North Yarmouth Academy senior Catherine Reid, left, and junior Serena Mower go for a loose ball during the Panthers’ 55-34 win over Winthrop in Thursday’s Class C South semifinals.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

North Yarmouth Academy 55 Winthrop 34

NYA- 14 14 12 15- 55
W- 5 5 11 13- 34

NYA- Reid 7-0-14, M. Larson 4-0-11, K. Larson 2-3-8, Mower 3-2-8, Hamblett 2-2-6, Plummer 3-0-6, Downey 1-0-2

W- Souza 4-3-12, Wilson-Falcone 2-2-7, Rice 2-1-5, Smelzer 1-0-3, Anuszewski 1-0-2, Audet 1-0-2, Frost 1-0-2, Forgue 0-1-1

3-pointers:
NYA (4) M. Larson 3, K. Larson 1
W (3) Smelzer, Souza, Wilson-Falcone 1

Turnovers:
NYA- 9
W- 25

FTs
NYA: 7-13
W: 7-10

AUGUSTA—The last time North Yarmouth Academy’s girls’ basketball team played in a regional final, not a single player on this year’s squad had been born.

That drought came to an end in emphatic fashion Thursday afternoon at the Augusta Civic Center when the 2018-19 Panthers etched their place in history and school lore with a dominant 32-minute performance against second-seeded Winthrop in the Class C South semifinals.

Third-ranked NYA was sparked by seniors Helen Hamblett, Maggie Larson and Sydney Plummer, whose senior class won just two games as freshmen, as well as program newcomers Carly Downey, Serena Mower and Catherine Reid, who arrived this year from the recently closed Maine Girls’ Academy, and as it turned out, every girl who played Thursday, contributed to the historic victory.

Reid set the tone with a runner after a steal just 22 seconds in and the Panthers would close the first quarter on a 7-0 run to lead, 14-5, when Reid, a senior, took a pass from Mower, a junior, after a steal and made a layup. Each Larson sister made a 3-pointer in the frame as well and NYA was just getting started.

With the Ramblers going nearly nine minutes without a point from early in the first period into the second, the Panthers were able to open up an 18-point advantage on a Mower runner, to make it 28-10 at halftime.

Winthrop did show life early in the second half, scoring the first eight points, highlighted by six points from junior Kena Souza, but the next 12 points went to NYA, capped by a Reid layup after a steal, and the Panthers took a 40-21 advantage to the fourth period, where they ended all doubt and went on to a 55-34 victory.

Reid led a balanced attack with 14 points, Maggie Larson added 11 and NYA improved to 16-4 on the season, ended the Ramblers’ fine campaign at 17-3 and in the process, booked its ticket to its first regional final since the Clinton Administration where the Panthers will battle top-ranked Boothbay (20-0) Saturday at 7 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center.

“Just making it to Augusta meant the world to us, especially to all the girls who have been here since my freshman and sophomore years when we didn’t win many games,” said Maggie Larson. “It was nervewracking at first with the girls coming in and joining the returning players with all eyes on us, but we’ve adjusted to each other really well.” 

Rarefied air

NYA’s 14-4 regular season mark was its best since the 1998-99 campaign. The Panthers earned the No. 3 seed in Class C South and Tuesday, in its first game on the Augusta Civic Center floor in 15 years, NYA defeated No. 6 Monmouth, the defending champion, 52-35, but the Panthers got off to a slow start and had to rally, learning a lesson in the process.

Winthrop won 16 of 18 regular season contests, losing only to Oak Hill and Boothbay. The Ramblers advanced with a 50-41 quarterfinal round victory over seventh-seeded Old Orchard Beach.

NYA and Winthrop don’t play in the regular season and had never met in the tournament.

Thursday, the Panthers made a powerful early statement and never looked back.

On its first defensive possession, NYA forced a turnover, as Reid stole the ball, raced in, then pulled up and made a short jumper to put her team on top for good.

The next time down the floor, Reid scored again.

The Ramblers got on the board when junior Jillian Schmelzer knocked down a 3, but Katie Larson countered with a 3.

A baseline jumper from Souza then capped a frenetic early stretch, but left the Panthers on top by two.

NYA scored the final seven points of the quarter.

First, Hamblett scored her first points at the line.

Maggie Larson then knocked down a 3.

“Making my first shot is important,” Larson said. “It’s Augusta and you’re nervous, but when you make one, you get used to it and you don’t need to be nervous anymore.”

Finally, after a Mower steal, she fed Reid for a layup and a 14-5 advantage.

“We saw last game how important it was to come out strong and play from ahead,” said Reid. “We were knocking down our outside shots and we attacked the rim. When we do that, we’re tough to stop. And we had our defense today. It’s great when everyone is shooting well, so won’t have to rely on pounding it inside.”

“Last time was a combination of the girls thinking they should win, an early game and the first time playing here,” said Panthers coach Tom Robinson. “They were nervous and it was probably our worst quarter all year. Today, we got off to a good start. It was fun to watch both teams hit shots up and down at the beginning.”

Plummer started the second period with a jump shot to push the lead to double digits.

Finally, with 5:21 to go in the half, after an 8-minute, 54-second drought, Winthrop rediscovered its offense, as sophomore Kerrigan Anuszewski scored on a putback.

That was just a bump in the road for the Panthers, who got a layup from Reid (off a feed from Mower), a 3-point shot from Maggie Larson and a jumper from Hamblett to go up, 23-7, and force Ramblers coach Joe Burnham to call timeout.

It didn’t help much, as after sophomore Madison Forgue made a free throw for Winthrop, Reid hit a jumper, Katie Larson made two free throws and after a putback by Ramblers junior captain Natalie Frost, Mower got a runner to rattle in and NYA was in command, 28-10, at the half.

In the first 16 minutes alone, Reid had 10 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Mower added six steals and five assists.

Suffice it to say, the former MGA girls have made their mark with the Panthers.

“You can see on the court that we’ve meshed as a team,” Maggie Larson said. “We’re fortunate to have the (Maine Girls’ Academy) girls. Serena is such a good playmaker and a phenomenal point guard. She and Catherine see the floor really well and have amazing assists. Catherine scores and intercepts passes on defense. It nice to have their sturdy presence.”

Winthrop’s best stretch of the game came in the first couple minutes of the second half, as the Ramblers made things interesting.

Souza opened the third quarter with a putback while being fouled and she added the and-one free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.

Souza then drained a 3 and junior Aailyah Wilson-Falcone added two free throws to cut the deficit to 10, 28-18.

Then, NYA reawakened and it put it away with a 12-0 run of its own.

With 4:55 remaining in the frame, Mower got a jumper to bounce in. Reid then set up Plummer for a layup, Reid hit a runner, Mower made two free throws, Katie Larson sank a pair and with 1:22 left, a Reid layup after a steal capped the surge, made it 40-18 and ended the competitive phase of the contest.

“It felt to me like it was close all game,” Reid said. “We just had to settle down and take care of the ball.”

“Coach always says that the first four minutes of the third quarter are the most important,” Maggie Larson said. “(Winthrop) came out really strong and they had the same motto, but we got back in the flow of scoring and transitioning and it was hard for them to get us out of it.”

“We knew it would be a game of runs and we came out of the locker room without any quit,’ Burnham said. “We got it to 10, but with us excelling that much energy, they stayed the course and got the lead back up. They have a nice collection of players. Sometimes in Class C basketball, it’s how you hide your deficiencies and we didn’t see a ton of deficiencies tonight.”

In the final minute of the quarter, Wilson-Falcone made a 3-pointer, but that only pulled the Ramblers within 19.

Maggie Larson got those three points back just 20 seconds into the final stanza with a long shot, then Maggie Larson drove for a layup to make it 45-21.

After a putback from Souza, Hamblett hit a jumper.

Souza made a free throw, but Plummer made a short jumper, then Katie Larson did the same to stretch the lead to 51-24.

After Souza made another foul shot, Reid stole the ball and set up Mower for a layup.

A putback from senior Layne Audet and a layup by Wilson-Falcone cut the deficit to 24, but Downey, a junior, scored NYA’s final points with a putback.

In the final minute a layup after a steal by freshman Lydia Rice and a Rice three-point play brought the curtain down on the Panthers’ 55-34 victory.

“Our 2-3 (zone) is so aggressive and we know our role,” Maggie Larson said. “Starting out in that today and staying in it helped us get off to a good start.”

“The girls have been great,” said Robinson. “I think they’ve really come together.”

Reid nearly produced a triple-double and wasn’t that far off from a quadruple-double, scoring a game-high 14 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, producing nine steals and dishing out six assists.

Maggie Larson added 11 points.

Mower finished with eight points, six assists, six steals and four rebounds. She also ran the point and sparked the defense.

“Serena was able to handle their pressure and their guards pressure a lot,” Robinson said. “She also has great hands on defense. I told her it’s probably the best game she’s played all year.”

Katie Larson finished with eight points, Hamblett had six (to go with a dozen rebounds), Plummer six (to go with seven rebounds and two blocked shots) and Downey two (to go with seven rebounds).  

“It was a very balanced game,” Robinson said. “Sydney has been great off the bench. Carly isn’t big, but she did a good job on the boards.”

NYA only committed nine turnovers and hit 7 of 13 free throws.

Winthrop was led by 12 points and seven rebounds from Souza. Wilson-Falcone had seven points, Rice added five, Smelzer had three, Anuszewski, Audet (who had a game-high 13 rebounds) and Frost (five boards) all had two points and Forgue finished with one.

The Ramblers had a 53-45 rebounding advantage and made 7 of 10 foul shots, but they turned the ball over 25 times.

“(NYA’s) a really talented team,” Pelletier said. “We hoped our athleticism and physicality would slow them down, but it didn’t. They’ll be a tough out. They know how to play basketball and did it well today. They did a nice job of contesting almost all of our shots. We can hit open shots, but we struggle with contested shots.

“I’m extremely proud of the kids and how far they came. It’s one of my favorite seasons to be a part of. Not just winning, but because of the type of kids in that locker room.”

A date with destiny?

Saturday evening should be great theater, as a team that has plenty of big-game experience (Boothbay) goes up against an NYA squad that is new to the big stage.

Boothbay won two games by nine points in the regular season and every other victory was by double digits. The Seagulls got a scare in the quarterfinals, but outlasted eighth-ranked St. Dom’s, 32-26. In Thursday’s semifinal, Boothbay dominated 13th-ranked Madison, 55-23, to advance.

NYA and Boothbay didn’t play this year and have never met in the postseason.

The Panthers know they’ll have their hands full Saturday, but a first trip to a state final in 37 years is the reward, so NYA will give its all.

“I feel like we’re where we should be,” Reid said. “Hopefully we can play well against Boothbay. We know who we need to focus on. It’s nice to have the whole school come up and have all the faculty here. It gives us a great environment.”

“Boothbay has size and that’s something we haven’t really faced so far,” Maggie Larson said. “We’ll have to keep an eye on their post players. If we can shut them down and if we can be aggressive up top (in the zone), I think we’ll have a chance.”

“The school’s really excited,” Robinson added. “We might have to make some changes in the lineup against Boothbay, but I like having a bunch of kids who can shoot 3s. We’ll have to try and do certain things defensively, but offensively, I don’t think we need to change anything. We’ll go right at them.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

NYA junior Serena Mower races up the floor. Mower had eight points, six assists, six steals and four rebounds in the victory.

Winthrop junior Aailyah Wilson-Falcone elevates and shoots.

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