BANGOR — Last season’s loss in the Class B North championship game is still on the minds of the Waterville Senior High School girls basketball team. It’s not front and center, but it still stings, and the Purple Panthers use it as motivation.

“I don’t think we want to be in that position again, where we have to watch people cut down nets. We don’t want that again,” Waterville senior Maddy Martin said.

Wednesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Center, Waterville earned a spot in the regional final again, taking a 54-38 win over Presque Isle. No. 2 Waterville, now 19-1, will face No. 1 Hermon (19-1) at the Cross Insurance Center at 2 p.m. Saturday. No. 3 Presque Isle ends the season at 16-4.

The Wildcats handed Waterville its only loss of the regular season, 52-46, in December, and the Panthers won the January rematch by 21 points. Wednesday’s game was much like the second meeting, with the Waterville defense setting the tone.

Faith Sjoberg, Presque Isle’s deadeye sophomore shooting guard, torched the Panthers in the first meeting. In Friday’s quarterfinal win over Winslow, Sjoberg scored 17 points with three 3-pointers. Against Waterville, Sjoberg hit a three midway through the first quarter, but went scoreless until early in the fourth, when she hit another. Sjoberg finished with those six points, as the Panthers did an excellent job closing out on Presque Isle shooters throughout the game.

“We needed Faith to make a lot of shots early,” Presque Isle coach Jeff Hudson said. “I thought we really did a good job defensively on them, and they made shots. They made a lot of threes early.”

Waterville had three days of practice to get ready to shut down Sjoberg. Each practice, the Panthers spend five to 10 minutes playing three on four, working on running and scrambling to close out defensively, coach Rob Rodrigue said.

“We didn’t turn them over as much as we expected, but the kids had a game plan. They made the coaching staff look good, being able to be disciplined in their rotations. We were giving them quite a bit on the inside and not letting their great shooters beat us,” Rodrigue said.

Added Martin: “We worked really hard on extending on our closeouts. I just can’t say enough how hard we worked in practice, making adjustments to our usual defense, and it worked out today… The last two times we played them we really keyed on (Sjoberg), because she’s a fantastic shooter. You don’t want to let her get rolling, because she’ll get ya.”

Waterville trailed for just 10 seconds, 3-2 in the first minute of the game. Paige St. Pierre’s basket with 5:47 left in the first gave the Panthers a 7-5 lead, and a lead they would not relinquish.

“It’s hard to come back against these guys,” Hudson said.

Waterville led 20-13 after one quarter, and 31-20 at the break. That 11-point halftime lead came without any offense from senior Sadie Garling, one of Waterville’s top scoring threats. Martin scored all 12 of her points in the first half.

“We’ve been working on our inside game, and that helped so much because we start pounding it inside, and we have shooters open on the (wings) all day long. We share the load 100 percent. It’s a great team chemistry,” Martin said.

Garling scored nine points in the second half, and Jayda Murray led Waterville with 14 points. Kali Thompson came off the bench to grab 15 boards for the Panthers.

“One of our strengths is offensive rebounding, but not today,” Hudson said.

It wasn’t perfect for Waterville. The Panthers committed 21 turnovers, a few coming in the first half as they tried to force the ball inside.

“We were a little greedy in the halfcourt at times. We thought we had a real advantage in the post, and I think we did, but we’re jamming it in there and not paying attention to help side,” Rodrigue said.

Lizzie Moreau led Presque Isle with 15 points.

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