NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Maine champion speller Lily Jordan has spelled her way right into tonight’s prime-time, nationally televised finals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

After Jordan this afternoon spelled her fourth word of a long and tense semifinals round correctly, she was left in an elite group of just 13 spellers who will be battling it out in tonight’s finals to be broadcast from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on ESPN.

“I’m just really excited,” Jordan said after the semis concluded, still standing on the stage where she correctly spelled four words during a semifinals round that began with 41 spellers. “I had no idea I was going to make it.”

Jordan said she’s excited but also “really nervous” at the prospect of competing in the championship round. “I just try to breathe” while on stage, she said.

The 14-year-old Cape Elizabeth Middle School eighth-grader successfully spelled out “dolichopodous,” a word of Greek origin meaning having a relatively long foot, when she got up to the microphone for the fourth time, just before 2:15 p.m. during a semifinals round that began at 10 a.m. and didn’t end until 2:30 p.m.

For her third word, Jordan spelled “verein,” a word of German origin meaning a union or association, after she took to the microphone for the third time of the day. She initially heaved a sigh when she heard the word, but after asking for its origin and definition, she calmly delivered the correct spelling.
For her second word of the semis, Jordan spelled “batrachophagous,” meaning feeding on frogs.

As is the two-time Bee participant’s habit, Jordan practiced the word by writing it out on her hand before saying it aloud.

Jordan successfully faced down her first semifinals word in the Bee earlier today. Jordan, who also loves sports such as softball and ice hockey in addition to her devotion to spelling, had to approach the stage for the first time this morning after seeing the first miss of the day – which led to a girl from Kentucky having to leave the stage in tears – and then having to wait two minutes during a television break.

When Jordan approached the microphone, she heard the word “thanatophidia,” meaning venomous snakes. Jordan repeated the word, asked several questions about the origin and derivation of the word, did some spelling on her hand and then coolly and correctly spelled it out before walking happily back to her seat.

Forty-one out of 275 spellers made the semis, which were live on ESPN.

The national competition began with a written test on Tuesday and continued with on-stage preliminary rounds on Wednesday.

In addition to the thrill and prestige of making the championship round, the spellers in the finals have the chance to win significant prizes.

Just making the finals is worth at least a $1,500 cash prize. Finishing sixth is worth $2,000, fifth $2,500, fourth $3,000, third $7,500 and second $12,500. The champion will win $30,000 cash from Scripps and a $25,000 U.S. savings bond from Merriam-Webster, as well as a complete reference library. Other awards for the champion include a $5,000 scholarship from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation.