AUBURN — In the early moments, neither team seemed able to muster any offense.

Despite putting up shot after shot in the first quarter, the North Yarmouth Academy girls’ basketball team couldn’t break through and sustain much momentum.

And despite attempting to create some sort of inside presence, St. Dominic couldn’t take control either.

Ultimately, the Saints overcame early postseason nerves and found a way to break through the Panthers’ defense for a 54-32 victory in a Western Class C preliminary-round game Tuesday night.

“Those pregame jitters … you get a little nervous in every game but in this one especially, when your season could end,” said St. Dominic forward Allaina Murphy, whose team led 10-9 after the first quarter. “In a game like this, you have to stick with it.

“They played really tight (defense), almost a matchup zone, and you have to fight through that. It’s part of the game. You have to persevere.”

Murphy scored 24 points, 22 in the second half, to lead the seventh-seeded Saints (13-6), who will face No. 2 Waynflete in the regional quarterfinals next Tuesday at the Augusta Civic Center.

The Saints are riding a seven-game winning streak, but both they and the 10th-seeded Panthers (10-9) struggled to score points early.

“For both teams, there’s nerves in the beginning of a playoff game,” NYA Coach Liz Smith said. “And I think you also saw that with the turnovers in the beginning.

“We knew that they played (a) 1-3-1 (defense) and we were ready for that, but we just didn’t execute. It’s a matter of executing.”

Smith said size also made a difference: St. Dominic lists six players who are at least 5-foot-10, including 5-11 Murphy.

“They had like three inches on every player,” Smith said. “That definitely was a bigger disadvantage than we were anticipating.”

With Murphy held scoreless in the first period and through most of the second, Mary Caron (16 points) paced the Saints as they stretched their lead to 16-11 midway through the second quarter before ending the half with a 20-13 lead.

“Mary Caron stepped up big in the first half for us,” Murphy said. “Come that second quarter, that’s when we got our lead and that was our turning point.

“We really gained momentum in the second half. You have to go with that. You can’t allow them to get back into it and that can make it even more difficult.”

The Saints held the Panthers to four points in the second quarter while building their halftime lead. The teams combined for 10 points in the first 1:27 of the second half as the Panthers cut their deficit to 24-19, but Murphy began to take over.

She scored 12 points in the third to help the Saints take a 34-24 lead, then added 10 points in the fourth.

“We don’t have anyone who can match up against her,” Smith said of Murphy.

Eliza Gendron led NYA with 10 points.

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be contacted at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]