BANGOR, Maine — After watching Fort Fairfield’s Taylor Churchill and Chelsey Pelkey light up Calais earlier this week, Penobscot Valley girls basketball coach Joe Cyr knew he had to roll the dice defensively.
Cyr’s Howlers threw every dynamic defense possible from triangle and two’s to box-and-one’s at the Tigers’ stars, and the gamble paid huge dividends.
The fourth-ranked Howlers limited that duo to 11 points while three different Penobscot Valley players had at least 10 points as the Howlers stunned the top-ranked Tigers with a 47-34 Class C North victory Friday at the Cross Insurance Center.
The 16-4 Howlers will appear in a regional final for the first time in at least 30 years, taking on No. 3 Narraguagus here Saturday evening while Fort Fairfield concludes its season with an 18-2 record.
The Howlers and Knights did not meet in the regular season.
Penobscot Valley broke open a close game with a 12-3 run to open the fourth quarter, with 6-foot-1 center Sam Ireland scoring eight of her game-high 14 points over that span.
Ireland was also a force on the backboards against the smaller Tigers, hauling down 15 rebounds.
“We knew we were bigger,” said Cyr, whose team last appeared in a regional semifinal in 2007, losing to Calais.
Amy Hallett had 13 points for Penobscot Valley and Elizabeth McKinnon 10 in Cyr’s balanced offense.
In addition to their stingy defensive effort, the Howlers were able to attack the basket well against an aggressive Tigers team and the result was Fort Fairfield foul trouble.
“Everybody knew they’re a very physical aggressive team, we just had to make sure we kept our cool and not play into it, and we did,” said Cyr.
Fort Fairfield’s Churchill would foul out early in the fourth quarter, allowing the Howlers to shift their defensive focus to Pelkey.
“When Churchill fouled out, we just worked our zone and played a box and one on Pelkey and shut her down,” Hallett said.
Fort Fairfield would not get any closer than eight after the Howlers extended their lead to 42-31 with just under four minutes to play in regulation.
The Howlers never trailed in the second half.
“It feels amazing, it’s like no other feeling,” said Hallett. “I don’t even really believe it. It was hard-earned, and we worked really hard for it.”
The Howlers were also able to utilize their backcourt quickness to counter Fort Fairfield’s 2-2-1 zone press, and used Ireland’s presence on the interior once the Tigers’ foul trouble ballooned in the second half.
“Having a 6-foot-[1 center] definitely helps because she is really good and she is really athletic,” Hallett said.
Kayla Giberson and Pelkey had nine points apiece for Fort Fairfield while Teresa Maynard added eight.