Hoisting the Class D North championship plaque are members of the Southern Aroostook girls basketball team following the Warriors 55-41 victory over Woodland Saturday morning at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

BANGOR, Maine — The Southern Aroostook defense made life tough for Woodland throughout the game on Saturday, forcing 30 turnovers, and the result was a 55-41 girls basketball victory at the Cross Insurance Center and the school’s first Class D regional championship in 22 years.

The No. 1-ranked Warriors improved to 19-2 and will face South champion Vinalhaven in the state finals next Saturday, March 3 at 1:05 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.

Woodland completed a successful season by going 17-4 as the second seed in Class D North.

Southern Aroostook lost to Shead in last year’s regional title game after falling in the semifinals to Central Aroostook in 2016. Despite not having a senior on this year’s roster, expectations were for this year’s team to make the next step.

“It was a childhood dream for all of us to win a title,” said Southern Aroostook sophomore guard Makaelyn Porter, “so I think we responded well and it feels so good to finally win.”

The Warriors set the tone early with their aggressive defense, coming out in an extended trapping zone before switching to a halfcourt player-to-player. Woodland was unable to solve either as the squad committed 12 first-quarter turnovers, but still trailed just 9-7 after eight minutes as Southern Aroostook’s offense was sluggish by shooting just 4-for-17 from the floor.

Porter converted four of her first five field goal attempts in the second quarter to give the Warrior offense a lift, but her team was still unable to shake off the Dragons as Emily Curtis scored her team’s final six points of the first half to head into halftime down only four points (26-22).

Coach Cliff Urquhart’s Southern Aroostook team went on an 8-2 run to begin the third to grab its first double-digit advantage. The Warriors built on the lead by the end of the period, with Katelyn Slauenwhite drilling her second 3-pointer of the game with 2:15 left to make it 43-28.

Woodland then outscored the Warriors 8-2 over a nearly five-minute stretch that began late in the third and extended into the first few minutes of the fourth, but wasn’t able to get any closer than nine the rest of the contest.

“We wanted to pressure them and speed them up and that was the whole game plan,” Urquhart said. “We knew Woodland wanted to play in the halfcourt and just pound it inside, but we wanted to control the tempo.”

“It seemed like we were just trying to battle back the whole game,” said Woodland coach Michelle Ripley. “All of their girls are fast and they all can dribble, so when you are trying to match up man-to-man, you have to pick [the best matchups] and that is hard.”

Porter scored a game-high 19 points for Southern Aroostook, while Kacy Daggett, a 5-10 freshman, powered her way inside to 13 points. Sydney Brewer netted nine points and Kassidy Mathers and Slauenwhite totalled six each.

“Makaelyn hit some big shots early and Kacy worked it inside and hit some up and unders,” Urquhart said, “but offense didn’t win it. Defense won the game and that is what I’m most proud of.”

Curtis, another 5-10 freshman, netted 17 points to pace the Dragons, while senior Jennie Cox had 10 points and four assists and Sadie Smith contributed eight points.

The Warriors led through most of the first half, taking their biggest lead (20-11) on a Porter 3-pointer from the corner with 5:45 left in the second quarter.

Woodland turned the ball over 19 times in the first half to create several extra scoring opportunities for SA, but besides Porter, who was an impressive 5 for 9, the Warriors were just 6 for 27 from the field.

“It was important for someone to step up offensively,” Porter said. “The good thing is we have multiple people who can do than any given game.”

The Dragons cut the deficit from nine to two with a 7-0 run following a time-out. Cox fired in a 3-pointer from the wing and then fed Curtis with a nice pass down low as part of the rally. Southern Aroostook answered with six unanswered points and took a 26-22 lead into intermission.

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