FAIRFIELD — Both Lawrence and Oxford Hills have played better than they played on Tuesday night, and certainly will play better later this season.

In a somewhat sloppy game, the Bulldogs slithered away from Oxford Hills for a 40-31 girls basketball victory. For Lawrence coach John Donato, the biggest plus from the game was how the Bulldogs handled a close game after opening the season with two lopsided wins.

“We played the defending Eastern Maine champions from last year, with a very good reputation, a very good coached team,” Donato said. “This is really our big first test. These are the type of games you’re going to have in the tournament: Every possession is important. It’s a big win.”

Paige Belanger scored a game-high 15 points for the Bulldogs (3-0), and Nia Irving added 13 points and 13 rebounds. Anna Winslow, a six-footer who will be playing at Central Maine Community College next season, led the Vikings with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Oxford Hills (1-2) was short-handed, missing starters Mikayla Morin and Tianna Sugars to injury. This naturally limited the Vikings’ scoring options, and in fact all of their points came from three players: Winslow, Erin Eastman (10 points), and Erin Morton (all nine of her points in the first quarter).

“I think we’ll be pretty healthy come after Christmas,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said.

The Vikings made no secret of their game plan, as they won the opening tip, then passed the ball around until Morton made a back-door layup with 6:59 left in the first quarter.

“What we’re trying to do right now is get through some games with some kids out,” Pelletier said. “So anything we can do to hold the ball on offense a lot longer, it helps our defense. I’d love to take a minute off the clock every time and score a layup, but it doesn’t always happen.”

Oxford Hills went up 5-0 on a 3-pointer by Morton, but Lawrence came back to tie the score and then go ahead 8-5 on a 3-pointer by Dominique Lewis. Oxford Hills’ last lead was 15-13, but the Vikings did have the highlight play of the game, as Winslow swatted a Lawrence layup out well behind the three-point line.

But that was just one play, and Lawrence’s 19-5 advantage in free throw attempts ultimately spoke louder. Over the second and third quarters, the Bulldogs limited Oxford Hills to 3 for 23 shooting from the floor with zero free throw attempts. Not surprisingly, Lawrence went from down 15-13 early in the second quarter to ahead 30-19 after three.

Not only had Lawrence won both of its first two games easily, the starters didn’t have to play a full game. They did on Tuesday, and Donato was pleased with how they played down the stretch. Eastman banked in a couple 3-pointers to trim Lawrence’s lead to eight and then seven, but both times, Lawrence responded with a basket by Belanger, and seven was as close as the Vikings would get.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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