AUGUSTA – The Messalonskee girls basketball team’s offense had picked an awful time to take a break.

The Eagles were racking up turnovers faster than points. Passes were being thrown at players’ feet. Shots were sailing over the basket. Layup attempts were being hurled into the rim.

And then, in the nick of time, Gabrielle Wener and her teammates figured it out.

Messalonskee players celebrate after they beat Gardiner in a Class A North quarterfinal game Friday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Wener scored 16 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter, and No. 5 Messalonskee rallied to beat equally cold No. 4 Gardiner, 39-33, in the Class A North quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center.

“They stayed together,” said Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby, who also got eight points from Alyssa Genness. “It’s just about waiting, trusting that eventually those shots will drop.”

They dropped for Messalonskee, but never did for Gardiner, which went 8-for-49 from the field.

“We said if we hold them under 40, there’s no way we lose this game,” said coach Mike Gray, whose team was led by 11 points and 11 rebounds from Aimee Adams and six points and 10 rebounds from Bailey Poore. “We had a shot, we just didn’t make any shots. That’s what it comes down to. I thought we defended as well as we have all winter, I thought we rebounded as well as we have all winter. They just made shots down the stretch and we didn’t.”

Despite their struggles, the Tigers led for most of the game, and took a 20-19 lead into the fourth quarter. Messalonskee had hit only six of 35 shots at that point, but the Eagles quickly gained some momentum. Emily Parent (seven rebounds) hit a 3-pointer to put the Eagles in front 22-20, and Alyssa Genness, Mackenzie Mayo and Sarah Lowell followed with baskets to bump the lead to 28-21 with 4:43 to play.

Gardiner struck back, getting two free throws from Adams and two baskets from Maggie Bell to make it 28-27. The game was up for grabs again, but the Eagles coaches had noticed a crack in the Gardiner defense.

Messalonskee players celebrate late in the fourth quarter during a Class A North quarterfinal game Friday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“My coaching staff, Coach (Tommy) Hill and Coach (Pam) McGuan, were really good about recognizing some of the spacing,” Derosby said. “They recognized that, when Gabrielle was going up to that foul line, how they reacted. So we just started off the foul line, giving her some more space to move.”

Wener quickly benefited from the adjustment. She converted a three-point play to make it 31-27 with 3:02 to go, countered a pair of Gardiner free throws with another basket with 1:47 to go, then had a layup and two free throws to make it 37-31 with 57.2 seconds to play.

“We were able to make those open cuts. My teammates were able to make unbelievable passes, and I was able to finish in the end,” said Wener, who had a double-double with 10 rebounds. “We were a lot more hyped going into the fourth quarter. We were determined that this wasn’t going to be our last game.”

After shooting 17 percent through the first three quarters, the Eagles shot 70 percent in the fourth.

“Gardiner, that’s a great team, coach Gray does a great job. They scheme their defensive plan, switching out of that zone and that man,” Derosby said. “It gave us some fits.”

Particularly in the first half, when a combination of mixed shots and Gardiner’s aggressive defense saw the Eagles trailing 15-11 at halftime.

“I think it’s overthinking sometimes. Knowing what’s being run and trying to counteract that in our head,” Derosby said. “Sometimes instead of catching it and taking a breath, and then making your decision, (they’re) just trying to do everything. Think, pass, shoot, all in one motion. That’s pretty hard to do in this game.”

The Eagles were struggling, but the Tigers couldn’t take advantage. They shot 3-for-21 in the second half, missing a crucial chance to put their opponent away.

In the fourth quarter, it came back to haunt them.

“I think they just didn’t go in,” Gray answered when asked if the shooting struggles were a result of nerves. “They did a really good job of extending the pressure, especially on Jaycie (Stevens) outside. I think if we make a few layups, they can’t cheat out as much as they were, and that’s going to open her up.

“If we made one or two, that might turn things around. We just never could get that stretch where we could get a couple in a row.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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