BANGOR, Maine — When a basketball team has multiple weapons that can get the job done on both ends of the floor, that’s typically a recipe for championship success.
On Thursday, in the case of the Central Aroostook girls, it was junior guard Kelsey Dominique’s turn.
Dominique spearheaded a balanced Panther offense with 14 points and was a key cog on defense as fourth-ranked Central Aroostook withstood an early shooting barrage from top-ranked Southern Aroostook and pulled away for a 54-49 Class D North semifinal win at the Cross Insurance Center.
Before the 14-6 Panthers even took the floor, it was already established that Dominique was going to be a major factor for coach Cody Tompkins’ club.
“I told her, we’re going to need you today if we’re going to win this game. She rose to the occasion today,” said Tompkins, whose club will take on No. 3 Shead of Eastport in the regional final at 9:05 a.m. Saturday.
Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, which has a roster of four eighth-graders and four freshmen, finishes 14-6.
The Panthers had to withstand a Warrior shooting barrage early, as SAHS eighth-grader Makaelyn Porter scored eight of her team’s 17 first-quarter points, but that was no surprise to Central Aroostook.
“We were expecting a lot of intensity from the other team,” Dominique said. “They’re a great outside shooting team, we just had to play tough defense.”
That they did, as Central Aroostook mixed between a player-to-player and a 1-3-1 zone, and held Southern Aroostook to 32 points over the final three quarters.
“They played a 1-3-1 a little bit and when we were able to do the same thing, you kind of get that balance between trapping them and looking to pressure the ball,” said Tompkins.
While the Warriors did a solid job of handling the Panthers’ trapping tendencies, Central Aroostook was able to turn missed Warrior shots into fast-break opportunities.
Leading 29-25 at the start of the second half, Central Aroostook withstood yet another Warrior run as Southern Aroostook surged ahead 32-29 behind Sydney Brewer’s five points, but the Panthers rallied with another run and a 14-foot jumper by Molly Anthony put them ahead to stay.
The Panthers were able to surge ahead 51-37 midway through the fourth, but the Warriors lived up to their nickname and got as close as six, but could never make it a one-possession game again as Central Aroostook hit its foul shots and did a good job closing out on 3-point shooters.
Kylie Vining led all scorers with 18 points for Southern Aroostook, including 10 in the fourth quarter to help the Warriors stay within striking distance.
Ashlee Harris chipped in with 10 points for CAHS, while Anthony finished with nine and Karli Levesque and Caitlyn Harris had eight apiece.