SKOWHEGAN — His Skowhegan girls basketball team was comfortably ahead, thanks to a 29-point first quarter. But coach Mike LeBlanc pointed out the 19 for Messalonskee, and he was not happy.

He told his players that their defense was lazy. That they weren’t working hard enough. And as the River Hawks proved for the next three quarters, the message was received.

With a stifling defense and a resurgent Jaycie Christopher’s 38 points leading the way, Skowhegan took down Messalonskee 78-33 in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A matchup in Skowhegan.

Callaway LePage added 13 points and Maddy Morris scored eight for the River Hawks, who improved to 3-0.

“We’ve been working very hard on our half-court defense,” LeBlanc said. “We know that we’re going to score points, but we need to limit other teams’ opportunities. … We stepped it up defensively. We were not allowing them to have open shots, we were contesting every shot.”

Brennan Doran led Messalonskee with 12 points, while Ashley Mullen added 10 for the Eagles (1-2).

“They turned us over a little bit early in the (second) quarter on that press,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “And once they started to pull away, once they got that distance, then every possession becomes a little bit more important, a little bit more stressful.”

Skowhegan jumped out to a 17-4 lead, but let Messalonskee tighten the game back up with a 15-12 run to end the quarter. After the break, though, the River Hawks held the Eagles to only four points in the second quarter and six in the third, taking leads of 46-23 and 65-29, respectively.

“The biggest thing for us in the first quarter was we weren’t really organized defensively,” said Christopher, who also added 10 rebounds. “We were pressing a little bit, and then we’d get back and we were kind of scrambling and not really finding our man. In the second quarter and then after that, we were kind of focused on ‘OK, let’s get organized.’ ”

While the defense clicked, Christopher got and stayed hot. She had 15 points by the end of the first quarter and 26 at halftime, looking at full strength again after a pulled groin in the preseason that hindered her for the first two games of the season.

“I had to sit out for a week, which is miserable for me because I hate to sit still,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get back into a groove after that and find some rhythm.

“Today, for me, it was all about having fun. I’ve been so focused on the time that I lost when I was out and trying to make up that time, that I kind of lost sight of ‘This is the game that I love.’ So today it felt really great to just go out and have fun and get contributions from everyone.”

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