PORTLAND – Starting quick hasn’t been a problem for the Maine Red Claws this season. They usually play some of their best ball in the first quarter.

It’s what follows that still needs work.

The Red Claws built an early 11-point lead Saturday night, then watched the Erie BayHawks surge past them en route to a 109-105 victory at the Portland Expo.

Erie took the lead for good with 2:24 left in the second quarter, built an 18-point lead in the third, then held off a stirring charge by the Red Claws, who cut the margin to two in the fourth.

“We came out with a ton of energy, then we lost the energy in the second quarter,” said Courtney Pigram, who led Maine with 28 points and nine assists. “We picked it up too late. Unfortunately now all we can do is wait to (today) to bounce back.”

The teams play again at the Expo at 5 p.m. today.

This was the second win for Erie (4-6) over the Red Claws (2-5) this year. In the previous game, Maine had a 13-3 lead.

“We get off to good starts,” said Maine Coach Dave Leitao. “We were good pushing the ball and we were good on assignments defensively. Then we took the foot off the gas pedal mentally.

“I’ve been watching (Erie) a lot and they just keep playing. They don’t care if they’re up 12, down 12, that’s what they do. When they came back it looked like we were surprised. And we didn’t respond.”

Not until late. Erie used its balanced offense — six players in double figures, led by Tirrell Baines with 23 and Kyle Spain with 21 — and aggressive defense to build an 18-point lead twice in the third quarter. That’s when Maine’s defense, which left gaping holes on the back side for three quarters, tightened up.

The Red Claws started pushing the ball again and slowly came back. But each time Maine got close, Erie responded.

A foul shot by Dominic Calegari made it 79-77 with 9:11 remaining. The BayHawks responded with an 11-2 run.

The Claws cut it to 100-97 with 1:02 left when Justin Brownlee (17 points, 6 rebounds) tipped in Paul Harris’ missed foul shot.

“I felt like we didn’t play the game, we didn’t keep playing,” said Jay Larranaga, coach of the BayHawks. “We got up and acted like it was going to be easy. They beat us to loose balls and got transition baskets, which you never let a good team like that do. But we definitely responded.”

Especially at the foul line. Erie hit eight consecutive foul shots in the final 33.8 seconds to seal it. The BayHawks had a 30-11 edge at the foul line.

The Red Claws know they can’t fall that far behind. “It’s just energy and desire,” said Pigram. “We can’t just turn it on and off. We’ve got to keep it the same the whole game.”

NOTES: Harris, who returned this week, had 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds. “It felt good,” he said. “It’s always good to play in a game with a ref.” The Red Claws will hold their third annual Toys for Tots Night today. Fans donating a new unwrapped toy will be entered for prizes Five Red Claws are in NBA camps — guards Kenny Hayes (Cleveland), Durrell Summers (Charlotte) and Antonio Anderson (Philadelphia), forward Chris Wright (Golden State) and center Mike Tisdale (Philadelphia).

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH