WATERVILLE — When the Waterville Senior High School girls basketball team started the season with just one win in its first seven games, it looked as if the Purple Panthers’ season would end in early February with the conclusion of the regular season. But Waterville rallied in the second half, and with Tuesday’s 49-37 win over Oceanside in the Class A North preliminary round, the Panthers are heading to the regional quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center.

No. 7 Waterville (9-10) will face No. 2 Messalonskee (15-3) on Friday afternoon at 4:30. No. 10 Oceanside finished 8-11.

Tuesday’s win didn’t come easily for the Panthers. While the margin of victory was 12 points, Waterville saw the Mariners rally from a 12-point halftime deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, before the Panthers regrouped and scored the final 12 points of the game.

Oceanside’s Alexis Mazurek scored a layup on a putback with just over three minutes to play to tie the game at 37-37. Down 27-15 at the half, Oceanside controlled the game in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, while Waterville tried to slow things down.

“Our hope was to go into our tempo control and be aggressive out of it. We tried to hang on, I think. Instead of being aggressive we were kind of weak with the ball,” Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue said. “Up 12, in the locker room we talked about coming out in that look, forcing them to extend a little bit but we weren’t really super aggressive out of that.”

Waterville went back to the aggressive style that helped it build the lead in the first half and promptly regained control. Jordan Jabar scored on a layup to give the Panthers a 39-37 lead. A Mackenzie St. Pierre foul shot gave the Panthers a three-point lead with 1:58 to play, and with 1:13 left St. Pierre converted her steal into a layup for a 42-37 cushion.

“We were getting a little nervous. You get excited, sometimes you get too into the game, and I think we just needed to calm down and we did that,” said Jabar, who led Waterville with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

The Panthers made seven free throws in the final minute to close out the game.

The game couldn’t have started better for Waterville, which led 10-0 two minutes in. St. Pierre (12 points) and Sophie Webb (nine points) hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push Waterville’s lead to double digits.

“Shooting always changes things,” Rodrigue said.

Added Jabar: “It was exciting. We’ve had so many slow starts this year. The first time we played (Oceanside) we had a really slow start so it was nice to get out, and it was good for us.”

The Mariners scored the final seven points of the first quarter to cut Waterville’s lead to 16-11, but the Panthers quickly pushed the lead back to 10 points.

Fotini Shanos scored 11 points for the Panthers and grabbed six boards. Makenna Brooks led Oceanside with 14 points, while Mazurek had 11.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM