AUGUSTA — The defending state champions took a big first step, and made an important statement in the process, as the Messalonskee girls basketball team tries to duplicate its efforts from a year ago.

Sophomore Gabrielle Wener scored a game-high 27 points, including 13 in a key second quarter, as No. 3 Messalonskee opened the Class A North quarterfinals with a 63-49 win over No. 6 Medomak Valley on Friday afternoon at the Augusta Civic Center.

The Eagles (13-6) are making their third straight appearance in the regional semifinals, where they will meet either No. 2 Skowhegan or No. 7 Nokomis on Wednesday.

The Panthers (11-8) tried to close ground in the third quarter after trailing by 13 through the first 16 minutes of play, but Messalonskee pulled away in the fourth by successfully coupling an opportunistic transition game with accurate shooting from the perimeter.

Junior Alyssa Geness added 11 points in the win, one of three Eagles in double figures. Makayla Wilson finished with 10 points.

Medomak got 11 points from Madelyn White and nine points each from Gabrielle DePatsy and Sadie Cohen in the loss.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: When Wener drained a 3-pointer from just inside the mid-court stripe as time expired in the first half, she paused briefly to stare it down as the teams retreated toward their respective locker rooms.

She insisted that she had no idea it had gone in.

“I honestly thought I air-balled it at first,” Wener admitted with a laugh. “I didn’t really know. I realized it went in when I started running to the locker room.”

The 6-foot sophomore guard was in her element Friday, finishing with 27 points — including 15 of those on 5 of 8 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

“She’s steady,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “She was here last year. The ball wasn’t in her hands as much… but the moment doesn’t seem to faze her. It’s just another game.”

“Last year definitely prepared me with the energy in the building and how big the court is,” Wener said. “I got that experience. This year, I’m more comfortable. I know what the whole energy (is).”

Medomak coach Ryan McNelly said the Panthers knew that Wener was capable of changing the game.

“Wener just did not do that against us (in the regular season),” McNelly said. “We had great scouting on her, and we knew she could do it. She didn’t do it against us last time, and I don’t think mentally our girls were prepared for that.”

EARLY RUNNING: After a slow start to the first quarter, Messalonskee stretched its legs in the key second quarter as part of a 13-2 run that built the lead the Eagles would nurse all the way to the finish.

The Eagles found ways to get to the basket for layups on four consecutive possessions, with Geness accounting for three of them.

“We want to play fast, but we don’t want to play hurried in the offensive half,” Derosby said. “We really try to be focused on being able to do both. It’s hard to do. If you’re a fast-paced team, it’s not always easy to call off the horses.

“Our ball movement was pretty good.”

The run turned a 5-5 game with under three minutes remaining in the first quarter into an 18-7 lead for Messalonskee with more than five minutes left in the first half.

“That’s how we’ve played all year,” Genness said. “We really like to focus on defense, because our defense turns into offense… It turns into transition baskets. That’s how we play, and that’s how we like to play.”

TURNOVERS: Messalonskee’s defense, particularly in the first half, made it extremely tough for Medomak to get into a rhythm offensively.

Medomak committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter alone and 14 in total in the first half. The Panthers finished with 22 turnovers.

“That was nerves,” McNelly said. “I don’t want to take any credit away from (Messalonskee), they worked hard. But we were throwing balls to kids running down the court not looking. That’s not defense, that’s nerves.”

After White sank a 3-pointer from the right side on Medomak’s first possession of the game, the Panthers went almost five minutes before connecting again from the floor.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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