AUGUSTA — Half the crowd at the Augusta Civic Center was 30 seconds away from heading for the exits as second-seeded Lawrence built a seven-point lead with just over two minutes left in its Eastern Class A girls’ basketball quarterfinal Friday.
Not so fast, Messalonskee fans. The Eagles were just getting warmed up.
Sophie Holmes, Mikayla Turner and Taylor Easler hit 3-pointers down the stretch to send the game to overtime, and the seventh-seeded Eagles converted some key free throws to upset Lawrence, 46-42.
“It’s just incredible, because we’ve been working all season and this is the cumulative point,” Turner said. “We’ve fought through all these games that were close and we couldn’t get the win, and tonight we got the win.”
Messalonskee (12-7) advances to Wednesday’s semifinals against No. 3 Oxford Hills, which survived a four-overtime scare against Skowhegan. Lawrence finishes at 16-3.
The Eagles overcame 26 turnovers. Fortunately for Messalonskee, the Bulldogs weren’t on their game and struggled to score in the first half, which ended in a 10-10 tie.
Lawrence went to sophomore Nia Irving in the second half with good results. The 5-foot-11 center and Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year finished with 23 points – 16 in the second half, many on foul-line jumpers.
“She can shoot from there,” Messalonskee Coach Keith Derosby said. “But I’d rather have her beat us from there and not picking up (inside baskets).”
Paige Belanger, a junior, also heated up from the foul-line area and scored all 13 of her points in the second half. Still, the Bulldogs couldn’t shake Messalonskee, which got three-point plays from Easler and senior Kelsey Mayo in the third quarter to stay within 27-23.
The Bulldogs pushed the lead to 31-23 when Irving opened the fourth quarter by converting a rebound and hitting yet another foul-line jumper.
“It’s tough to know you’ve got to guard her,” said Mayo, who drew that assignment. “It’s difficult when you know she can take those (outside shots) now.”
Lawrence threw an effective zone press at the Eagles, causing turnovers or rushed shots. Messalonskee didn’t score its first basket of the final quarter until Kassi Michaud drained a 3-pointer off the break.
“Normally I take more time before I end up shooting,” Michaud said. “I knew right before I even shot it, instantly, I was going to let it go.”
The 3-pointer was the first of the game for the Eagles, but the trend caught on. It had to, as Irving hit a jumper and Belanger followed with a driving layup to make it 36-29.
Holmes, a freshman, hit the first of three 3-pointers down the stretch, and Turner, who rarely shoots from deep, followed with another to draw the Eagles to within 36-35.
“You have that moment and you’re down seven and you know you have to take the shot,” Turner said. “You just step up and you take it.”
Sophomore Dominique Lewis hit a pair of free throws with 1:09 left to put the Bulldogs up 38-35, but Easler’s 3-pointer from the left side tied the game with less than 30 seconds left.
The Bulldogs had a final chance at the win in regulation, but a shot by Irving missed at the buzzer. The Eagles made 6 of 8 free throws in overtime – three by Delaney Collier, two by Mayo and one by Michaud – to seal the win.
“Anytime you can beat one of the best teams in the league, it’s got to be great,” Derosby said.
Gary Hawkins — email@example.comTwitter: @GaryHawkinsKJ