SOUTH CHINA — While other area basketball teams got to make their returns to the court, the Messalonskee girls had to wait.

And wait. And wait.

It wasn’t until Thursday that the Eagles finally played a game, earning a victory over Winslow. And on Monday, they played just their second, holding off Erskine, 33-31. Ashley Mullen had 11 points with Brennan Doran (10 rebounds) and Brooke Martin (seven) adding six apiece, while Emily Clark had 12 points and 15 rebounds.

“I think it was the anxiety (that was tough),” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “I don’t want to say that like it’s a bad thing, but kids (were) getting anxious to finally play.”

The Eagles (2-0) were supposed to open against Lawrence on Jan. 15, and had been practicing normally up to that point. But Messalonskee went full remote two days before the opener, shelving all games and calling off all physical practices for two weeks.

While other teams got to open their seasons and get two, three, even four games into their seasons, the Eagles were stuck on the sidelines. But according to Derosby, they didn’t despair.

“They’ve handled the disappointment really well,” he said. “Obviously, they want to play. But they’re rolling with it. And I don’t think it’s just passive acceptance of ‘Well, this is reality.’ I think they understand that we’re going to try to get them in. … The kids are great. They just said ‘OK.'”

While on the outside looking in, the Eagles made the most of that time. They held virtual practices, and watched the live streams of the teams that were playing to get some film work in.

“Anytime someone is playing, one of the girls will share a link. ‘Go ahead and watch this game tonight,’ ” Derosby said. “So instead of looking at it from ‘I can’t believe so-and-so’s playing’ and ‘We want to play’ and this, that and the other … it’s kind of turned into something else. Instead of focusing on not playing, they just go ahead and watch the games and talk basketball.”

“Yes, watching other teams play while we were in quarantine, not allowed to, was definitely hard,” added Martin, a senior forward. “But I think it just made us that much more ready to get back into practice and work hard.”

Erskine’s Grace Hutchins is guarded by Messalonskee’s Ashley Mullin during a game Monday in South China. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Still, nothing measures up to the real thing. And when Messalonskee finally got the chance to play a game, Derosby could see the excitement in his players.

“There was a lot of energy,” he said. “They were standing out by the back doors waiting, and as soon as their phones hit they came barging in. They were bouncing around everywhere. There was a lot of energy. It was nervous energy, but it wasn’t bad energy.”

“It took a lot of time,” Mullen said. “It was tough, not playing with any of our friends.”

Messalonskee won that game 56-39. Monday’s game was tougher. Both teams struggled from the field, but Messalonskee found its rhythm first, and built up a 20-11 lead early in the third.

Needing an answer, Erskine (4-2) upped the pressure and found one. Erskine spent the rest of the quarter on a 12-2 run, with a Joanna Linscott steal and breakaway layup putting the hosts up for the first time 23-22 at the end of the period.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re using this season to evaluate what we have,” Erskine coach Bob Witts said. “They played great to get themselves back in the game. I think from now on, we’re going to play pressure defense.”

Messalonskee proved it didn’t need game experience for some big plays. Mullen knocked down a 3-pointer to put Messalonskee ahead 26-23 with 6:56 left, and after Erskine tied the game at 31 on a Julia Barber free throw, Martin hit a short jumper with 43 seconds left for the winning margin.

According to Martin, Monday’s finish showed the Messalonskee players just what they had been missing.

“I think all of us live for these kinds of games,” she said. “These close games are the ones all competitors live for. ‘Give me the ball at the last second, let me shoot that ball right there, from the corner, from the three. Let me make that steal.’ It’s so much fun to be back.”

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