AUGUSTA — It’s always been a rivalry. But lately, there’s been a little more buzz to the matchups between the Cony and Lawrence boys basketball teams.

When the Rams and Bulldogs played Thursday, with Lawrence earning a 63-58 victory, it was the seventh time they’d met in three years. They’ve met in the playoffs each of the last two, taking turns ending each other’s seasons.

“It makes everything more fun. I think the guys get geared up to play each other,” said Lawrence (4-1) coach Jason Pellerin, whose team got 15 points from Ryan Bourque and 14 from Nic Blaisdell. “It makes the whole high school basketball experience that much more fun, having that familiarity with your opponent.”

It’s not always a down-to-the-wire thriller when the teams play. It is, however, always a challenge.

“Physically, they’re tough kids,” said Cony (4-2) coach T.J. Maines, who got 20 points from Luke Briggs and 12 from Bennett Carter. “We have not shot the ball (well) from three in the last three years, some of our worst performances have been against Lawrence. They defend the three very well, and they pose a problem rebounding. They’re consistently a very aggressive offensive rebounding team.”

Pellerin said the feeling is mutual.

“We really look forward to the challenge that is playing Cony, and getting up for them and understanding what they bring to the table,” he said. “They play at a pace that nobody really likes playing at. They’re very good at what they do, and T.J. is an excellent coach with what he does. … They’re difficult to prepare for, because it’s hard to replicate what they do in a game.”

Those contrasting styles resulted in another dramatic matchup Thursday, as Lawrence prevailed in a game that featured three fourth-quarter lead changes and didn’t see the Bulldogs pull in front for good until 2:50 remained.

“It’s always close with Cony, but I love it. It’s good competition,” said Bourque, a senior. “We know what they’re doing, and we knew what we wanted to come out here and do. … This is our only time playing them, so we wanted to prove that we were better and that we can take them.”

The rivalry is nothing new. Pellerin said he can remember an excitement around the games dating back over 40 years.

“I go back to watching basketball back in 1980,” he said. “I can still remember the signs, I can still remember some of the players. This has always been one of these great central Maine, KVAC rivalries.”

Cony senior Mason Lunt reaches in to try to steal the ball from Lawrence senior Ryan Bourque during a game Thursday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The past two years, however, Cony-Lawrence reached a new level as it spilled into the postseason. In 2019, Cony was the top seed in Class A North, but got knocked out with a 63-56 loss to a fourth-seeded Lawrence team that was in the middle of a spirited run to the Class A state championship game.

“I just give the guys so much credit, we played so hard,” Pellerin said. “I realize the final score was (seven) points, but it was closer than that. It was so much of a possession-by-possession game, and it came down to a couple more plays, we made a couple more plays than they did.”

For the Rams, that loss stung, and it stung even after Cony got a measure of revenge last year in the quarterfinals with a 66-57 victory that, again, was far closer than the score suggested.

“It doesn’t make it hurt less,” Maines said. “(It’s) still the most disappointing loss we’ve had in my tenure. In my 20 years of coaching, it’s right up there, in the top two or three.”

There were no raucous crowds or playoff stakes when the teams met Thursday, but the big-game feel returned in a contest in which momentum hung with every possession. The teams responded in kind, erupting with each basket, steal and turnover as the second half wore on.

“Definitely, every time we go against each other, it’s usually down to the wire and close,” said Briggs, a junior. “We think that we can win it every time. Sometimes, things don’t go our way, shots don’t fall.”

Cony appeared poised to take control when a Briggs three made it 46-40 in the first minute of the fourth, but Blaisdell had a basket and Bourque followed with a 3-pointer and then a three-point play to put Lawrence ahead.

Cony took a 51-50 lead on a Carter three with 4:43 to play, but after a Brayden Barbeau free throw made it a two-point lead, the Bulldogs answered. Zach Nickerson (13 points) hit a fadeaway jumper and Dylan Coombs (11 points) drove to put Lawrence up 54-52, and Nickerson and Bourque followed with baskets to push the lead to six.

A Carter and-1 basket with 32.6 seconds left made it 60-58, but the senior missed the free throw and Cony had to start fouling.

“They put us out of the playoffs last year, and we knew we wanted to come here and get this win today,” Bourque said. “It seems like we’re a second-half team this year. We’ve had a bunch of close games, and we’ve been able to pull through lately.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.