AUGUSTA — Dominique Lewis jogged off the floor, her job for the Lawrence girls basketball team done for the evening.
Hugs and high-fives greeted the freshman on a jubilant sideline as the Bulldogs eagerly counted off the final seconds of a 73-62 Eastern A quarterfinal victory over Mt. Blue.
When Lewis reached classmate and close friend Nia Irving, the raw emotion that only a tournament victory can provide took over.
Lewis, a 5-foot-3 point guard, leapt into the arms of Irving, a 5-foot-11 center.
“Amazing,” Lewis said. “It’s one of the best things to ever happen to us. I can’t describe it. It was incredible.”
It’s also part of a great turnaround season for the Lawrence. The No. 4 Bulldogs (14-5), winners of a combined two games the previous two seasons, are in the Eastern A semifinals. They will play No. 9 Cony (13-7) at 4 p.m. today at the Civic Center.
“We have a lot of kids who just want to play basketball,” Lawrence third-year coach John Donato said. “We have some basketball junkies.”
None more so than Irving and Lewis, a pair of freshmen who lead a senior-less team that is two wins shy of playing for a state championship. The pair played a big role in the victory over the No. 5 Cougars last Friday night. Irving finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds in a dominant performance. Lewis added 18 points and five assists.
As tournament debuts go, the freshmen played more like poised upperclassmen.
“They play well together,” Donato said. “Domi got the ball to Nia and we got the ball to Domi. It works out pretty well.”
It has all season.
Irving averaged 19.1 points and 13.5 rebounds a game during the regular season to earn KVAC North Player of the Year honors. Lewis averaged 13.3 points a game. Fellow freshman Alexis Chamberlain also contributes, having started several games throughout the season. She averages four points a game.
Junior captain Shelby Rudnicki, a three-year varsity player for Donato, says it’s easy to forget Lewis and Irving are freshmen.
“It’s amazing how good they are as freshmen,” she said. “They’ve made an impact kind of right off. We all played a lot over the summer and we knew they were going to come in and it was going to work. Sometimes we forget they are freshmen. Sometimes you have to step back and say, ‘oh, this is only their first year.’ We’re super-pumped to have them.”
Irving and Lewis have played basketball together since fourth grade.
Youth teams, travel teams, AAU teams. You name it and chances are good they’ve done it together. It’s what makes them close and what makes them a dangerous tandem on the floor.
“They are the peanut butter of the team,” Donato said. “Everything sticks to them and they stick to each other. They have this bond, this sixth sense. They know where each other is on the court at all times. They still have a lot to learn but the seed has been planted for them to be great players.”
Added Irving: “We don’t even have to talk. We look at each other and know what each other is thinking. We live at each other’s houses. You won’t find us without each other.”
The Bulldogs — 8-1 in their last nine games — are playing some of their best basketball at the most opportune time. Lawrence has long silenced doubters during this stretch, but Irving said the team still plays like it has something to prove.
“People kind of underestimated us coming in,” she said. “They were like, ‘oh, we’re freshmen and they don’t have a lot of experience.’ I think we’ve proved a lot of people wrong. When we all come together, we’re definitely a threat.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640