AUGUSTA — Everybody probably had some versions of the same thoughts when Rangeley’s Taylor Esty was hurt early in the fourth quarter.

It looks bad. Hope she’s OK. She’s not coming back today.

But Esty did come back from her knee injury, and second-seeded Rangeley held on to defeat No. 3 Searsport 59-54 in a Western Class D girls’ basketball semifinal Thursday morning at the Augusta Civic Center.

Esty led Rangeley with 18 points and also grabbed 11 rebounds. Blayke Morin added 11 points and 19 rebounds as the Lakers advanced to face No. 1 Forest Hills for the regional title at 1:05 p.m. Saturday.

Esty, a 6-foot-1 junior, went down with 7:29 remaining and Rangeley leading 41-35. She was chasing after the ball on a fast break and fell awkwardly under the basket.

“I was sprinting after it when I stepped right on the ball. It just folded my knee,” Esty said. “I didn’t feel a pop, or anything like that.”

Esty immediately grabbed her left knee and slapped the court. She was helped off and put no weight on her left foot. Rangeley Coach Heidi Deery did not call a timeout, and Morin said senior Tori Letarte (14 points) and junior Seve Deery-DeRaps spoke to the players.

“Tori and Seve were the leaders with that,” Morin said. “They just said, ‘Keep up the intensity. We can do it without her.’ Me, mentally, I kind of broke down a little bit. But then we picked it back up, and when she came back out it was phenomenal. It was like we had all the puzzle pieces back together, and we brought it out and got the W.”

Esty returned to a huge ovation with 3:09 left and the Lakers ahead 48-45. She felt her contributions were limited.

“I couldn’t do like anything out there,” Esty said. “It just hurt so bad. I felt it fold right in half, and it just instantly hurt.”

Esty made two free throws for a five-point lead with 1:22 to go, and the Lakers were still ahead 56-51 and had the ball with 33 seconds to play. After a free throw, Briana Grant (19 points) drained a 3-pointer for Searsport, but Letarte clinched the win by making two foul shots with 15 seconds left.

One reason for Rangeley’s victory was a rebounding edge of 51-27. Letarte grabbed eight rebounds, and Maddison Egan finished with nine points and five rebounds.

“We definitely got in there for boards,” Esty said. “We struggled this year with everyone crashing to the boards, but we knew this was our game, and it was do or die.”

“As a coach, you try to dissect and you try to figure out, how can we beat any team,” Deery said. “Having the two 6-footers, you have a tendency to get lazy on the rebounds, because you get a lot of rebounds anyway. So the last four weeks, we have just been focusing on rebounding.”

Morin, a 6-2 sophomore, established herself early. While Rangeley built a 24-21 halftime lead, Morin had 12 of her 19 rebounds in the first half.

“Oh geez, I didn’t even know I had 19 rebounds,” Morin said. “That’s a shocker. I just tried to go for boards. I knew Searsport, they’re big rebounders, and they’re aggressive underneath.”

A 10-0 run to start the second half – with Esty scoring seven points – gave Rangeley a 34-21 lead with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter. But with Grant hitting three straight jumpers from outside and Melinda Ogden (nine points) scoring inside, Searsport had the lead down to 39-35 to start the fourth quarter.

“I’d love to think that we could have got a 12-point lead and just kept coasting, and sometimes that happens,” Deery said. “But you have to know that any good team isn’t going to lay down, and I knew they weren’t going to. They had way too many people that could score for them and do things for them.”

Despite annually being one of the best teams in Western Class D, the Lakers have not won a regional title since they captured the Gold Ball in 2004. They’ll get another chance Saturday.

“We’ve worked really hard, and we’ve faced a lot of adversity over the years,” Deery said, “and I’d like to think that the maturity you saw today has been something that’s come over the last several years.”

Matt DiFilippo can be contacted at 861-9243 or at:

mdifilippo@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo