AUGUSTA — Seventh-seeded Messalonskee faced an uphill battle all game long against No. 3 Oxford Hills on Wednesday, but the Eagles found themselves with two good chances at the end, one to potentially win the game and another to tie.
Unfortunately for Messalonskee, neither shot went in as the Eagles lost their Eastern Class A semifinal matchup against the Vikings, 35-33.
After struggling against the Vikings’ 2-3 zone throughout the game, the Eagles finally caught up to them in the fourth quarter. Mikayla Turner’s layup at the beginning of the quarter tied the game at 24 and her layup in the final 30 seconds drew Messalonskee to within one, 34-33. Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby called timeout after Mikayla Morin’s free throw gave Oxford Hills a two-point lead with 10.6 seconds left and set up the final play.
“We were running a wheel offense and we felt we were going to get layups out of it,” Derosby said.
Instead, the Eagles got an open 3-point attempt from freshman Sophie Holmes that was on line but off the front rim. Kelsey Mayo grabbed the rebound and had room to pivot left. She elected to go right and her 10-footer at the buzzer glanced off the rim.
“I think she expected that help to be there, because they had been really good helping in on her,” Derosby said of Mayo’s decision
Oxford Hills (16-4) meets top-seeded Edward Little in the Eastern Maine final Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center while Messalonskee finishes at 12-8.
The 2-3 zone employed by Oxford Hills doesn’t make for the most exciting basketball, but it sure is effective. It took the Eagles over two minutes to get a shot on its first possession and they struggled to score throughout the game. The zone has caused problems for every team in Eastern Maine Class A this season, primarily because coach Nate Pelletier puts 6-foot Anna Winslow and 5-11 Morin up top.
“It’s new for us,” Winslow said. “We’re working through the kinks.”
Skowhegan encountered the same problems in losing a quarterfinal game to the Vikings in four overtimes.
“They’re real long and they get a lot of deflections,” Pelletier said of Winslow and Morin. “That’s what we teach them. They don’t necessarily need to get the steal.”
The zone had the Eagles stymied through three quarters as they shot just 9 of 36 from the floor. But the Vikings managed just four points in the third quarter and Messalonskee climbed back into the game after trailing 20-12 at the half. The Eagles made a concerted effort to get the ball to Mayo in the third quarter and it paid off as the 6-1 senior scored eight points in the period and drew her team to within a basket, 24-22.
“We kind of talked about that in the beginning but for some reason we fell into we’re going to work the ball, work the ball, east-west,” Derosby said. “It really wasn’t what our game plan was, but their length scared us off. They were pushing off that 3-point line just by being there.”
Turner opened the fourth quarter with a baseline jumper to bring the Eagles into a 24-all tie. The Vikings went up 32-28 on a putback from sophomore Tiana Sugars, but the Eagles didn’t fold. Turner, who scored 10 of her team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter, scored a layup to make it 34-33, setting up the final sequence of events.
Winslow and Morin, both juniors, were as effective on offense and they were on defense. Winslow finished with 13 points while Morin scored 12, including 3 of 4 free throws in the final 54 seconds. Mayo finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds but was guarded effectively by Sugars, who blocked three shots and grabbed some key rebounds.
“I was just trying to box her out and be physical,” Sugars said.