FARMINGDALE — The double-digit halftime lead had been completely erased, and time was running out. Perfect time for a team to crack.

And if the Hall-Dale girls basketball team didn’t have the experience it does, it might have.

Instead, the Bulldogs made the plays when they had to, scoring 11 of the final 14 points over the last two-and-a-half minutes to come away with a 60-55 Mountain Valley Conference victory over Spruce Mountain on Friday night.

That makes the Bulldogs 7-0, and as they showed against the Phoenix, they have no problem handling the pressure when things get difficult and palms get sweaty.

“We’ve had the pressure in years past, like with last year’s (Central Maine) championship,” said senior forward Averi Baker, who scored 11 points. “So we know how to keep our composure through those tough moments.”

If experience is the key to handling close games and clutch situations, then it makes sense the Bulldogs feel right at home. Hall-Dale returned 11 players from last year’s team, including all five starters, and many of the players like seniors Baker, Lily Platt, KK Wills and Iris Ireland and junior Amanda Trepanier are players who have played key roles since their freshman and sophomore seasons, and who are now in their third and fourth years of varsity basketball.

“It’s good to have no seniors last year, because we’re just getting better every practice,” said Wills, who scored five points. “You can see it. We’re growing as a team, and it’s just really fun.”

“That senior class has been playing together since third grade, so they played on the same AAU teams, the same travel teams, the same middle school teams,” first-year head coach O.J. Jaramillo said. “The chemistry, you can’t recreate that. … That’s a hell of a building block to start with.”

The added year of experience hasn’t benefitted just the upperclassmen. Sophomore Hayden Madore, who led Hall-Dale on Friday with 17 points, has emerged as the team’s top scorer, and said she’s felt herself improve from a talented freshman to a far more polished second-year player.

“My mentality and keeping my composure,” Madore answered when asked where she’s made her biggest strides. “Last year I got frustrated a lot and just kind of got in my own head, which really affected my play. … This year I’ve learned to just keep calm and keep on one level.”

Hall-Dale’s Lily Platt, left, looks to pass the ball as Spruce Mountain’s Aubrey Kachnovich plays defense during a girls basketball game Friday in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That growth and maturity was on display Friday. Hall-Dale started slow, falling behind Spruce Mountain 12-6, but upped the pressure on defense en route to a 34-23 halftime lead.

“I definitely think there are times where we’re going a thousand miles an hour,” Baker said. “But then coach is like ‘Slow it down, keep your composure, take a deep breath.'”

When the resilient Phoenix, led by Olivia Mastine’s 20 points and Jaydn Pingree’s 14, fought back to take a 52-49 lead inside of three minutes, Hall-Dale was ready again. The Bulldogs’ scuffling offense picked up, with Baker converting a three-point play to tie the score with 2:19 left. After Baker picked up a rebound on the other end, the ball found its way to Madore, who swished a 3-pointer for a 55-52 lead with 1:47 to go.

After Jazmine Pingree (nine points) hit a pair of free throws to bring the Phoenix within one, Hall-Dale hit a dagger again, with freshman Lucy Gray (nine points) knocking down a corner three after extensive ball movement to give the Bulldogs control for good at 58-54 with 55 seconds left.

Veterans and rookies working together alike, it’s a dynamic the Bulldogs hope will pay off in future, bigger games.

“We didn’t let that bother us,” Wills said of the late deficit. “It doesn’t faze us.”

Spruce Mountain coach Zach Keene credited his team’s fight, but acknowledged the frustration of falling short.

“There were a couple of times when a lot of teams might have rolled over,” he said. “But that’s not in our DNA. It’s not who we are, it’s not what we do.”

The Phoenix didn’t quit. But the Bulldogs didn’t give in.

“We have a lot of confidence in these kids,” Jaramillo said. “With this group, I was just telling them to value the basketball. I really felt the team that was going to value the basketball and not make those one or two big turnovers down the stretch was going to win it.”

Baker said that poise under pressure has just been growing.

“The experience has helped us so much, just to get prepared for our senior year,” Baker said. “It’s our time to shine, it’s our run at it. We’ve just been preparing the past few years. We’re ready now.”

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