Wednesday, March 12, 2014
AUGUSTA — At 5-foot-5, Denae Johnson is often the smallest player on the court for the Bangor girls' basketball team, which features a pair of sophomores over 6-1.
Wednesday, Johnson loomed very large.
Johnson scored six of her 17 points in the final 4:32 as second-seeded Bangor held off a fierce Mt. Ararat challenge, winning 56-44 to advance to the Eastern Class A championship game for the first time since 1999.
The Rams built a 12-point lead early in the third quarter. Five times the Eagles cut the deficit to two, the last at 46-44 with 4:56 remaining on two Mallory Nelson foul shots. But Mt. Ararat didn't score again.
Johnson, meanwhile, twice drove into the middle from the left wing and scored to give Bangor a six-point lead.
"That was a great time for a senior to step up for us," said Bangor Coach Katie Herbine. "She's done it for us all year. We just told her, until they stop you, go to the middle. She's got absolutely no fear."
Bangor (16-4) will play defending champ Cony at 7 p.m. Friday. Mt. Ararat finished 16-4.
The Rams had a height advantage over Mt. Ararat, with 6-2 Cordelia Stewart and 6-1 Mary Butler. Each scored 13 points and helped the Rams control the inside. Stewart had 10 rebounds and two blocks, while Butler had eight rebounds and two blocks, along with three assists.
They also showed remarkable maturity down the stretch for sophomores. With Mt. Ararat driving hard to the basket every possession, Stewart picked up her fourth foul with 5:01 left in the third quarter. Butler got her fourth foul with 7:26 remaining in the game. But neither fouled out, each at some point stepping aside to give up a basket rather than risk a foul.
"We definitely wanted to keep attacking," said Mt. Ararat Coach Kelly LaFountain. "But they were very disciplined at that point in the game."
A free throw by Sarah Bragg and a 10-footer in the lane by Johnson gave Bangor a 14-11 lead after one quarter. The Rams never trailed the rest of the way, though Mt. Ararat kept fighting back.
Bangor's biggest lead was 33-21 after a basket by Butler 1:07 into the third quarter. That's when Nelson took over for Mt. Ararat. She led all scorers with 24 points, going 12 of 12 at the foul line for the second consecutive game, and had 10 points in the third, which ended with Bangor ahead, 40-36.
It stayed close in the fourth until Johnson's two big baskets.
"Coach told me to keep (driving) so I did," said Johnson. "It seemed to work. I've gained a lot of confidence the last couple of years."
The Eagles had four straight possessions end with turnovers.
"I thought we were going to win," said Nelson. "We could have. We had a chance. We were down two for quite a few minutes."
But they couldn't complete the comeback.
"I had a great senior class," said Mt. Ararat's LaFountain. "They picked up the level (of play) for all of us."
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: