WATERVILLE — Maine Central Institute’s scouting report entering Friday night’s game with Waterville said that MCI should try to keep the ball away from Waterville point guard Colleen O’Donnell. In the fourth quarter, the job was made much easier for the Huskies because O’Donnell was on the bench with four fouls.

Rather than folding, Waterville pulled away with O’Donnell on the bench. Jenna Gagnon helped run the show, Ashleigh Gagne had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Shannon Ritter scored all 10 of her points in the fourth quarter as the Purple Panthers took a 49-40 victory in the season opener for both teams.

“We had some kids really step up, ball-handling wise,” said Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue, a winner in his varsity coaching debut. “We practice that all the time: We don’t have this kid on the floor. How are we going to change our lineup, and how are we going to respond?”

Both Waterville (4-14 last season) and MCI (3-15) are trying to build their programs. Both teams had natural early-season inconsistencies Friday, which meant the game was close throughout.

An encouraging sign for the Huskies was their long-range shooting. MCI doesn’t have a big-time inside scorer, so the Huskies stayed outside and hit eight 3-pointers, including three apiece by Sarah Bennett (a team-high 15 points off the bench) and Kylee Alton (14 points). MCI’s bench totaled 21 points and 15 rebounds.

“We did some really good things offensively,” MCI coach Jason Allen said. “I’m not sure that we’ve scored 40 points in a long time. Conversely, there were stretches where we didn’t play very well defensively. And then there were other times where we looked horrendous offensively but defended pretty well. I guess that’s part of being game one, right?”

Alton, especially, was a big factor in the first half, when she hit all three of her 3-pointers and scored 11 points. Waterville needed a big first half from Lauren Crane (10 of her 12 points before the break) just to be within 23-18 at halftime.

But Waterville opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run, and MCI didn’t score in the quarter until Bennett banked in a 3-pointer with 3:01 left.

“We weren’t closing out with hands high (in the first half),” Rodrigue said. “We were closing out with hands by our hips. The second half, we did a really good job of anticipating, and those big forwards really did a good job of getting hands high to throw those shooters off rhythm.”

The game was tied at 29 after three quarters, and Waterville led 34-32 with 5:58 left when O’Donnell sat down with her fourth foul. The Panthers responded with eight straight points, including 3-pointers by Ritter and Gagne.

O’Donnell fouled out with 1:42 to play, but Gagne, a 5-foot-11 forward who is comfortable on the wing, still was a big matchup problem for the Huskies, and Ritter put the exclamation point on the night when she threw in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“(This) means a lot to us,” Gagne said. “We did struggle last year, but we pulled out of it. If we can keep this up, it would be awesome. We’re just going to keep positive.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243
[email protected]