AUGUSTA — Four years ago, the Lawrence High girls’ basketball team won two games.

“And five years ago we didn’t win any,” said John Donato, in his fifth year as the Bulldogs’ coach.

Saturday afternoon, Lawrence completed its rise from mediocrity. The Bulldogs, behind the play of Nia Irving and Dominique Lewis, rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Thornton Academy 50-43 for the Class A championship at the Augusta Civic Center. It’s Lawrence’s first state title since 1994 – the last of Cindy Blodgett’s four Gold Balls.

“Oh my gosh, this means the world,” said Lewis, a junior guard who scored nine of her 12 points in the final quarter. “Half of the girls have been playing together since the first grade … And to be able to have such an amazing team, to be able to win, to be able to share the happiness, it’s amazing.

“It’s the best day of my life, honestly.”

Irving, a 6-foot-1 junior forward who is perhaps the state’s best inside player, scored 27 points – 17 in the second half to bring the Bulldogs (21-1) back. She was nearly unstoppable when she got the ball down low, which was Lawrence’s game plan from the start.

“We can shoot the ball well from the outside,” said Donato. “Tonight was a Nia game. We knew they couldn’t cover Nia inside. We went to the well a lot and she came through.”

Lawrence trailed by six at the half and by three entering the fourth quarter, then outscored Thornton 10-3 in the final 3:27.

“We just kind of got out of the game plan a little bit in the fourth quarter,” said Trojans Coach Eric Marston. “They made the shots down the stretch and hit their free throws. And obviously the missed free throws caught up with us.”

The Trojans (19-3), playing in their first state championship game, hit only 9 of 20 free throws. Lawrence was 18 of 23.

“We’ve been inconsistent all year,” Marston said of the foul shooting. “Tonight it caught up with us.”

Still, Thornton was in control throughout the first half, its pressure defense slowing down one of the top offenses in Class A. Twice the Trojans pushed the lead to eight, but they could never extend it further. And Lawrence never felt it was out of the game.

“We stuck to our game plan,” said Donato. “And we didn’t panic.”

Freshman Alex Hart stepped up in the third quarter for Thornton, scoring six of her team-high 14 points to give the Trojans a 36-33 lead going into the fourth.

It was 40-40 when the Bulldogs made their move.

After Lewis tied up a Thornton player to force a change of possession, she drove inside and scored. Irving then rebounded a Thornton miss – a shot by Hart hung on the rim for a couple seconds before dropping out – and came down to score inside, and it was 44-40 with 2:06 left.

Hart hit the first of two foul shots, but Paige Belanger of Lawrence rebounded the missed second shot, leading to a layup by Irving.

“We just made mental mistakes,” said Thornton center Abby Strickland. “And defensively we just didn’t execute.”

Belanger came up with a big offensive rebound of a missed foul shot and got the ball to Irving, who was fouled. She hit both with 37.9 seconds left to make it 48-41.

“Obviously Nia is a dominant force,” said Marston. “We had a hard time guarding her. She uses her body better than any high school post player I’ve ever seen.”

Another Trojan miss led to two Lewis foul shots. And the Bulldogs’ celebration began.

“This means everything,” said Irving. “We’ve been dreaming about this since we were all little girls. Finally, the countless hours we put into the offseason, and coming to the gym, and individually, it’s all paid off.”