AUGUSTA — A few hours after being named a semifinalist for Miss Maine Basketball, Cony High School senior Josie Lee showed three thousand or so fans at the Augusta Civic Center exactly why she received the nomination.
The lone returning starter from last season’s Eastern Maine Class A championship team, Lee did a little of everything in leading the ninth-seeded Rams to a 49-37 win against No. 4 Lawrence.
Cony (14-7) advances to Friday evening’s regional final against No. 2 Bangor. A year after going 2-16, Lawrence finishes the season at 14-6.
Lee finished with 21 points, 14 in the second half, but her contributions went much further. The 5-foot-8 guard grabbed eight rebounds, had three assists, three steals and blocked a shot. And for much of the game, she guarded Lawrence center and freshman star Nia Irving.
“Everyone keeps asking what it is about (Josie),” Cony coach Karen Magnusson said. “It’s something that’s built inside of her that is not taught. It’s just her heart and desire to play. The way that she plays, everyone else plays just as hard as her.”
Irving, who scored 28 points in Lawrence’s quarterfinal win against Mt. Blue, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Her performance was limited by the two fouls she picked up in the first minute of play.
“When Nia got in foul trouble it changed the whole complexion of the game,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “They were hanging their heads because our big girl got in foul trouble and we never got back to where we were playing our type of ball.”
The Rams pressed throughout the game and forced 20 Lawrence turnovers. They led 11-4 at the end of the first quarter, but when Irving returned the floor in the second quarter, the Bulldogs got back into the game. Three-point shots from Paige Belanger and Shelby Rudnicki gave Lawrence a 19-16 lead at the half. The Rams took 27 shots, most of those 3s, but made just six hoops and one 3-pointer.
“The game was running our way in the first half, we just weren’t making shots,” Magnusson said. “We’re a second half team and we can’t worry about that. They have to shoot with confidence.”
The Rams did keep shooting and began to connect. Junior Hayley Quirion (11 points) sandwiched a pair 3s from each side of the floor around two layups by Lee to put Cony up 26-21. The Bulldogs battled back to tie the game at 26 on a 3 from Brianna Soucy and Irving’s layup. But that was as close as they would get. Bayleigh Logan (eight points) scored a layup off an assist from Lee and Lee converted a rebound at the buzzer to make it 30-26.
Irving worked hard for her points and took some punishment in the process, injuring her left shoulder in the first half and at least twice hitting the floor hard.
“I definitely was not expecting it to be that aggressive,” Irving said.
Lee played behind Irving in the second half but had help whenever the freshman touched the ball.
“Our big thing was really doubling Irving,” Lee said. “We just needed to stop her.”
The Rams pushed the lead to 38-31 on a 3 from Quirion and forced the Bulldogs to go man-to-man.
This played into Lee’s hands as she penetrated and scored, drew a foul or passed the ball to an open teammate. Logan and Alyssah Dennett each converted a pair of free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
“It was a much different season last year,” Lee said. “But I knew we could do it. Obviously we could compete with any team and that’s what we’re doing.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638