It wasn’t an easy victory but no one from the Lincoln Academy girls’ basketball team was going to complain Thursday.

The fourth-ranked Eagles built an 11-point lead in the third quarter, then held on to upset top-seeded Mountain Valley 34-32 in the Class B South girls’ basketball semifinals at the Cross Insurance Arena.

The win put Lincoln Academy into the regional championship game for the first time since 1996, when the Eagles reached the state title game before losing to Orono, 42-41.

“Been a long time,” said Kevin Feltis, the fourth-year coach at Lincoln Academy. “We really have been thinking about this for four years. We’re trying to build a house of success. We built the foundation in the first year, and we’re trying to put the roof and the chimney on this house.”

The Eagles (18-2) will play second-ranked Gray-New Gloucester (16-4)for the regional title at 2 p.m. Saturday at the CIA. Lincoln Academy beat the Patriots 34-33 on Dec. 17.

Both teams struggled against aggressive defenses, but the Eagles were able to put together a little surge at the end of the second quarter – scoring the last 10 points – to move ahead. Chloe Hallowell and Cagney O’Brien came off the bench to spark the Eagles, with O’Brien scoring four points and Hallowell six, her second 3-pointer with two seconds left in the second quarter giving Lincoln Academy a 21-18 lead.

“That was a humongous shot for us,” said Brie Wajer, Lincoln’s talented junior guard. “We needed that.”

The Eagles built on that momentum in the third, opening a 28-17 lead with 3:52 left on a foul shot by Alyx York. But then the Eagles were shut down.

They got a foul-line jumper from Wajer with 5:48 left to make it 30-23, but that was it.

Mountain Valley (18-2) pulled within 30-27 with 1:19 remaining on a short jumper by Sydney Petrie. Lincoln Academy, meanwhile, missed five consecutive foul shots until Olivia York put one in with 45.6 seconds left to make it 31-27.

An offensive foul on the Falcons gave the ball back to Lincoln, and Hallowell hit another foul shot with 24.3 seconds left to make it 32-27. Liza White hit a jumper for the Falcons to pull within 32-29, but Wajer calmly hit two foul shots with 11.7 seconds left to push the lead back to five, enough to survive Karen Flaherty’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“We focused in,” said Wajer. “Free throws and layups will win games. And when it came down to it, we dug in, focused and hit the shots we needed to hit.”

“That was one of those situations where we were doing a lot of leaning, a lot of body English, to get the ball to roll into the hoop,” said Feltis. “But we made the ones we needed to make, down the stretch, under a minute, and I’m just proud of my kids.”

Defenses really dictated this game: Lincoln Academy forced 20 turnovers, Mountain Valley forced 18. The Eagles shot just 31 percent but their perimeter defense forced the Falcons into 1-of-13 3-point shooting.

“Big games like this come down to who makes shots and early on we were not making our shots,” said Ryan Casey, coach of the Falcons. “We played with a lot of heart and with the clock ticking down at the end, we gave ourselves a chance.”

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