AUGUSTA – When Dirigo’s turnovers began to decrease, so did the offensive chances for Livermore Falls.

Despite a poor start, the Dirigo girls’ basketball team quickly got down to business Thursday in its Western C semifinal with the Andies. The first priority was to buck up on defense. Second on the list was to take care of the ball. When the Cougars did both, it turned an early deficit into a lead that Dirigo wouldn’t lose in a 55-43 victory.

The second-ranked Cougars (17-3) advance to their 12th straight regional championship game Saturday to face top-seeded Hall-Dale.

“We just tried to get the energy up,” said junior guard Katie Hutchinson. “We were really low on energy coming into the game, I thought. We were hustling, but we weren’t as alert as we usually are. We tried to get everybody’s energy up. We tried to cheer, and we had an awesome crowd today and tried to draw energy from the crowd.”

Down 10-2 to start the game, the first proof of a revitalized Cougar team came on defense when Dirigo made some stops and then chipped away offensively.

“Dirigo is all about defense,” said Hutchinson, who had 12 points for the Cougars. “That’s what our school is known for. We try to have the best defense in the state and our offense comes from defense,”

Dirigo had 10 turnovers in the first quarter and allowed Livermore’s fast-paced style to capitalize. When Dirigo settled down, the Andies (15-5) struggled from the floor in a halfcourt game, while the Cougars’ confidence grew.

“We were much more aggressive and much more assertive on the offensive end of the floor,” said Dirigo coach Gavin Kane. “Even though we had some turnovers, I thought we handled their pressure pretty well.”

Michelle Holmquist led Dirigo with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Holly Knight had another fine outing with 10 points. The Cougars also received nice contributions off the bench from Abby Fenstermacher and Nicole Kaulback.

Taryn Flagg led the Andies with 15 points while Marjorie DeBrosky added eight.

After a strong first quarter, the Andies shot just 2-for-19 in the second quarter and 3-for-15 in the third. After a Jenika Kelley rebound with 5:29 left in the half had the Andies down 16-15, Livermore Falls didn’t hit another field goal until a minute into the third quarter.

“We came out of the gate smoking,” said Andies coach Frank Donald. “I liked the start. I liked our chances. We played well, but we could have played better. Turnovers, and I think the kids could have been a little more aggressive taking it to the hole. We shot more from the outside than we should have.”

Knight helped rally the Cougars in the first quarter with back-to-back hoops. Shannon Daley scored on a rebound, and Holmquist hit a pair of free throws to tie it 10-10.

Dirigo hit six of its first seven shots in the second quarter and built a 24-15 lead. After the Andies final field goal of the quarter, the Cougars ran off eight straight. After two Holmquist foul shots, Kaulback fed Knight and Holmquist inside. Holmquist added another pair of free throws.

The Cougars started getting outside production from Kaulback and Fenstermacher in the third, growing the lead to 16. Though the Andies ran off eight straight to start the fourth and closed to within 47-39, the Cougars put it away from the free throw line. Hutchinson hit seven straight to open the lead.

“We had a two-minute span there where we got a little careless with the ball and got a little tentative,” said Kane.” After that, I thought we handled the game in the fourth quarter with poise. Katie did a nice job during that stretch hitting the free throws.”

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