It was a memorable thriller between the longtime champs and their new rivals.
The Southern Aroostook High School girls rallied in the fourth quarter, receiving a game-winning layup from freshman Ally Shields with 15 seconds remaining, to edge Wisdom of St. Agatha 53-49 and win their fifth-straight Class D North championship.
Southern Aroostook, 18-3, will play in the state title game at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 4 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor against 12-9 Seacoast Christian of South Berwick.
Southern Aroostook will be seeking its fourth state title in five years.
Southern Aroostook beat Seacoast Christian in last year’s D final 58-18.
Wisdom concluded an impressive 20-1 campaign.
Maddie Russell’s 14 points and seven rebounds paced Southern Aroostook. Emmalee Landry had 13 points and four rebounds, Cami Shields 11 points and five rebounds and Ally Shields chipped in with five points and five rebounds.
Lilly Roy scored a game-high 19 points for Wisdom and added nine rebounds. Olivia Ouellette produced 11 points and 12 rebounds, Ava Lerman had 10 points and four rebounds and Alexis Silva wound up with nine points.
With the game tied 49-49 and 25 seconds left, Landry stole a Wisdom inbounds pass, and Cami Shields got the ball and found her sister Ally Shields, who had gotten a step on her defender, and converted the layup.
“I was running the floor because that’s what I was told to do,” said Ally Shields. “There was just one girl back, and I was a little ahead of her.”
Roy’s jumper to tie it for Wisdom missed, and Southern Aroostook’s Maddie Russell grabbed the rebound and was fouled. She sank two free throws with one second left.
Southern Aroostook had won its previous four regional title games by an average of 19.8 points per game, including a 59-26 win over Wisdom a year ago.
But the Warriors had to dig down deep to overcome a talented and hard-working Wisdom team that knew it could go toe-to-toe with the champs.
“We’ve been preparing for this all season,” said Wisdom senior point guard Abbie Lerman. “We did well. We gave them a run for the money. We all worked hard. It just didn’t fall [our way].”
“It was fun. It was really competitive,” said Southern Aroostook senior guard Russell. “It was back and forth, a battle all the way through, and we knew it was going to be that way coming into it. We kept our composure.
“We had to work a lot harder for this one and that makes it a lot more rewarding,” Russell added.
Wisdom stunned the Warriors by racing out to a 7-2 lead. But it turned out to be a game of runs.
Southern Aroostook followed its sluggish start to rattled off an 8-0 run and take a 15-14 lead after the first quarter.
A 9-5 spurt by the Pioneers gave them a 3-point lead, but Southern Aroostook scored nine unanswered points before Roy hit a three to close out the half and make it a 29-26 game in favor of the Warriors.
Wisdom outscored its opponent 7-2 to begin the second half, and Southern Aroostook followed with a 9-0 flurry that gave the Warriors their biggest lead of the game at 40-33. The team took a 42-37 edge into the final period.
Wisdom’s 1-3-1 zone stymied the Warriors in the fourth quarter as Wisdom went on a 10-2 run to take a three-point lead with 2:50 to go. Roy had seven of the 10 points.
Southern Aroostook tied it 47-47 with 1:53 left on a traditional 3-point play by Cami Shields off a steal and pass by her cousin, Maddie Shields.
Ally Shields missed a pair of free throws before Lerman fed Olivia Ouellette inside for a baseline basket to give Wisdom a 49-47 lead with 1:20 to go.
But Maddie Russell tied it with one minute left off a nifty move to the basket.
Wisdom controlled the ball for 35 seconds before calling a timeout to set up the last play.
“It was a valiant effort,” said Wisdom coach Scott Pelletier. “This is a tough one to swallow.”
He said he was hoping one of his inside players would flash out to catch the inbounds pass and then get it to a guard, but it didn’t happen.
“We panicked,” he said.
Ally Shields said her basketball was redemption after she missed the free throws.
“I was mad that I missed the free throws. I was glad the layup went in,” said Ally Shields.
Southern Aroostook coach Cliff Urquhart said “perseverance” won the game for them and some challenging regular season games prepared them for situations like this.
“Wisdom has a great team,” said Urquhart.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the mascot for Southern Aroostook. They are the Warriors.