AUGUSTA — If they pick their battles, Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby believes his second-seeded Eagles can pull off the upset and end unbeaten top seed Lawrence’s bid for back-to-back state titles in Friday’s Class A North final (1:05 p.m., Augusta Civic Center).

“Sometimes, you’re going to give up some of the battles to win the war,” Derosby said. “I think that’s the mindset these kids have to have.”

Dating back to last year’s regional quarterfinals, Lawrence (20-0) has won every battle with the Eagles (17-3). The Bulldogs knocked them out of the tournament, 65-44, en route to their first state title since 1994, This year, the teams opened the season with a 67-43 Lawrence triumph in Oakland, then met again in Fairfield on Jan. 12 for a 62-38 Bulldogs win.

Despite the big spread in both of this season’s games, Lawrence coach John Donato wants his team to remember an old sports axiom.

“It’s always tough to beat a good team three times,” Donato said.

Messalonskee rolled through its quarterfinal with No. 7 Waterville, 64-44, and continued rolling through the first three quarters of its semifinal before Gardiner made a late charge.

Junior guard Sophie Holmes has been the Eagles’ top player, with 34 points in the quarterfinals and 24 in the semifinals while averaging nine rebounds per game.

Messalonskee has other weapons, though, including junior center McKenna Brodeur, a threat inside and outside, and sophomore point guard Ally Turner, a 5-foot-10 playmaker. But it will also be missing two key role players who have suffered injuries in the last two weeks — senior forwards Dakota Bragg and Cassidy Baker.

Lawrence nearly matched a 30-point win over ninth-seeded Skowhegan in the quarterfinals with a 29-point victory over No. 4 Hampden Academy in the semifinals. Despite 36 combined points from their two Miss Basketball semifinalists — center Nia Irving and guard Dominique Lewis — the Bulldogs had a subpar offensive game against Hampden.

“She had a below average Nia game, but hopefully she’ll come to play next game because we’ll need her. Messalonskee’s a good team,” Donato said.

On Friday, Derosby is expecting Irving to be at least “average” Irving, which is better than anyone else in the state. He doesn’t want his team to compound her impact by trying to out-physical the most physical player on the floor.

“We can’t give up easy ones,” Derosby said. “Nia’s going to get her points. We can’t put her onto the line for extra ones and we can’t get ourselves into mismatches with foul trouble.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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