Early in the fourth quarter Friday night, Skowhegan had a 15-point lead over Mt. Blue. It looked like garbage time, but the visiting Cougars suddenly went on a run, and trimmed the lead to six points with 2 minutes to play.

To win, Skowhegan would have to make its free throws. Fortunately for the Indians, foul shots have been a focal point in practice.

“Actually, if we don’t make them in practice, we have to run,” Skowhegan senior Morgan Buker said. “So we definitely focus more on them.”

Taylor Johnson, Andrea Quirion, and Emma Fitzgerald combined to make six consecutive free throws. That was enough for the Indians to hold on for a 57-44 victory in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A girls basketball action Tuesday night.

Skowhegan (1-1) was coming off a seven-point loss to powerful Lawrence, and many wondered what that close game would prove to say about the league this season. Mt. Blue, meanwhile, was playing its first game of the season. The Cougars had some early-season rust, making six of their 21 3-point attempts but shooting 28 percent overall. The Cougars also had only five free throw attempts, opting to try to shoot over the zone rather than work through it.

“That is the purpose of the zone,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “But we were out 25 feet trying to run an offense, when we should be attacking the gaps of the zone, and penetrating, and getting inside. We didn’t do that, and that cost us.”

Buker led Skowhegan with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Quirion added nine points and 11 rebounds, and her points were big ones — the two free throws in the final minutes, a basket with 3 seconds left in the first quarter, and another basket just before the second-quarter buzzer to give the Indians a 21-18 lead at the half. When Buker beat the buzzer again in the third quarter, Skowhegan was on a 9-0 run and led 35-24.

Taylor Johnson (14 points) helped spark that run, and helped continue it with a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter after Quirion hustled for a loose ball and fed Johnson for the shot. The Indians led 41-26 with under six minutes to go, and were still up 46-34 with 2:41 left.

Philbrick inserted Eryn Doiron and Rachelle Bator off the bench in the fourth quarter, and they helped Mt. Blue get close enough to smell an improbable comeback. Bator stole the ball and scored on a layup with 2 minutes left (Skowhegan had 27 turnovers on the night), getting the Cougars within 46-40.

Mt. Blue then missed two 3-pointers that would have cut the lead to three, but Skowhegan then put the game away at the line. Miranda Nicely, Mt. Blue’s only returning starter, led the Cougars with nine points, but Skowhegan’s defense was designed to keep her from dominating, and it was successful at that.

“We had to stop Miranda, and then we realized other people were stepping in,” Buker said. “Then it just all connected, and we just played.”

“We didn’t hit our shots,” Philbrick said. “But I thought we battled hard. Defensively, we had some good things. I’m not disappointed. I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243[email protected]Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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