PITTSFIELD — Hardly any shots were falling for the Skowhegan Area High School girls basketball team. Mariah Dunbar helped make sure that didn’t cost the Indians a victory.

Dunbar made two 3-pointers to give Skowhegan control, then made a pair of free throws to ice the game on her way to a game-high 11 points in the Indians’ 31-25 victory over Maine Central Institute on a snowy Saturday morning.

Nothing came easily for the Indians all game. Skowhegan (4-0) struggled from all areas of the floor, missing 12 uncontested layups and going 10-for-53 from the field for a dismal 19 percent shooting clip.

“We want to play inside-out, but we were settling too much for our baseline jumper, which I told them (is) the hardest shot in basketball,” coach Mike LeBlanc said. “We need to get out on the perimeter a little further out. I’ll take our chances with them shooting the ball out there.”

The Indians rebounded better and were more careful with the ball, however, allowing them to overcome their shooting woes and hang close with the Huskies (2-2). The score was 20-17 for MCI when Lindsey Warren hit a jumper to bring the Indians within one with 1:13 to go in the third quarter, and after a Huskies turnover, Dunbar drained a 3-pointer off of a wide-open look from the corner to give Skowhegan the 22-20 lead with 22 seconds left in the frame.

MCI evened up the score on a Ciera Hamlin basket on the first possession of the fourth quarter, but Dunbar hit another three on Skowhegan’s ensuing series to make it 25-22 with 7:28 to go.

“Coach at halftime told us that we needed to keep shooting and our shots would fall,” said Dunbar, who scored eight of her 11 points in the second half. “I came out as hard as I could and didn’t put my head down.”

Skowhegan’s touch faded again as it missed its next seven shots, allowing MCI to pull even at 25-25 on Christa Carr’s shot from the post with 4:22 to go. Alyssa Everett gave Skowhegan the lead again on an inside basket with 3:33 left, and after three turnovers, Dunbar had the chance to put the game away from the free-throw line with 48.7 seconds to play.

The sophomore guard took any drama out of the moment, swishing both shots to up the lead to 29-25 and force MCI to get desperate in the remaining seconds.

“I really took my time and I breathed and I said to myself that I could make them,” she said. “I thought if I made them we would have a big enough lead to just play defense and we’d have a defensive stop.”

Skowhegan fared better from the field in the second half, shooting 24 percent after making 14 percent in the first half.

“Coach told us that our shots weren’t falling but we needed to keep shooting, and that’s what we did,” Dunbar said. “All of us realize that, if we’re shooters, we can make them. … It’s better to keep shooting than to not shoot them and give up a wide-open shot.”

MCI made as many shots as Skowhegan did but was held to 22 fewer attempts, a product of its difficulty taking care of the ball. The Huskies turned the ball over 22 times to the Indians’ 12.

“Our defense is there. Our defense can play with anybody,” said MCI coach Jordan Larlee, whose team got seven points from freshman Sarah Linkletter. “But our offense is still a work in progress, and we just need to make sure we relax when we put the ball in the post.”

With the mistakes the Huskies made down the stretch, LeBlanc was hesitant to praise the Indians’ win as much of a statement about the team’s clutch play.

“I wish I could. But I think we out-willed them at the end,” he said. “They’re a very good team, they’re going to go a lot of places. We just have a tendency to not be able to execute down at the end of the game, we win just because we get lucky bounces and all that.

“We’ll get there. They’re young, I have five sophomores (starting).”

There lies perhaps the best piece of optimism, as despite the team’s youth, the Indians are positioned at the top of a competitive Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

“It’s a great start,” LeBlanc said. “Especially with such a young group, it gives them the confidence. We’ll build on it.”

There was plenty to be gained on the other sideline as well, as Class B MCI came within a shot or two of toppling a Class A team.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of my girls with the way they handled themselves and the way they played,” Larlee said. “We just got a little bit unlucky. We missed quite a few layups early, we missed even more layups in the third and fourth quarters, and that was kind of the name of the game for us.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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