BANGOR - For three days, Ashley Ames was concerned about facing Stearns of Millinocket in the Eastern Maine Class C girls basketball semifinals. After all, the Minutemen had played Ames and defending state champion Dexter to within five points late in the regular season, enough to put a scare in a team that hasn't lost since the 2003 state final.
"I know I'd been pretty nervous about playing them since Tuesday because of how close the game was up there the last time we played them," said Ames.
Those trepidations proved justified for much of Friday afternoon's return match. In fact, the undefeated Tigers trailed by a point at halftime.
But Ames, a 6-foot-4 senior center, took over in the second half, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds after the break to lift Dexter to a hard-fought 54-47 victory.
"Ashley is fantastic," said Dexter coach Jody Grant. "The number one thing is she has great hands and she moves very well. She played a great game for us today; she really showed her leadership and put the team on her back in the second half."
The win was the 42nd straight for No. 1 Dexter, which will face No. 2 Calais in the EM final at 7:05 Saturday night.
Fourth-ranked Stearns ended its season at 15-5.
Ames finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds for the 20-0 Tigers, who took control by outscoring Stearns 10-2 during a three-minute stretch late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Ames had three inside baskets and an assist to her younger sister, 6-6 sophomore Mallory Ames, and junior guard Nicci Burton capped off the run with a steal and layup to give Dexter a 41-31 lead with 6:54 to play.
Stearns twice crept back within four points, the final time at 49-45 on a follow-up basket by Johnna Michaud with 1:25 left. The Minutemen then got the ball back, but a 3-pointer by Trisha MacDonald rattled in and out, Ashley Ames rebounded, and Burton soon made two free throws to give Dexter a six-point cushion with 43.7 seconds left.
"We did everything we wanted to do. The only thing that hurt us was we missed too many free throws," said Stearns coach Mike Portwine, whose team made just 16 of 28 from the line.
That effort was uncharacteristic of the Minutemen, who had made 12 of 15 free throws in a 41-36 loss to Dexter on Feb. 7, and were 19 of 25 in a 60-57 quarterfinal win over Central of Corinth on Tuesday night.
And fouls were the dominant element early in this semifinal, with the teams combining for 21 fouls during a first half that ended with Stearns holding a 21-20 lead.
By midway through the second quarter, each team's top scorer, Ashley Ames and MacDonald, was sidelined with three fouls, while Dexter had four other players with two fouls each by intermission.
"We talked about playing without fouling," said Grant. "We talked about staying with what got us here, getting the ball inside and playing great half-court defense."
MacDonald, held without a field goal for three quarters by foul trouble and the defense of Dexter junior Sabrina Cote, finished with a team-high 13 points for Stearns. Sophomore center Angela MacDonald added
eight points and eight rebounds for the Minutemen.
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