FAIRFIELD — Long winning streaks die hard. Just ask the Messalonskee High School girls basketball team.

Up double digits entering the fourth quarter and poised for a runaway win, the Eagles instead had to hang on for a narrow win. Lawrence threatened but couldn’t close the gap, falling 39-33 in the season opener for both teams.

As the buzzer sounded three seconds after a Sophie Holmes steal put out the last flickers of drama, Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby stood and applauded his team. He knew how hard the victory was to get. The Bulldogs hadn’t lost in their home gym in 37 straight games, and being the team that snapped the streak was never going to be easy.

“This is a tough team,” Derosby said of Lawrence, which built that winning streak while being led by Nia Irving. “I know everyone wants to talk about the two kids they lost, but they bring back a lot of talent. A lot of shooters. … For us to come in here on opening night, knowing what we could accomplish, we knew the challenge that was ahead of us. We just wanted to ride it out.”

Messalonskee was a popular pick to upend Lawrence for first place in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, and looked the part with commanding second and third quarters that made the score 34-23 entering the fourth. Molly Folsom (seven points, 10 rebounds) knocked down a jumper, and though Holmes responded with a 3-pointer with just over six minutes to go, the Bulldogs kept up the rally. Camryn Caldwell hit a 3, Olivia Patterson made a free throw and Hunter Mercier — Lawrence’s top scorer with 15 points — hit a jumper moving into the elbow to make the score 37-33 with 3:12 to go.

“We went 37 in a row here without losing, and I think there’s a little Lawrence pride there,” said coach John Donato, whose team was without one of its top players in guard Morgan Boudreau. “Even though our point guard was not there, they just didn’t want to lose.”

That was as close as the Bulldogs got, however. Lawrence had three separate sequences after a pair of offensive rebounds in the final two minutes, but couldn’t capitalize. After a long Messalonskee possession, the Bulldogs forced a turnover but lost the ball again on a backcourt violation. They had to foul, and Holmes iced the game with a pair of free throws with 15.8 seconds left.

“We haven’t won here in two years, so that’s a big deal for us,” said Holmes, who led all scorers with 19 points. “It feels good to beat Lawrence, obviously they’re our rivals. They’re going to be good, they’re going to get a lot of wins, we know that. We’ve just got to get another one and another one and another one.”

The start to the game wasn’t much easier, as Lawrence got a trio of 3-pointers from Mercier, the last coming after she spun around to shake a defender, for a 9-0 lead within the first four minutes of the game.

“I feel like after I make one shot, my confidence level is going (up),” she said. “Once I hit one, I feel like I’ll make the other ones.”

The beginning to the game brought back bad memories for the Eagles, who lost to Lawrence in last year’s A North semifinals, 59-44.

“We had a rough start,” Holmes said. “Hunter Mercier can obviously shoot from the corner. We learned that last year at the Civic Center.”

The Eagles started face guarding Mercier to limit her deep looks, and as Holmes got settled, the game tilted in Messalonskee’s favor. She scored five points in the first quarter and seven in the second, showing an ability to both drive and pull up for shots, as well as play aggressively in the passing lanes.

“She’s dynamic,” said Derosby, whose team also got eight points from McKenna Brodeur and five from Ally Turner. “She’s probably the best all-around player I’ve had the pleasure of coaching. She’s gifted.”

Her two points in the third quarter came during a 9-2 run that built Messalonskee’s lead to 32-21. At that point, it felt like the Eagles had withstood all the fight the Bulldogs had.

Instead, as would be expected of the rivalry between the teams, there was another close ending in store.

“That’s a team with four starters (back), they lost three games last year,” Donato said. “We played with them. … I think we did all right.”

Drew Bonifant —621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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