AUGUSTA — Lawrence High freshman Nia Irving is the worst kept secret since Cindy Blodgett arrived at the Fairfield school more than 20 years ago.
In her first tournament appearance Friday, the 5-foot-11 center scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the No. 4 Bulldogs to a 73-62 win against No. 5 Mt. Blue in the quarterfinal round of the Eastern Maine Class A basketball tournament.
Lawrence (13-5) advances to play Cony in the semifinal round of the tournament Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center while Mt. Blue finishes at 12-7.
This game was no cakewalk for the Bulldogs. After trailing by as many 11 points in the first half, the Cougars battled back to tie the game at 48 early in the fourth quarter. That prompted a timeout by Lawrence coach John Donato.
“The point of emphasis was definitely for us to get our heads back in the game,” Irving said. “And I think that’s exactly what we did.”
Donato also stressed getting the ball into the low post to Irving, who scored her team’s next 10 points to give the Bulldogs a 58-51 lead.
“Wouldn’t you?” Donato said.
Irving followed back-to-back three-point plays with a layup off an assist form fellow freshman Dominque Lewis. The 5-foot-3 point guard finished with five assists and 18 points and knew when to get the ball to Irving. The pair have been playing together on travel teams since the third grade.
“Me and Domi kind of have this telepathic thing going,” Irving said. “We know when to get each other the ball.”
Mt. Blue trailed 17-6 at the end of the first quarter but kept chipping away at the lead. Miranda Nicely and Gabby Foye each finished with 18 points and were instrumental in the comeback. Foy scored 10 points in the third quarter while Nicely scored seven points in the final nine minutes.
“That’s a veteran team,” Donato said. “This is the (second) time they’ve been here.”
A layup by Mt. Blue’s Makenzie Conlogue cut Lawrence’s lead to 58-53, but the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 an run ignited by Paige Belanger three-point play to put the game out of reach. Belanger took advantage of the double-teaming Irving drew to finish with 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Cougars lost twice to Lawrence in the regular season and knew they faced an uphill battle in containing Irving.
“We didn’t have an answer for her tonight,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “I thought Nicely battled her hard. She’s a great player. She’s a freshman but she doesn’t play like a freshman and neither does the Lewis girl.”
Just as Lawrence battled back from a 2-16 season a year, Mt. Blue did the same when this year’s seniors were sophomores.
“That’s what I told them,” Philbrick said. “I’m so proud of where we’ve brought the program. It’s going to be solid for a while.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638