Erskine’s Hayden Hoague (10) tries to split Lawrence defenders Nadia Morrison, left, and Elizabeth Crommett, right, during a girls basketball season-opening game Friday in South China. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

SOUTH CHINA — Entering a season full of hype in regards to girls basketball talent in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Lawrence junior Hope Bouchard may have started staking her claim among the conference’s best on Friday night.

Bouchard scored a game-high 14 points to lead Lawrence to a 33-31 victory over Erskine Academy. Of those 14 points, Bouchard scored what may have been the Bulldogs’ five most important points of the evening. She knocked down two free throws before delivering a clutch 3-pointer on the next possession with just over a minute left to help Lawrence keep the lead and, eventually, seal the win.

“I think it was a really good opening game for us,” said Bouchard, who is coming off a strong fall season with the school’s field hockey team. “We’ve been prepping for this game all week, so it was good to go out there and have that kind of competition.”

It’s not just the clutch performance, as Lawrence (1-0) head coach Greg Chesley said, but it’s the way Bouchard can set up her teammates as well.

Lawrence’s Nadia Morrison (22) battles for the rebound with Erskine’s Emma Stred during a girls basketball game Friday in South China. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“Hope’s game is amazing,” Chesley said. “She’s a little undersized to get the attention some of the other girls in the league are getting. But I’d take Hope against just about anyone else in our league. She does things that other people don’t see. Defensively, she’s in the right spot all the time… Offensively, it’s not always a score, or an assist (that stands out), but it might be a play that leads to an assist. If we could keep hockey stats, she’d have more assists.”

Bouchard said she needs more work in giving herself an open shot, but is always looking to move the ball.

“I’ve got to work on getting shots for myself,” Bouchard said. “But I’m also working on passing the ball around the circle fast, getting quick passes, looking for the open person.”

Lawrence’s victory did not come easy. Erskine (0-1) held the Bulldogs to just seven points in the first half, which included a scoreless first quarter. But Lawrence battled back with its own brand of tough defense, and Erskine entered halftime with a 9-7 lead.

“Last year, the defense kind of snuck up on us,” said Chesley, whose team forced 22 turnovers out of the Eagles. “We became a team that was holding teams in the 30s (for points). We’ve really been focusing on it this year, knowing what we did last year and knowing how good we can be.”

Lawrence’s Nadia Morrison (22) tries to defend Erskine’s Emily Clark during a girls basketball game Friday in South China. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

But Lawrence showed more fire from the start of the second half, with Makenzie Nadeau hitting a 3-pointer at the start to take the lead. That lead would swap back and forth four more times, but a 3-pointer by Ali Higgins gave the Bulldogs the lead for good with 3 minutes to play.

Higgins finished with six points for Lawrence, while Nadeau added five.

Sarah Praul and Emily Clark each led the Eagles with eight points. Clark also grabbed nine rebounds.

“I’m incredibly proud of our effort,” Erskine head coach Jamie Soule said. “Lawrence is a great team… I thought the girls missed some easy baskets along the way, both teams missed some baskets. But in the end, I’m proud of the effort. We’ve got some stuff to work on tomorrow, but we’re going to be alright.”

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