BANGOR — Michelle Paradis understood Kelsie Richards’ frustrations and hesitancy. As a player for Nokomis Regional High School a decade ago, Paradis was a pretty good shooter. When Richards struggled to find her shot early in Friday’s Eastern Class B quarterfinal game against Belfast, Paradis told her junior guard to keep shooting.

“I can relate to her. I was one of those shooters where, I’d miss my first two shots and I wouldn’t shoot the rest of the game,” Paradis said. “I have told them over and over and over again, if you do that, I’ll yell at you even more.”

In the fourth quarter, Richards finally turned her shooting rut into a groove, scoring all 12 of her points to help Nokomis pull away with a 49-39 win.

No. 3 Nokomis (17-2) advances to the semifinals, where it will face No. 7 Camden Hills. Belfast, the No. 6 seed, ends the season at 14-6.

Belfast trailed by as much as 11 points in the second quarter, but fought back to take its first lead, 29-28, on a Katrina Lapham basket with just over five minutes remaining in the game. The Lions’ lead lasted just 21 seconds. Richards made a 3-pointer for her first points of the game, and the Warriors led for good.

Richards struggled to find her shooting touch in the first three quarters, and lost her confidence a little, she said.

“I was either short or long. I was rushing my shot,” Richards said. “We talked at halftime, and they told me to keep shooting.”

Added Paradis: “I have continuously yelled at my guards all season long, ‘You need to shoot the ball.’ If we’re not shooting, then basically we will throw a bad pass and have a turnover…. I have confidence in all my shooters. Granted, they might lose it if they miss a couple shots, but I’ve been trying to drill it in their heads. No matter what, you have to shoot the ball.”

After playing man-to-man defense throughout the regular season, Belfast played a 32 zone to try and prevent the Warriors from working the ball inside. For most of the second and third quarters, the strategy worked. Nokomis was held scoreless for the last 6:02 of the second quarter, and a 20-9 lead was cut to 20-18 at the half.

“We played man-to-man all year, 99 percent of the time. We probably played four possessions all season in a zone. But we knew they’re big and aggressive,” Belfast coach Stanley Sturgis said.

The Warriors expected a zone defense from the Lions, but still struggled to generate offense.

“For some reason, we just have these little mental lapses where we forget to do things that we practiced. Once we get back into a rhythm, we can go back to doing things normally,” Paradis said.

“We knew they were going to do it, but there’s something about us. We freak out a little when we get in a zone, but we normally pull through it,” Richards said.

A Richards basket with 1:34 to play pushed the Nokomis lead to 38-33, and the Warriors made five free throws in the final minute to seal the win.

“Once we got behind five, six points with three minutes left, you can’t sit in a zone. They’ll milk the clock. We had to go back to man,” Sturgis said.

Belfast’s Lexi Nelligan scored a game-high 20 points. Taylor Shaw led Nokomis with 13 points, and Anna Mackenzie added 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Warriors.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242
tlazarczyk@mainetoday.com