WATERVILLE — Star players have a tendency to step up when the tournament spotlight shines. Waterville Senior High School’s Sadie Garling, for example, scored 19 and 18 points in the Purple Panthers first two victories of the Class B North girls basketball tournament.

However, it’s the role players who make the little differences in the tournament. The play of the key reserve or unheralded starter is often the little thing that propels a team on a deep playoff run. In that regard, Waterville is covered, too.

Sophomores Kali Thompson and Abby Saucier each came off the bench in Waterville’s quarterfinal victory over John Bapst and semifinal victory over Hermon, helping the Panthers (20-0) come from behind each night to earn a spot in Saturday’s regional championship game against Mt. Desert Island (18-2). Tip is scheduled at 2:05 p.m. at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center.

Waterville’s Paige St. Pierre, left, and Abigail Saucier pressure John Bapst’s Lacie Scanlon during a Class B North quarterfinal game last Friday night in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Dave Leaming

Thompson grabbed 12 rebounds in each of Waterville’s victories. In Wednesday’s 49-38 win over No. 2 Hermon, Thompson had seven offensive boards, helping the Panthers extend possessions and pull away in the second half.

“She’s been instrumental in everything we do, as you saw the other night. Not many teams have the luxury of bringing a double-digit rebound kid off the bench every night,” Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue said of Thompson before Friday’s practice. “Just the intensity with which she practices and she plays, she’s fearless. No moment is too big for that kid.”

Thompson joined the Panthers program last summer after moving with her family to Waterville from Arizona. She immediately knew she was joining a strong team.

“Everyone’s a really good player, and I just have to be ready to come into the game and do what I know how to do. Just play my game,” Thompson said.

Rodrigue knew his team, which returned a majority of the group that made the Class B North quarterfinals last season, had the potential to contend. The addition of Thompson reinforced his opinion.

“I got to spend time around her this summer, just getting to know her as a kid, her intelligence, her work ethic, her coachability. We have kids that can score, but you need those glue kids. She’s going to sacrifice and do whatever the moment calls for,” Rodrigue said.

Thompson’s tenacity was on display in Bangor this week. At around 5-foot-8, she outworked bigger opponents to the glass, especially on the offensive end. She grabbed eight offensive rebounds against John Bapst.

“I just try to be tougher and be strong with the ball when I try to jump up there and grab rebounds and box bigger girls out to get an advantage on them,” Thompson said.

Saucier was a known factor. With scoring threat Sadie Garling out for much of last season, Saucier stepped into a shooting role. With Garling back and healthy this season, Saucier returned to a reserve role, but was still a scoring threat.

“We have a very deep bench, so we just have to be ready for whatever happens,” Saucier said. “Last season Sadie was out for 12 games. I had to step up last season. This season, now that she’s back, it’s important we keep having players who can step up.”

Added Rodrigue: “When Sadie was out, (Saucier) put in 14 and 16 two games in a row. She had seven the other night. She’s really one of our more skilled kids. When you put her and Sadie on the floor at the same time, I don’t know who you guard.”

The Waterville girls basketball team celebrates its win over Hermon in the Class B North semifinals Wednesday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Against Hermon Wednesday, Saucier hit a 3-pointer midway through the first quarter to tie the game at 9-9. In the third quarter, Saucier nailed a pair of free throws to push the Panthers’ lead to 35-24, capping a run that saw Waterville rally from a four-point halftime deficit to a double-digit lead.

“You just have to be focused. You can’t let the crowd or situation in the game mess with your head. You’ve got to be locked in,” Saucier said.

Saucier and Thompson are locked in. That’s helped the Panthers get this far. If Waterville knocks off the top-seeded Trojans on Saturday, the sophomore duo will likely be in the middle of it again.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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