While the Belfast girls basketball players, coaches and fans may be deeply disappointed by the Lions losing in their first appearance in years in the regional tournament at the Bangor Auditorium, they can all be happy and, in time, satisfied that their program took a giant step forward this winter.

The No. 6 Lions' impressive overall season came to an end Friday night, Feb. 15 with a 49-39 Eastern Class B quarterfinal playoff loss to No. 3 Nokomis of Newport.

Click for photos from this game.

Video appears below.

Nokomis improved to 17-2 on the campaign and avenged a 58-55 regular-season loss to Belfast. The Warriors move onto the semifinals to play No. 7 Camden Hills (14-6), who upset No. 2 Oceanside of Rockland/Thomaston (16-3) 54-39 in another quarterfinal Friday night, Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 2:05 p.m. back at the Bangor Auditorium.

The Lions finished the campaign 14-5, which is more wins then they combined to record in several recent seasons.

First-year Belfast coach Stan Sturgis said his players had jitters in the first quarter because it was their first time playing at “The Mecca,” but despite ultimately falling short, “calmed down and played great.”

“I thought they played very hard,” he said. “They didn’t give up. There was a time there in the beginning of the game where it could have gotten away from us pretty easy. Just uncharacteristic mistakes on our part.”

Belfast, which defeated No. 11 Washington Academy of East Machias (8-11) 50-40 in a prelim playoff game Feb. 12, had not qualified for the regional tournament since the 2006-07 season and had not been to Bangor — or won a postseason game — in longer.

Friday night's game was tight throughout, with the Warriors leading 20-18 at halftime. However, Nokomis outscored Belfast 29-21 over the final 16 minutes to cement the win.

The Lions actually led early in the fourth quarter, but Nokomis took control down the stretch en route to the victory.

Keying Belfast were Lexi Nelligan with 20 points; Courtney Drinkwater, 14; Katrina Lapham, four; and McKenzie Thibodeau, one. The Lions did not hit a 3-pointer, a shot they usually make several times a game, and were 11-of-19 (58 percent) from the foul line. Nelligan also finished with seven rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots and Drinkwater with three rebounds and two steals.

For Nokomis, Taylor Shaw tallied 13 points; Kelsie Richards, 12; Anna MacKenzie, 11; Traci Carson, seven; and MaKayla Charters, six. The Warriors made two treys, and 17-of-22 foul shots (77 percent), which put them over the top.

Nokomis led 15-7, 20-18 and 28-23 at the quarter breaks. The two teams put on an offensive show over the final eight minutes with the Warriors outscoring the Lions 21-16 in the fourth stanza.

Nokomis led 20-9 early in the second quarter before the Warriors got into foul trouble late in the second quarter, putting Belfast in the double-bonus for the final 4:05 of the first half.

The Lions took advantage, going on a 9-0 run to end the stanza on a bundle of free throws from Drinkwater (4), Nelligan (2) and Thibodeau (1), while Nelligan's steal near midcourt resulted in a fastbreak hoop with 1:12 remaining in the stanza to bring Belfast within two points.

Belfast was 8-of-13 (62 percent) from the foul line in the first half.

Belfast led once, 29-28, when Lapham scored off an inbounds play with 5:10 remaining in the game.

However, Richards connected on a 3-pointer on the next Warrior possession and Nokomis never trailed again, outscoring Belfast 21-10 the rest of the way.

“Every time we’d start to get some momentum going we’d have some kind of breakdown,” said Sturgis. “We were down by one or two, and [Nokomis] had like five straight possessions where they didn’t score. And we just kept turning it over every time. I don’t know. It’s tough to swallow.”

Richards tallied 12 pivotal fourth-quarter points and Nokomis made 8-of-10 foul shots (80 percent) in the final stanza.

Nelligan tallied four points in the first quarter, six in the second, two in the third and eight in the fourth. Drinkwater netted two in the first, four in the second, two in the third and six in the fourth.

In the game, Carson made 5-of-6 free throws, MacKenzie and Richards both 3-of-3 and Drinkwater 4-of-4.

Belfast closed to within three points at 40-37 when the Lions got a steal in the backcourt and a jumper from Drinkwater with 45.8 left, but Nokomis delivered the knockout blow shortly thereafter.

Carson hit the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw situation and missed the second attempt as the ball went out of bounds off a Belfast player, allowing the Warriors to retain possession.

Richards then converted a three-point play on a layup slicing to the basket on a nice pass from Carson with 33.2 seconds remaining to put Nokomis ahead 44-37.

While the loss stings, as do all tournament defeats, Sturgis was happy his student-athletes got to have the experience of playing at the Bangor Auditorium in the final year of the fabled building.

“We ended up 14-6 overall, we got to come and play on this floor, [so] I’m happy and proud," he said. "I wouldn’t do it any other way.

“I’d rather get here and lose than not get here at all. It’s tough, but we lost to a great team."

Courier Publications sports staff can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401 or by email at sports@courierpublicationsllc.com.