AUGUSTA — A stray elbow in pursuit of a rebound caught Lawrence’s Hunter Mercier in the nose with 3:08 left in the third quarter of Friday’s Class A North girls basketball final.

The resulting nose bleed forced Mercier to the bench for about seven minutes of game action and may have cost her a spot in the Maine high school basketball tournament record book. But only a year earlier, the sophomore forward was in a lot more physical pain,and knew she was missing out on a lot more than a record.

Mercier was the star of the first half of top-seeded Lawrence’s 59-44 win over No. 2 Messalonskee at the Augusta Civic Center for its second straight regional title. With Messalonskee’s defense packing in the paint to stop Boston University-bound center Nia Irving, Mercier and her teammates had plenty of room to operate from the perimeter.

Led by Mercier, they made the Eagles pay, hitting nine 3-pointers in the first half while building a 39-23 lead.

Mercier hit five of those 3-pointers, four from the same spot in the left corner.

“That’s one of my favorite spots to shoot it,” she said. “I was really excited once I’d made a couple. They were running zone, so I was put in the corner.”

Some sophomores might hesitate to fire those long-range shots up while sharing the floor with a dominant low-post player like Irving, but Mercier had the backing of Irving and others to let it fly.

“My teammates talked to me and they were, like, ‘We need you this game,’ and I wanted to help them win,” Mercier said.

“I’m not surprised at all. She’s a great shooter,” Irving said of Mercier’s performance. “Her missing last season and then coming out and playing this game, I think it meant that much more to her because she really felt she was more a part of it this year.”

Mercier wanted the Bulldogs to win last year, too, but a torn ACL suffered in a JV game kept her from offering any help besides cheering from the bench.

“It was hard,” she said. “I tore it the second game of the season and I had to sit on the sidelines and watch. So I’m wicked excited to be back this year with my teammates.”

Getting back with her teammates was a long, arduous process. She didn’t feel close to 100 percent physically until about her seventh month of physical therapy. She missed softball season, but was able to return for field hockey in the fall.

“Mentally and physically, it was wicked hard,” she said. “It puts such a strain on you.”

Adding to the strain was the uncertainty of what her role would be this season.

“I didn’t know, but I think I’m happy about it now. I think I like it,” she said.

“She’s been consistent off the bench all year,” Lawrence coach John Donato added. “Our outside shooting has been very good… and it showed today.”

After being tended to by a trainer on the Bulldogs’ bench, Mercier returned to the game with a nostril full of cotton with 4:44 remaining, but didn’t take another 3 as Lawrence finished it off.

In the second half, the Bulldogs focused more on getting the ball inside to Irving, so it’s debatable whether she would have tied or broken the Class A tournament record of seven 3-pointers in a game, set by Lawrence’s Dawn Anne Higgins in 1991. The Bulldogs finished with 10 3-pointers, one shy of the team tournament record set by Skowhegan in 2006.

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