AUGUSTA — In the first half of Wednesday afternoon’s Eastern Class A semifinal game against Brunswick, the Lawrence High School girls basketball team played their worst half of defense of the season.

The good thing for the Bulldogs was, they knew it.

“After Coach (John Donato) gave us our chalk talk, we came out here and we told each other we hadn’t been playing like we usually do,” Lawrence junior forward Nia Irving said. “We needed to play our defense. I mean, we hold teams to 37 points a game,and we gave up that much in the first half.”

In the third quarter, the Bulldogs tightened up their defense, and went to the inside game, their offensive strength. Lawrence scored the first 19 points of the second half, turning a seven-point deficit into a 12-point lead. In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs held off a Brunswick rally to take a 62-52 win.

No. 2 Lawrence, now 19-1, will face No. 1 Bangor (19-1) in the regional final on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center. No. 6 Brunswick ends the season at 12-8.

The Dragons led, 37-30, at the half, and in the locker room, Donato didn’t have a fire and brimstone speech for his team. The coach just reminded the Bulldogs that they had to do what they do well.

“I didn’t have any magic words I said we’ve got to stick to our game plan. We just played lousy defense in the first half. We were a little bit hesitant,” Donato said. “We were shooting the ball from the outside, and we weren’t balanced at all shooting the ball. Then we started getting the ball inside and that’s when we pulled away.”

Irving and Paige Belanger opened Lawrence’s second half run with two free throws each to cut Brunswick’s lead to 37-34. Dominique Lewis tied the game with a 3-pointer, and an Irving putback with 5:30 left in the third quarter gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.

“This is the first time we’ve been behind anybody all year at halftime,” Donato said.

At the other end of the court, Lawrence finally played the tight defense for which it’s known. The Dragons were scoreless until a Julia Champagne layup with 1:21 left in the third. By then, the Bulldogs had a double digit lead.

“It all starts with defense. That’s what we work on the hardest in practice,” Irving said.

Down 53-42 entering the fourth quarter, the Dragons scored the first eight points of the fourth to cut Lawrence’s lead to 53-50. While the Bulldogs did not make a field goal in the fourth quarter, they went 9 for 10 at the line to seal the win.

For the game, Lawrence was 30 for 34 at the line. Irving made 15 free throws, one short of Lawrence alum Cindy Blodgett’s Eastern Class A tournament record of 16 in a game. Irving scored a game-high 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

“We have some pretty nice foul shot drills. There’s a lot of running if we miss. That really inspires us to make them,” Irving said.

Belanger had 11 points and 11 boards for Lawrence. Julia Champagne led Brunswick with 16 points, while Sabrina Armstrong scored 14 points for the Dragons, all in the first half as Brunswick built its lead.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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