AUGUSTA — It’s early in the season but it’s no overstatement to say the Waterville boys basketball team pulled off its biggest win in two years Wednesday at the Capital City Hoop Classic.

Trailing by 13 points at the end of the first quarter to a bigger, more experienced Messalonskee team, the Purple Panthers rallied in the second period and held off the Eagles down the stretch in posting a 67-62 win.

The win was the third straight for Waterville (3-4) and should certainly help them in a quest for a tournament berth in Class A North. Just as important is the confidence gained by beating a quality team like Messalonskee (4-3).

“It’s incredibly important,” Waterville senior Justin Kornsey said. “They’re a very good team. We’ve already won more games than we did last year.”

Kornsey finished with a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds, but when he went to the bench with his third foul in the second quarter, it appeared the Panthers’ win streak was about to end.

“Probably two or three weeks ago and and certainly last year, that would have been a situation where we got run out of the gym,” Waterville coach Nick Pelotte said.

The Panthers trailed 22-9 at the end of the first quarter as the Eagles’ front-line tandem of James Lathrop and Taylor Turner dominated the boards and inside scoring. Both would eventually foul out which played a big role in the loss for the Eagles, but so did Waterville’s resiliency. Pelotte brought in 5-foot-11 senior Gavin Lachance, who helped stem flow of easy baskets despite giving away six inches to Lathrop and five to Turner.

“He really turned the games around for us and he didn’t do anything on the scoreboard,” Pelotte said.

Junior point guard Devon Lebrun did most of the scoring in the quarter for the Panthers as he connected on three 3-pointers in a 14-1 run that tied the score at 28-all. From that point, it was a competitive game.

“We needed to keep up the intensity,” said Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin, whose team forced nine first quarter turnovers. “Any time you don’t play you’re best game in this league and the other team plays well, you’re in trouble.”

Kornsey returned to the floor in the third quarter and scored 12 of his 17 points, all layups or short jumpers in the paint. Lathrop (17 points) got off to a quick start in the second half with a three-point play but got a couple of quick fouls, his third and fourth, and went to the bench. The Eagles led 44-43 at the break, but the Panthers got a nice lift from senior Devin Begin who scored all eight of his points, including a pair of 3s, in the first four minutes of the final quarter.

“Devin Begin had three quick fouls and got a fourth foul at the start of the third quarter,” Pelotte said. “He was down on himself and I looked at him and said ‘you never know when you’re going to get a shot. You have to stay focsued and cheer your teammates on.’ I put him back in the game with a (few) minutes to go and I can’t believe that actually came to fruition. Good for him. Begin’s second 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 58-51 lead they would never lose. Messalonskee’s problems were compounded when Turner (21 points) fouled out with just over three minutes to play. The Eagles cut the lead to three points twice but could get no closer.

Kornsey, and later, Lebrun fouled out for the Panthers but they got big plays down the stretch from Demetrius Ramirez, Michael Nigro and Adam Barre (12 points).

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