BRUNSWICK — John Donato has been successful everywhere he’s coached, and now it appears he’s turned the girls’ basketball program around at Lawrence High.
Friday night the Bulldogs rolled to a 65-43 victory against Brunswick in a matchup between two of the best teams in Eastern Class A.
Lawrence (14-2) has lost only to Edward Little and Oxford Hills, the two top teams in the region, both by two points on the road.
“In girls’ basketball, anytime you win a game on the road against an outstanding team, it’s quite an accomplishment,” Donato said.
Donato, who is in his 39th season as a head coach, should know. During 20 years at Houlton, his teams won nine regional and five state championships. He’s also coached at Mt. View and Messalonskee.
“Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve been successful, but it’s the kids, too,” he said. “In the first year I didn’t win a game. In the second year I won two games.”
This season the Bulldogs have averaged a margin of more than 20 points in their victories. They’ve done it with a zone press that disrupts offenses and a devastating inside game.
“The object of our (defensive) pressure is to make them shoot the ball quickly, rebound and run,” Donato said.
Nia Irving, a 6-foot sophomore center, scored 26 points and Paige Belanger, a 5-9 junior forward, added 17 for the Bulldogs, with all of their points coming from inside the lane or along the baseline.
“They brought a physical game we weren’t ready for,” Brunswick Coach Sam Farrell said. “We couldn’t play with the physicality that the game was at.”
Lyse Henshaw, a senior guard, led the Dragons (9-7) with 17 points. Sophomore guard Gillian Doehring, a reserve, added 10 points.
Lawrence put together two 9-0 runs to take an 18-4 lead in the first quarter after the Dragons missed their first nine shots of the game.
“I don’t think their defense is that great,” Farrell said. “We missed shots we usually hit.”
Donato said his players concentrated on stopping Henshaw, who scored 10 points in the second quarter, and Julia Champagne, who was limited to five points for the game.
“We marked them and we tried to force other people on their team to contribute,” he said. “They’re young and they weren’t ready.”
Brunswick managed to close within 24-12 less than three minutes into the second quarter but got no closer.
Lawrence pulled away into a 39-19 lead by the end of the first half.
“We need more scoring to come from players who are not named Henshaw or Champagne,” Farrell said.
“We need those role players to have seven or eight points and spread it around. It just didn’t happen.”