MARS HILL, Maine — The Madawaska Owls got a strong performance inside from 5-foot-10 sophomore Jenna Dugal and the team connected on 8 of 10 free throws during a key stretch in the fourth quarter to hold off Central Aroostook 46-43 in a girls basketball game on Saturday.

Coach Dean Gendreau’s Owls improved to 15-1 to remain in the top five in Class C North. The host Panthers, a Class D team that appears to have the No. 3 seed locked up, fell to 13-4.

Dugal owned the interior and scored 24 points, despite constantly facing a collapsing defense on the low post, especially throughout the second half.

“She saw a lot of double-teams, but she was still able to sneak in on some curls for some easy layups,” Gendreau said.

The game featured nine lead changes in the second half, but the Owls were able to prevail, mostly due to some strong clutch foul shooting. After reaching the bonus in the first few seconds of the fourth quarter, Madawaska took advantage from the line, with Keri Hebert, Cassidy Beaulieu, Brianne Thibeau and Dugal all coming through with free throws.

“We haven’t been shooting them really well, but we’ve been working on them in practice and it showed tonight,” Gendreau said.

Central Aroostook, playing without injured starters Katie Levesque and Caitlyn Harris, shook off a rough start to keep it close over the final three periods. The Panthers forced 10 Madawaska turnovers and turned many into fast-break points.

They had their biggest lead (26-20) late in the first half on a driving layup by freshman Breanne Bradbury, who was her team’s leading scorer with 21 points.

Madawaska scored 10 of the game’s next 11 points to go up by three, but the teams went back and forth before the Owls clinched it from the foul line. The game wasn’t decided until two seconds left as Kassie Levesque’s 3-point attempt to tie the game was just off the mark.

“We played better defense in the second half and after getting outrebounded in the first half, were able to control the boards a little better,” Gendreau said.

The Owls set the tone early, scoring the game’s first nine points thanks to dominant inside play, with six coming from Dugal and the other three by Thibeault.

Madawaska held an 18-15 lead before the Panthers went on a 9-0 run over a 1:18 stretch. The combination of Bradbury and senior Kelsey Dominique provided much of the spark.

Dominique hit a 3-pointer off a Bradbury assist to start the flurry, while Bradbury connected on a layup off Dominique’s inbounds pass and Dominique notched a layup off a pass from Bradbury to give the Panthers the six-point lead, but they couldn’t hold on against the pesky Owls.

Madawaska has not played a tournament game in Bangor since the late 1990s and is trying to break that drought.

“We’re in Class C now and we’re just trying to win every game and get a high seed,” said Gendreau, whose team’s only loss, to Fort Kent, came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. “They are working hard and we’re trying to get in the top four and avoid a prelim.”

Owls sophomores Cassidy Beaulieu and Thibeault scored six points each and senior floor general Desiree Belanger added five to complement Dugal offensively.

Ashlee Harris scored eight points for CA.