AUGUSTA, Maine — Top-ranked Oxford Hills of South Paris used talent and tenacity to build a lead against Deering of Portland in their Class AA North girls basketball semifinal Tuesday evening.
But it took composure and a late run of free-throw success to finally put the fourth-seeded Rams away.
Senior center Tiana Sugars scored four of her team-high 13 points in the final 72 seconds of play as Oxford Hills pulled away late for a 45-35 victory at the Augusta Civic Center.
“It was just total composure from our players,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier, whose team saw Deering close to within two points on five different second-half occasions but did not relinquish the lead.
“It’s all them. You get out there, and it’s crazy. They can’t hear me, and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, but total credit to them. It’s an exciting win,” he said.
Oxford Hills (16-3) will play No. 2 Edward Little of Auburn in Friday night’s regional final. Edward Little (15-4) ousted No. 6 Lewiston 58-23 in Tuesday’s first semifinal. Oxford Hills, the 2014 Eastern A champion, will be seeking its second regional crown in three years.
Deering ended its season at 12-8.
Sugars also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and blocked three shots against the Rams. Junior guard Erin Morton scored nine points. Senior guard Alyssa Hanley, junior guard Erin Eastman and senior forward Jordyn Colby added six points each.
Hanley and Sugars combined to make all eight of their free throws — all during the fourth quarter.
“We’re told that we’re very strong free-throw shooters at the end, and I thought we executed well at getting fast breaks, attacking the rim and getting to the line,” said Hanley.
Junior guard Tashia Titherington paced Deering with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Junior center Amanda Brett added nine points and five rebounds.
Oxford Hills, which defeated Deering 44-37 in their only regular season meeting on Jan. 18 at South Paris, used 50 percent (5-of-10) shooting from beyond the 3-point arc to build a 23-16 halftime advantage.
That compared with just six total field goals made by Deering, which shot just 30 percent from the field during the first two quarters.
But Deering tightened up its 3-point defense after intermission, and the entire game tightened up.
An inside move by Brett, a banked-in jumper from the key by Abi Ramirez and a free throw by Titherington narrowed the Rams’ deficit to 27-25 midway through the third period, the first of five times Deering got that close.
A layup by Brett after Ramirez’s dribble penetration pulled Deering within 33-31 with 5:12 left in the contest, but Morton countered with a drive and a free throw to extend the Oxford Hills lead back to 36-31.
Neither team settled for jump shots late in the game, with a drive by Titherington producing two free throws that made it 37-35 with 2:34 left.
After two missed free throws by Eastman, Deering had a chance to take the lead or tie but lost the ball out of bounds in the front court.
Colby converted a press-beating drive to make it a four-point game, and Sugars then induced a player-control foul against Titherington.
Sugars and Hanley followed with two free throws each to give Oxford Hills a three-possession lead with 49 seconds left, and Sugars added two more from the line in the final seconds.
In the early game, Edward Little showed off scoring balance to record the win as Emily Jacques scored 15 points. Piper Norcross, Karli Stubbs and Jordyn Reynolds each put in 13.
Kristina Blais and Alasia Branche each scored seven points to lead Lewiston.