AUGUSTA — Half the crowd at the Augusta Civic Center was 30 seconds away from heading for the exits as second-seeded Lawrence built a seven-point lead with just over two minutes left in its Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinal matchup Friday.
Not so fast Messalonskee fans. Your Eagles were just getting warmed up. Sophie Holmes, Mikayla Turner and Taylor Easler all hit 3-pointers down the stretch to send the game to overtime where their teammates converted some key free throws as the seventh-seeded Eagles upset the Bulldogs 46-42 to send the tournament into a free-for-all.
“It’s just incredible, because we’ve been working all season and this is the cumulative point,” Turner said. “We’ve fought through all these games that were close and we couldn’t get the win and tonight we got the win.”
Messalonskee (12-7) advances to Wednesday’s semifinal where it will meet No. 3 Oxford Hills, which survived a four-overtime scare Friday against Skowhegan. Lawrence finishes at 16-3.
The Eagles survived 26 turnovers, but fortunately the Bulldogs weren’t on their game and struggled to score in the first half which ended in a 10-10 tie. Lawrence went to sophomore Nia Irving in the second half with results. The 5-foot-11 center and Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year finished with 23 points, 16 of those in the second half, many on foul line jumpers.
“She can shoot from there,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “But I’d rather have her beat us from there and not picking up and-ones.”
Junior Paige Belanger also heated up from the foul line area and scored all 13 of her points in the second half. Still, the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the Eagles, who got a pair of three-point plays from Easler and senior Kelsey Mayo in the third quarter as they trailed 27-23 at the break.
The Bulldogs pushed the lead to 31-23 as Irving opened the fourth quarter by converting a rebound and hitting yet another foul-line jumper.
“It’s tough to know you’ve got to guard her,” said Mayo, who drew that assignment. “It’s difficult when you know she can take those (outside shots) now.”
Lawrence threw an effective zone press at the Eagles that caused turnovers or rushed shots. They didn’t score their first hoop of the final quarter until Kassi Michaud drained a 3 off the break from the left side while she was on the move.
“Normally I take more time before I end up shooting,” Michaud said. “I knew right before I even shot it, instantly I was going to let it go.”
The 3-pointer was the first of the game for the Eagles and the trend caught on. It had to, as Irving hit a jumper and Belanger a driving layup to make it 36-29. Holmes, a freshman, hit the first of three bombs down the stretch and Turner, who rarely shoots from deep, followed with the second to draw the Eagles to within a point, 36-35.
“You have that moment and you’re down seven and you know you have to take the shot,” Turner said. “You just step up and you take it.”
Sophomore Dominique Lewis hit a pair of free throws with 1 minute, 9 seconds left to put the Bulldogs up 38-35 but Easler became the fourth three-point hero for the Eagles when she drained a shot form the left side to tie the game with less than 30 seconds left. The Bulldogs had a final chance at the win but a shot by Irving missed at the buzzer. The Eagles made 6 of 8 free throws in overtime — three from Delaney Collier, two from Mayo and one from Michaud — to seal the win.
“Anytime you can beat one of the best teams in the league, it’s got to be great,” Derosby said.