SOUTH CHINA — On senior night at Erskine Academy, the team’s seven seniors decided they wanted to extend their season to the Eastern Maine Class A tournament.

To do it, the Eagles would have to beat a Brunswick team that swamped them just a month ago. Playing with that urgency, Erskine took a big first-half lead, fought off a comeback by the Dragons and pulled out a 52-44 victory, its biggest in a couple of seasons.

“This is a big deal,” said Erskine senior Tom Grady, who scored a team-high 14 points. “This will hopefully put us in the playoffs. We want to beat Cony on Thursday night.”

Erskine (7-10) stood two spots out of the tournament picture in 11th place prior to the game, but picked up valuable points from the No. 6 Dragons (10-7). Last month in Brunswick, the Eagles lost 60-39 in a game that was essentially over in the first half.

Erskine senior Tyler Belanger, who didn’t play in that one because of an injury, made a huge difference Tuesday night. The 6-foot-4 center finished with 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and drew a key offensive foul with two minutes left to play.

“They’re a heck of a lot quicker than I am,” Belanger said of the Dragons. “I was just trying to work hard so they wouldn’t get a second chance to put it in.”

The Eagles led 21-11 at halftime, holding the Dragons to six points in the first quarter and five in the second.

“Erskine earned it tonight,” Brunswick coach Todd Hanson said. “They came out with more intensity than we had. They were the team that wanted it more.”

The Dragons picked up their defensive pressure in the second half and got back into the game. Guards Mitchell Black and Blake Gordon harassed Grady and junior point guard Devin Duncan, forcing them into turnovers and causing them to commit a couple of retaliatory fouls.

“The beginning of the second half we all got caught up,” Grady said. “Everything got physical and we just got caught up in the moment.”

The momentum shifted to the Dragons, who took their first lead since the opening minute of the game on a layup from Garrett Erb with 6 minutes left to play. That made it 33-31, but the Eagles didn’t fold. Duncan (11 points) hit a 3-pointer and Shyler Scates followed with a three-point play off a nice assist from Grady to make 41-33. Senior Damon Bailey capped the 10-0 run with a putback, but the game was far from over.

The Eagles didn’t take control until the 3-minute mark when Belanger drew a charge off Ryan Black under the Brunswick basket. The Eagles followed with layups from Belanger and Grady, both against the Brunswick press, to make it 51-41 and put the game away.

“I think we did a much better job of handling their pressure,” Erskine coach Ben Willoughby said. “I’m so happy for our kids. It’s senior night.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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