FAIRFIELD — Dreams of a high-octane offense and nets so worn out they’d have to be replaced weekly at Lawrence High School were soon met by the reality of the situation this winter for its girls basketball team.

Head coach Greg Chesley looked at the one senior in his starting lineup and some of the early-season struggles to find bucketloads of buckets, and he saw that the program’s identity had decided itself — even if it wasn’t what anybody envisioned.

“It’s really changed,” Chesley said Friday night after Lawrence’s 52-39 win over Cony in the quarterfinals of the Class A/B central Maine basketball tournament. “At the beginning of the year, I thought we were going to be able to score a lot of points. I don’t think it’s all necessarily a fault of what we’re doing — teams in the area play great defense.”

Senior Sarah Poli finished with a game-high 13 points for Lawrence, including eight in the fourth quarter. Sophomore guard Hope Bouchard added 10 points and a trio of key second-half assists as Lawrence — which will face No. 6 Waterville in the semifinals — extended its lead to as many as 16 early in the final period.

Like most of their games this season as they rolled to the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the Bulldogs had to grind this one out.

“All of our games have been like that,” Bouchard said. “We kind of have a lot of new bodies coming in and starting this year, and we had to find out who we really want to start and we had to figure out how to work with each other eventually.”

“We thought we were just going to run the whole game, every game,” said Poli, who finished with 18 rebounds. “It turned into a struggle for us. We have all these new players, and we didn’t always know our roles at the beginning of the season. Now we do. We just try and get the in and out game going and get some open looks.”

The game was tied 11-11 through one quarter, before Lawrence found its groove at the defensive end of the floor. The Bulldogs held the Rams to just 11 total points over the span of the second and third quarters, taking a 35-22 lead into the fourth.

Cony’s Reilly Fleck, left, breaks up a pass intended for Lawrence’s Sarah Polo from Hope Bouchard (32) during a central Maine tournament game Friday night in Fairfield. Michael G. Seamans/Michael Seamans

Raegan Bechard’s 3-pointer with 3:15 remaining capped an 11-3 Ram run to pull Cony within 43-35, but Bouchard fed Poli underneath for a pair of easy baskets in the final two minutes at the other end of Folsom Gym to punch Lawrence’s ticket to the next round.

“In a weird sense, not playing at the (Augusta) Civic Center has helped us,” Poli said. “I remember when I was a sophomore and I started playing there, I was so nervous. I played awful. I think just playing in our gym has helped us. We always play well in our own gym, and it’s comfortable for us.”

“We’ve just locked it down on defense,” Chesley added. “We’ve had a lot of quarters like (the second and third quarters), where we just clamp down on teams. When you’ve got Sarah Poli grabbing 105 rebounds, we can force them into a lot of bad shots and we know that she’s going to be there to clean it up.”

Defense and rebounding to win a playoff game, a far cry from the offensive fireworks the Bulldogs hoped would be their 2020-21 calling card.

A win at home against Skowhegan on Feb. 5, when the RiverHawks were held scoreless in the fourth quarter, put all the pieces in place for Lawrence. The Bulldogs had found their identity.

“There’s been a long stretch of tough, hard-nosed, dig-it, claw-it kind of teams here at Lawrence High School,” Chesley said. “We just made that switch and became one. We knew we needed to step it up (in the Skowhegan game). We’ve really been preaching it and doing it all along since.”

Ali Higgins and Elizabeth Crommett each added eight points for Lawrence.

Julia Reny led Cony with eight points, while Alyssa Redman and Reilley Fleck added seven apiece.

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