have to get through those screens. We’re trying to get tough to get through those screens. Once we started talking on defense it kind of motivated us more.”

Five EL opponents never got out of the 20s this season. Those clamps got even tighter as the calendar moved into February.

“I think the key is we started out 0-2, and counting (a loss in) the KVAC championship we’ve won 17 of the last 19,” Jipson said. “They’ve got it rolling, they’re having fun and they don’t want to put their uniforms away.”

They are here: The Eastern Maine finals.

koakes@sunjournal.com

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