OAKLAND — The decibel level at the Messalonskee gymnasium Friday night started near the top of the scale and kept going up.
When it was over, the student body faithful stormed the court as if the Eagles had just captured the state championship. They hadn’t, but they accomplished the next best thing: Beating rival Lawrence 56-49 before a packed house.
The win puts the Eagles (7-6) into the Eastern Maine Class A tournament for the time being, but its importance extends much further.
“Where we have come from in the past and where we’re going in the future, this is a big win,” Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin said. “The crowd was phenomenal tonight and the kids put it on themselves to come through. This was a big win for us.”
Lawrence (11-3) played without senior star Xavier Lewis, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis this week.
“The tests are being run today,” Lawrence coach Mike McGee said. “We don’t know if it’s the bad mono or the good mono. You lose one of the top five players in the state of Maine in my opinion.”
The Eagles got off to a quick start behind junior guard Justin Holmes and senior forward Aaron Gagne. Holmes scored 10 of his team-high 20 points in the first quarter, including a deep 3 at the buzzer, to stake the Eagles to a 19-9 lead. Gagne added eight of his 15 points in the period.
“We knew they didn’t have Xavier and he’s an important part of their team, but we came and we were ready to win,” Holmes said.
The Eagles played without junior guard Jordan Greenleaf while center Elijah Steele returned after missing four games and played limited minutes. They threatened to turn the game into a rout midway through the third quarter when a Gagne three-point play pushed the lead to 43-26, but the Bulldogs turned up their defensive pressure and forced 10 turnovers in a three-minute span.
“I thought the key to the game was the first half,” McGee said. “We didn’t play Lawrence defense. I was proud of the way the kids turned it up in the second half because it got to be 17 and they could have packed it in.”
Lawrence senior Spencer Carey, who scored a game-high 25 points, sandwiched a pair of steals that resulted in layups around a foul-line jumper as the Bulldogs cut the lead to 46-37 early in the fourth quarter.
“We’re a young team, we haven’t been in that experience in awhile,” McLaughlin said. “The fact of the matter is the kids executed and that’s all that matters in the end.”
Carey cut the lead to four points twice in the fourth quarter, the second time by hitting a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. But Holmes made two free throws a second later and sophomore Nick Mayo (11 points) tacked one on to put the game away.
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