FAIRFIELD — There’s a chance it might not mean anything when the playoffs roll around. There’s a chance that in a few weeks, another game will replace it as the “game of the year.”

But for now, Lawrence versus Bangor is the unquestioned game of the year in Eastern A girls basketball.

A full house came to watch the showdown between two 7-0 teams, and the game was just about everything people hoped for. Lawrence trailed by nine in the first half, but fought back behind Nia Irving’s 23 points and 17 rebounds, and some key plays down the stretch, for a 59-53 victory on Saturday night at Folsom Gymnasium.

“Oh my gosh, this win means everything to us,” said Lawrence senior Abby Weigang, who grabbed one of the biggest rebounds of the game for the Bulldogs. “Bangor’s a great team. I have a lot of respect for them, and we were ready to step up and meet this challenge and play a team that was going to be more competitive — and in a tournament atmosphere. It was a really important game.”

Paige Belanger and Dominque Lewis each added 10 points for Lawrence, while Mary Butler led Bangor with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Katie Butler chipped in with 13 points. While the Lawrence players were understandably giddy when it was over, Bangor coach Joe Johnson was more philosophical.

“Nothing happens in January,” Johnson said. “It’s all going to be decided in February. I told my kids coming in, it’s just a good environment to play, and a good game to get ready for the end of the year. I thought both teams probably did that. Both teams probably took a step forward. It’s loud — it’s going to be loud at the tournament. There’s some good things to take away from this.”

Bangor came in with lots of height in the form of the Butler sisters and Cordelia Stewart (10 points, six rebounds). Irving can match up with that, but she’s only one person. So the Bulldogs turned to Weigang, who normally doesn’t see extensive playing time but came through with six points and five rebounds on Saturday.

“I knew that I was going to be playing more in this game because we had to compete with Bangor’s height,” Weigang said. “That gave them a huge advantage, but it was something that we could match up to, so we had to use that to our advantage as well.”

Still, when Mary Butler hit back-to-back threes late in the first quarter, the Rams led 18-12. They upped that to 26-17 early in the second quarter, but then Butler picked up her second foul and sat down. Irving immediately stepped up, totaling seven points and seven rebounds in the second quarter alone as Lawrence closed within 30-25 by halftime.

The Bulldogs got even closer in the second half on two 3-pointers by Lewis, and tied the score at 34 when Irving fed Belanger for a layup with 5:32 to play in the third quarter. But on the play, Belanger twisted her right ankle and was helped off the court.

“I’ve twisted both my ankles,” Belanger said. “I have flat feet, so my arches kind of bother my ankles a lot.”

Though she said she was in considerable pain, Belanger came back in with 1:18 left in the quarter and Lawrence ahead 40-36. The Bulldogs still led 46-40 with 5:34 to go in the game, but Stewart had eight of her 10 points in the fourth quarter, and when Mary Butler converted a three-point play with 3:11 remaining, the score was tied again at 49.

Belanger and Mary Butler traded baskets, and then Lawrence had a long possession. Belanger had the ball straight-on from the basket near the three-point line, but passed up the open shot to drop the ball down to Jordyn Towers, who made the layup for her first basket of the game, and ultimately, gave Lawrence the lead for good.

“I was looking for Nia, for the high-low,” Belanger said. “Then I just saw Jordyn open. I got it to her, and it was definitely exciting.”

Towers fouled out shortly after, bringing Weigang back into the game. After Lewis made a foul shot to make Lawrence’s lead 54-51, Bangor’s Sarah Bragg missed a game-tying three, and Weigang secured the rebound under the basket.

“I can’t even remember it now, because it all just felt like a blur,” Weigang said. “All I could think was, ‘I need to get that ball.’ Couldn’t let them score again. That’s how we came through with this game was just hard work, not letting everything go, paying attention to every little detail.”

Lawrence called timeout, and Irving was fouled and made both free throws. Bangor was down five, but had one last chance when Bragg slithered in for a putback and drew the foul. The free throw was no good, and while the Bulldogs hope this doesn’t end up being their biggest win of the season, it’s clearly their biggest so far.

“This is our third big challenge of the year,” Belanger said. “We know that they’re a very good team. We’ve been practicing all week, getting ready for this game, and it means a lot to us.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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