FARMINGTON — They won after their center fouled out in the final minutes of a close game. They won despite being out-rebounded by seven in the second half. They won with a freshman taking their big foul shots in the final 41 seconds.
Most importantly, Lawrence won against Mt. Blue, one of the preseason favorites in Eastern A girls basketball. You can say Mt. Blue had an off game or suffered because of the absence of point guard Amy Hilton, but however you look at it, Friday evening’s 44-40 Lawrence victory was a huge one for the Bulldogs.
“It’s really going to help us get our confidence up,” said Lawrence junior forward Paige Belanger, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We really wanted this one.”
The Bulldogs (4-2), who have no seniors on their roster, were coming off a 58-40 loss to Skowhegan. Even though Hilton is out with an ankle injury, Mt. Blue ran with the Bulldogs, especially in the first quarter. But while the Cougars got good looks, the shots didn’t go in.
“You can’t take anything away from Lawrence. They played with a lot of emotion. That’s a good team,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “But we shot 26 percent from 2-point land, we shot 25 percent from 3-point land, and shot 52 percent from the free-throw line. That’s not going to win many ballgames, no matter who we play.”
Philbrick said Mt. Blue’s shot charts also showed the Cougars (3-2) missed 14 layups. Still, Lawrence never led by more than seven. Freshman center Nia Irving, after grabbing six rebounds in the first four minutes, had to sit out much of the first half with foul trouble. Belanger and freshman Alexis Chamberlain (eight points) helped pick up the slack and carry the Bulldogs to a 21-16 lead at halftime.
The second half followed the same pattern, with every basket crucial because neither team was shooting well. Lawrence freshman Dominque Lewis showed what Mt. Blue was missing with Hilton out when she drove the lane and fed Irving with a perfect bounce pass for a layup to give Lawrence a 40-33 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Mt. Blue nearly swung the momentum when standout guard Gabby Foy swatted away a shot by Belanger, chased down the rebound, dribbled upcourt and launched a 3-pointer. It would have pulled the Cougars within one with two minutes left, but the rainbow shot went in, and out, and in, and out.
Irving, who fouled out with 2:09 remaining, led the Bulldogs with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Lewis, a 5-foot-3 guard, not only had nine rebounds, but also scored the last four Lawrence points by hitting four straight foul shots in the final minute.
“My little freshman point guard took over,” Lawrence coach John Donato said.
Belanger helped seal the win when she blocked a 3-point attempt by Miranda Nicely (17 points, six rebounds). Mt. Blue is off until Wednesday against Messalonskee, and may have Hilton back for that game.
“It’s no time to panic,” Philbrick said. “There was no quit, right down to the last second. There’s some positive things to build on, and it will be nice when we get Amy back.”