Earlier in the season, the Lawrence girls basketball team was going up against Skowhegan and high-scoring guard Jaycie Christopher. The Bulldogs won 58-48, thanks largely to four 3-pointers from Alyssa Bourque.

In another game against Messalonskee, the Bulldogs were down a forward when Savannah Weston got hit in the nose early. Victoria Dunphy stepped in, guarded Eagles forward Gabrielle Wener and helped guide Lawrence to a 48-44 win.

Lawrence is 9-5, well on its way to the A North tournament, and coach Greg Chesley said his first two players off the bench are a big reason why.

“They’re super subs,” he said of Dunphy and Bourque. “They’re good enough to start for us. We’ve just found a rotation that works best with them coming off the bench.”

The dynamic at Lawrence is common for many contending teams, and will be a trait of any that lifts a Gold Ball this winter. Sometimes it’s a pure sixth man, and sometimes that distinction extends to the first two players off the bench. Call it what you want, it’s what any team relies on that looks to win at a championship level.

“You can’t play at the tempo we play at with only five (players),” said Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue, who has a pair of starting-quality subs in Kali Thompson and Abby Saucier. “We have seven kids who we’re truly confident could play at any moment at a high level for us.”

The sixth man — and seventh man, if teams are so fortunate — is like the knight on the chess board. Coaches can have that player be anything, be it a knockdown shooter, a defensive specialist, or even a starting-caliber player who takes advantage of matchups and rotations midway through the game.

 “I kind of look at your sixth or seventh man, I feel like sometimes they’re the identity of your team,” said Winthrop coach Joe Burnham, who has two players fitting the description in Lydia Rice and Maddie Perkins. “Everybody’s got their starters, but everybody’s got to go to their bench too. What does your team turn into when you go to your bench?”

When teams can’t adequately fill that role, even if they have impressive starting lineups, the wheels can come off — especially at tournament time.

“So many teams have their starting five, and there’s a huge drop-off,” said Gardiner coach Mike Gray, whose team experiences no such letdown when junior guard Maddie Farnham goes into the game. “Or something happens to one kid, whether it’s injury or foul trouble or someone not playing well, that can throw a whole team off.”

The players in that first-off-the-bench role know it too.

“That makes a world of difference,” Messalonskee senior guard Sarah Lowell said. “That’s one of the deciding factors of who’s going to win, because the playoff games … a lot of times are really narrow. If you have that one person that can kind of change the energy for your team, that’ll give you the advantage.”

Many teams have the same job requirement for these kinds of players. She needs to be aggressive, she needs to play defense, and she needs to be versatile. The first player off the bench could take the place of a sharpshooting guard, or a forward in foul trouble. She could play 20 minutes, or she could play six.

Many players love it.

“I’ve had a feel for it the whole time. It’s my thing,” said Farnham, a defensive specialist for the Tigers. “I kind of like it, because I feel like there’s not as much pressure. I’m just going in and doing whatever I need to do, and for as long as I need to. I like it.”

“I think I might like it a little more than the other players do,” said Saucier, a junior forward. “(The keys are) being a team player and being ready, whenever your number is called. Just going in and giving the same energy as the starters, and keeping the game pushing how we want it to be.”

At the same time, they acknowledge it’s a whirlwind. When Lawrence’s Bourque gets the call from Chesley, she’s going into a game and needing to know who she’s replacing, who she’s covering and what the schemes are, all while quickly getting a feel for the pulse of the game.

“It’s hard to pay attention at all times,” said Bourque, a junior guard. “You don’t talk to people, you don’t look at the crowd, you don’t see who’s there. When you come off the bench, you have to know what defense we’re running, what offense we’re running, what type of plays. You have to listen during timeouts, even if you’re not in, to know what we’re going to be running.”

Intensity and attentiveness are important, but so is selflessness. The sixth man doesn’t get the glamour and attention that the starters get. She doesn’t often hear her name announced at the start of a game, and the roars from the crowd that follow. She has to be content with knowing that she’s helping the team, whether it makes headlines or not.

“Coach talks about that a lot,” said Dunphy, a junior forward at Lawrence. “Even though we’re not written in the stat sheets, we still play a huge part in the game.”

And the bigger the games, the bigger the difference that they make.

“I’ve always been fine with it. I’m happy with whatever minutes I can get,” Lowell said. “I play more for my teammates. … If I’m able to sit on the bench but give someone else the opportunity to score something great, they’ll do the same for me.”

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.