PORTLAND, Maine — Nina Howe had to be carried off the Cross Insurance Arena floor in her last high school playoff game.
Monday night, she carried her team back there.
The York High School sophomore played 30 of 32 minutes, scored a game-high 23 points and led a stifling defense that held Kennebunk scoreless for nearly 17 minutes as the fourth-seeded Wildcats beat No. 5 Kennebunk, 44-31, in the Class A South quarterfinals at the Portland Expo.
“She was impressive,” York coach Steve Freeman said of Howe. “I told her two days ago that she was the one that we wanted with the ball in her hands. She came out and it was obvious she listened. She was going to take charge, and she did. She is going to do it again on Wednesday.”
York (11-8) will face top-seeded Brunswick (19-0) in a Class A South semifinal at the Cross Insurance Arena on Wednesday; the two teams did not meet in the regular season.
“This was the goal all year — to get the kids who had never been here and never been to Cross Insurance Arena on both of those floors,” Freeman said. “To get to this point, the kids are just thrilled. They now feel they have accomplished a lot. They all know they we would like to go further, but it’s just a big accomplishment to get here, win this game and advance.”
The scheduled tip-off against Brunswick is 11:30 a.m.
Brunswick defeated York in last year’s regional semifinal, 45-35, a game in which Howe suffered a torn ACL during the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Brunswick advanced with a 74-25 win over No. 9 Falmouth in Monday’s late quarterfinal.
“Brunswick is going to be a huge challenge,” Howe said. “We have to come out strong again. I have to push off to the side what happened last year (against them); I can’t have that affect my game.”
Howe scored 13 points in the first half and added eight in the fourth quarter on Monday night.
“It’s always a great experience (being up here),” Howe said. “I knew I had to take charge and have a big role tonight for us.”
York scored eight of the game’s first 10 points and held Kennebunk scoreless for a stretch of 16 minutes and 28 seconds which bridged the final 2:01 of the first quarter until there was just 1:41 left in the third quarter.
“We executed our defensive plan better tonight than any game we had played all year,” Freeman said. “We wanted to pressure the ball full court, double the ball when it went to (Emily Archibald) and to always bring help to the weak side.”
York outscored Kennebunk 19-0 during that stretch and turned an 11-7 lead with 2:01 left in the first quarter to a 30-7 advantage with 2:29 left in the third.
“I looked up at that clock and saw they still had seven points for a while and I was like ‘Wow, we’re playing great defense’,” said York sophomore Delaney LaBonte who had the task of matching up against Archibald despite giving up nearly 6 inches. “I was trying to deny (Archibald) as much as possible so she couldn’t get the ball. If she got the ball, I made sure I got behind her and tried to make sure she couldn’t score. We talked her about all week, and I was ready for her going in.”
The Wildcats forced 14 turnovers in the first half and another seven in the third quarter.
“I think that is the longest drought we have had,” Kennebunk coach Robert Sullivan said. “We’ve had some teams that have had droughts, but that was a long one. We kept fighting and kept playing and when we had an opportunity to make a run we did.”
Fifth-seeded Kennebunk, which lost to York 37-31 in the lone regular season meeting between the two schools, cut the lead to 10 on two occasions in the fourth, but could never get any closer.
″(Kennebunk) pressured the ball well there (in the fourth) and we made a few mistakes and they capitalized on it,” Freeman said. “Our girls were able to settle down, collect themselves and get the win.”
Archibald, Kennebunk’s promising 6-foot center, scored a team-high 16 points, but was often frustrated by LaBonte, as well as junior captain Jackie Tabora.
“We knew we had to help out on (Archibald) and almost take her out of the game,” Howe said. “I think we did a good job of that. We came in at halftime and we were shocked we held them to seven points; we were proud, you could say.”
Junior Lauren LeRoux connected on one of York’s three 3-pointers on the night and joined Howe in double figures with 10 points.
“This win means a lot for us,” LaBonte said. “A lot of the odds were stacked against us at the beginning of the season and a lot of people were saying we couldn’t do it. We’ve grown and we’re hungry to keep winning and keep playing. We’re excited for Brunswick.”
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