BANGOR, Maine — A dominant inside game led by junior Meg Jellison and a new defense lifted No. 3 Fort Fairfield to a 45-29 victory over No. 7 Van Buren in an Eastern Maine Class D girls basketball semifinal Thursday at the Cross Insurance Center.

Fort Fairfield (19-2) will face top-seeded and four-time defending state champion Washburn, a 70-28 winner over Machias, for the regional crown at 9:05 a.m. on Saturday.

Jellison, a 5-foot-8 forward, had 19 points and 12 rebounds while teaming with frontcourt mate Teresa Maynard (eight points, six rebounds) to control the inside play.

Fort Fairfield outrebounded Van Buren 31-22, with that advantage coming primarily on the offensive boards and enabling the Tigers to generate 22 more field-goal attempts than the Crusaders.

“It was pretty nice to have both of us get some boards and some baskets inside,” said Jellison.

Junior point guard Chelsey Pelkey was Fort Fairfield’s primary facilitator, dishing out nine assists to go with 10 points and four steals.

“We haven’t had to have her score 20 a game because everyone else is scoring eight, 10 or 12 points here and there,” said Fort Fairfield coach Larry Gardner. “It’s good balance, and Chelsey gets them the ball as long as they’re paying attention.”

Fort Fairfield used a combination defense that Gardner labeled “a reverse triangle-and-two” with great success.

Three of the Tigers played player-to-player defense to go with a two-person zone in the lane, and that half-court set combined with effective Tigers’ full-court pressure to induce 22 Van Buren turnovers while limiting standout Felisha Bouchard to 11 points on just eight shot attempts.

“It’s a new defense we’ve been working on, and I think it worked really well,” said Jellison.

Fort Fairfield scored the game’s first six points before Van Buren (15-6) rallied for a 9-8 lead at the end of the opening period.

A 3-pointer by Pelkey gave Fort Fairfield the lead for good at the outset of the second quarter and ignited an 8-0 run that enabled the Tigers to take a 19-13 lead into intermission.

Fort Fairfield then outscored Van Buren 14-1 at the start of the second half to build a 33-14 cushion on a midrange jumper by Jellison with 4:06 left in the third quarter.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...