OAKLAND — Messalonskee and Mt. Blue are so even that one area of the game can mean the difference. On Monday afternoon, that area was rebounding. Specifically, it was the rebounding of Messalonskee’s Kelsey Mayo, Taylor Easler and Mikayla Turner.
The trio of Eagles combined for 30 rebounds, which was 11 more than the Mt. Blue team. All those boards meant a 45-37 girls basketball victory for Messalonskee.
“Sometimes, early in the season, we were shooting too quick, before anyone could get in position,” said Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby, whose team is now 9-5. “And that leaves you high and dry. But by attacking the rim and taking more than long threes, it also gave Kelsey, Mikayla, Taylor and Delaney (Collier) room to get rebounds.”
Early on, it was Easler sweeping the glass, as she had all seven of her rebounds in the first half. Late in the game, it was Mayo (19 points, 16 rebounds) and Turner (10 points, seven rebounds) taking charge. Messalonskee ended up with a 37-19 edge in total rebounds.
“We were just fighting to get every rebound in this game,” Mayo said.
The game had a sloppy start, as Mt.. Blue (6-6) led 5-0 after four minutes. Messalonskee scored the next 11 points, and led 25-15 at halftime. Freshman Sophie Holmes had nine of her 11 points in the first half for the Eagles.
Mt. Blue was in a bigger hole on the boards when starting forward Addie Brinkman picked up her third and fourth fouls early in the second half. But with Messalonskee leading 29-17 and ready to pull away, Caitlin Kane banked in a 3-pointer to jump-start an 11-2 Mt. Blue run. Miranda Nicely (10 points) made two free throws to get the Cougars within five, and then came up with a steal that led to a jumper by Emily Knowles (11 points) to make it 31-28 with 1:54 left in the third quarter.
That was as small as the Messalonskee lead would get. The Eagles built the lead back to nine points midway through the fourth quarter, and came up with some big stops on defense. Mayo, who stands 6-foot-1, got herself good post position and good passes for a couple layups, and Messalonskee continued to grab most of the available rebounds.
“We played tough in the second half, but we didn’t get over the hump,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “Then there were a couple sequences down under the basket, we didn’t grab the ball, and they got two layups. Instead of being down three coming this way, we ended up down seven.”
Still, the fourth quarter was a little shaky for the Eagles, mainly because of Mt. Blue’s defense. Messalonskee committed 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter, and 15 in the second half. Still, Derosby felt the Eagles looked better against the press than they did in a 46-43 win over Mt. Blue in Farmington earlier this season.
“When we went up there, their pressure was good, and we didn’t handle it at all,” Derosby said. “So this was an improvement to that time. They’re kind of long and athletic up front, and they force you to the sides and force you into traps.”
With six games remaining in the regular season, Mt. Blue should be in good shape to make the Eastern A tournament. The Cougars can solidify that by knocking off almost any of their upcoming opponents. They play league powers Edward Little and Lawrence once each and Oxford Hills (who has beaten both EL and Lawrence) twice. Philbrick pointed to wins over Brunswick and Cony as proof that Mt. Blue could beat strong opponents.
“We just haven’t been consistent,” he said. “We’ve got some games that we’re going to have to come out and play.”