A matchup between two of Class A North’s traditional girls basketball powers had turned into a rockfight.

Which, for Lawrence, wasn’t a bad thing. After all, that’s the sort of game in which Sarah Poli thrives.

The junior center was the biggest factor in the early-season marquee matchup, scoring 15 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and keeping the Bulldogs in front before the shots started to fall in what became a 46-36 victory at Folsom Gymnasium.

“I definitely do,” Poli answered when asked if she feels games like Tuesday’s suit her abilities. “I feel the need to step up and take control of the game, usually. I just try to box out, rebound and do my own job.”

“You can’t even measure how valuable she is to our team,” coach Greg Chesley said. “Rebounding alone, but she’s also good for 10-plus every night. … And just that high motor. She’s going after every ball like it belongs to her.”

A matchup between two of the conference’s more consistent teams — top-five seeds in the A North tournament each year since 2015, and two teams expected to be in the running again this season — never found the higher-scoring rhythm some onlookers might have expected. It was 8-3 Messalonskee after one, and Lawrence trailed 12-5 with more than three minutes gone in the second quarter.

Poli, however, didn’t let the game get away from the Bulldogs. She had eight points and eight rebounds by halftime as Lawrence took a 17-14 lead, picked up four more rebounds in the third quarter, and had the first basket of the fourth as the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 29-23.

By this point, her supporting cast was ready to join her on the scoresheet. Megan Curtis (12 points), Deleyni Carr (eight) and Victoria Dunphy (five) combined to score the next 14 points as Lawrence pulled away.

Even early on, when nothing was falling and all Lawrence could rely on was Poli underneath, she had a feeling all she had to do was keep her team close for just a little while longer.

Eventually, the Bulldogs were going to break through.

“I know that other teams can’t match our intensity usually, because our gym is very loud and very compact,” she said.  “In the second quarter, I felt everyone was getting low, so I just wanted to bring everyone up. … I wanted to tell them to box out, rebound, hit shooters, stay on their men.”

Poli delivered these kinds of gritty performances often as a sophomore, and Chesley said her ability to do so despite often being outsized reminded him of another Lawrence forward.

“I was here and worked with Nia Irving coming up through, and Nia was a phenomenal rebounder, not just because of her size. Before her teammate shoots it, she’s getting into position,” Chesley said. “Sarah’s the same way. She’s one of only a couple of kids I’ve ever seen that do that and do it that well.”

On the defensive side, Poli combined with Carr on the tactic that allowed the Bulldogs to survive the cold offensive night. Poli covered Brooke Martin and Carr had the unenviable task of guarding Gabrielle Wener, the Eagles’ 6-4 forward. While Carr stuck to Wener throughout the floor, Poli came over to help out the moment Wener would get the ball down low.

“When we had Deleyni on Gabrielle, she did a really nice job with it,” Poli said. “When Gabrielle would get it in the post, we would just go crowd her, triple-team her and make her throw a pass out.”

Confronted with a thicket of arms to shoot through, Wener was held to seven points, three through the first three quarters.

“Sarah really did a nice job, and Savannah (Weston) and Victoria did too, of really sagging in there,” Chesley said. “If she did touch it, there were probably three jerseys around her and there was no place to go. We don’t really have a choice, being as undersized as we are. We had to win the intensity battle.”

Poli made sure that wasn’t going to be in doubt.

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