BANGOR, Maine — The Shead High School girls basketball team from Eastport parlayed a dominant performance on the boards and a highly effective 3-2 zone into their first Class D North championship since 1999 by virtue of a hard-fought 44-37 win over Central Aroostook of Mars Hill on Saturday morning.

Senior guard Cierra Seeley had 14 points and grabbed five rebounds, and sophomore forward Cassidy Wilder came off the bench to score 11 points and pull down a game-high 12 rebounds to lead third seed Shead past the fourth-seeded Panthers.

The taller Tigers outrebounded Central Aroostook 44-24 and advanced to Saturday’s state final against South champ Rangeley at the Augusta Civic Center.

“This was probably the best game we’ve played all year,” said junior guard Katelyn Mitchell, who had six points, 11 rebounds and three steals.

“Rebounding wins games and that’s what we did today,” said senior guard Holly Preston. “We played a very solid 3-2 zone, and they couldn’t score on it — just like the other teams we’ve played lately.”

Shead limited its opponents to 31.3 points per game in its three tournament wins.

“The key to every game is our defense,” said Seeley.

Preston contributed eight points, all in the second half, and a game-high six assists while also doing excellent job handling the ball against the Panther press, as did Seeley.

Brooke Robinson chipped in six rebounds and three assists to go with her two points, and Hannah Link collared five rebounds in approximately five minutes of playing time for 15-6 Shead.

Senior guard and 1,000-point scorer Karli Levesque scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for 14-7 Central Aroostook and freshman guard Ashlee Harris had 12 points, five rebounds and two steals. Kassidy Levesque, Karli’s sophomore sister, had six points and two steals and Molly Anthony finished with five rebounds and two assists along with two points.

“They’re the best team we’ve played,” said Karli Levesque. “They had a lot of height and they were quicker getting to rebounds. They worked hard on defense. You have to give them props.”

Central Aroostook scored the game’s first five points, but Seeley had all seven points in a 7-2 run that tied it.

Shead took the lead for good with a 12-4 run to close out the first half, which game the Tigers a 22-15 halftime lead.

Wilder had nine of the 12 points.

“We work on rebounding a lot in practice,” said Wilder, who had four of her rebounds in the second quarter.

Preston came alive in the third quarter, scoring six points to help Shead build the lead to 36-22.

“I didn’t score in the first half, but my team took over and played great. As soon as I got my first points in the second half, it got me going,” said Preston.

The Panthers never quit and cut the lead to seven on a Kassidy Levesque steal and layup with 1:30 left, but they couldn’t get any closer.

“We knew they would rebound well because they had a lot of size, but I was amazed at how well they shot,” said Central Aroostook coach Cody Tompkins who tried a variety of defenses against them. “Seeley and Preston are very good players. They attacked the rim all day. [Wilder] is pretty aggressive and [Link] is very good. I wish we had rebounded better and did a little bit better offensively but I’m really proud of our girls.”

“Our bigs really showed up today,” said Shead coach Corey Sullivan. “Defensively, we tried to make it hard for [Karli Levesque] to catch an easy pass while she was running back and forth through the paint, and we extended our 3-2 by a foot beyond the three-point arc to make sure we got our hands in the face of their outside shooters.”