Lawrence High School’s bench erupts after defeating Cony High School during a tournament basketball game on Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

FAIRFIELD — On a day the wind chills dipped below zero, the Lawrence High School boys basketball team thought of the summer. That’s when the foundation was set for the Bulldogs’ run to the Class A North championship. That’s when the Bulldogs learned how to win.

Lawrence will face two-time defending state champion Greely in the Class A state championship Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Winning the regional title with a 47-40 victory over Skowhegan was a giant step forward for Lawrence, which entered the season coming off back-to-back losing seasons. The Bulldogs won just 10 games combined in the two seasons prior to this one, missing the playoffs each season. With seven seniors returning to the roster this season, Lawrence had experience.

“We knew what it was like to lose. Our junior year was about learning how to compete, getting the majority of the minutes. This summer, we came out and battled. We knew we could win,” senior co-captain Nick Robertson said.

Summer league basketball is about setting habits. Wins and losses aren’t the end game for most of the teams competing, but for Lawrence, summer wins gave the Bulldogs higher expectations for the upcoming high school season.

“We’re all seniors now. We’re all learning together and it all played out during the season,” senior co-captain Gavin Herrin said.

“We played some good competition. We were successful  and we talked about it. The summer before, we’re saying we’re learning how to compete. This summer, we’re learning how to win,” Lawrence coach Jason Pellerin said. “I think they were excited about it. It did carry over, it just took a little while for us to get jump started once the season started.”

Lawrence opened the season with four consecutive losses. Although the Bulldogs felt they were playing better, especially defensively.

“I can back there right now, emotionally. The kids played hard. We just hadn’t figured out how to get over that hump. I can remember being down here in the locker room with them after one of the games saying, ‘You guys deserve better than this,'” Pellerin said. “They continued to practice hard, continued to buy into what we wanted to get done, and here we are.”

A 62-40 win over Erskine Academy snapped the losing streak at four games, and began a five-game win streak.

“Once we broke it open with that big win at home against Erskine, we knew we could beat anyone,” Robertson said. “We knew they would be a good team. We saw them in the playoffs again. We grew up playing them, so those are always big games.”

“There was a sense of urgency maybe we hadn’t had prior,” Pellerin said of the Eskine win. “I thought we played with a certain hunger, a certain desperation, not in a bad way. We’ve got to make this happen tonight. Tonight is our night.”

A key to Lawrence’s rebound from the slow start was defense. In those four losses, the Bulldogs allowed and average of just under 60 points per game. They finished the regular season with an average of 50.33 points per game allowed, fourth-best in the 12 team region.

“Our fourth quarter defense has been really strong in this run we’ve been on towards the end of the year. It’s had to be. We’ve played really good competition. In order to be great, we’ve got to take it up one more notch, and we’ve been able to do that,” Pellerin said.

In its three playoff wins, Lawrence allowed an average of 44.67 points per game. The Bulldogs held Erskine to 38 in a 53-38 quarterfinal win, and Skowhegan to 40 in the regional championship, a 47-40 win. Even so, there was another chance for the season to derail around the midpoint.

The Lawrence boys basketball team celebrates with the Class A North plaque Friday at the Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

It began with a lopsided 60-42 loss at Brunswick to drop Lawrence’s record to 5-5. It continued the next game at home against Cony. The Rams hit a shot at the buzzer to leave Folsom Gym with an 80-79 win. Defending regional champ Hampden was next up for the Bulldogs. The practice leading into the Hampden game was exceptional, Pellerin said. When it was time to face the Broncos, Lawrence put the game plan into action flawlessly, taking a 40-38 win.

“I’ll give the kids a ton of credit. They were able to put that Cony game behind them quickly. We came into practice and focused on what Hampden was going to do,” Pellerin said. “You could tell we were really locked in. We were right where we were supposed to be all game long.”

It was Lawrence’s first win over Hampden ” in many, many years” senior co-captain Kobe Nadeau said, and it was a confidence building victory.

“After a brutal loss to Cony at home, coming back two days later against Hampden. We knew we had something rolling. That was a really big confidence game for us, and I think for the coaching staff as well,” Nadeau said.

Pellerin acknowledged the win over Hampden was a confidence boost. He would not call it a momentum builder, however.

“You’re only as good as your last 32 minutes. Confidence is the one thing you can take from a game. I’m not a big believer that momentum carries from a game, but I believe you can carry some confidence. But you’ve got to take that and you’ve got to do something with it in those 32 minutes,” Pellerin said.

Over the course of the summer and regular season, Lawrence learned how to make those 32 minutes count.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

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