AUGUSTA — Long and strong.

Those words not only describe the Lawrence Bulldogs’ dominant frontcourt but their collective memory.

Led by Nia Irving’s 27 points and nine rebounds, No. 2 Lawrence avenged last year’s quarterfinal upset at the hands of Messalonskee with a never-in-doubt 65-44 win Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.

Lawrence (18-1) advances to face No. 6 Brunswick, which upset defending regional champion Oxford Hills earlier in the day, in a regional semifinal Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

“(Last year) is definitely something that is fueling us from here on out,” said senior forward Paige Belanger, who finished with four points and 11 rebounds. “It’s been fueling us all season to work harder every day and get better as a team.”

“We were just a little bit nervous out there, doing things we haven’t done,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “But we still played a lot better than I expected. Last year, we didn’t play very well here and this year we played a lot better.”


No. 7 Messalonskee (9-10), whose only lead was a McKenna Brodeur basket to start the game, tried to combat Lawrence’s size and strength advantage with a zone defense early on. The Bulldogs crashed the offensive boards with the 6-foot-1 Irving, 5-foot-9 Belanger and 6-foot-2 Abby Weigang to shake off the butterflies. Then Morgan Boudreau ended the first quarter with a 3-pointer and a runner to put the Bulldogs up 16-4 and essentially drew the Eagles out of the paint.

“I thought we battled. I thought physically we tried to do everything we could do,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “The Boudreau kid hit a couple of big shots early and that created some space, which is what we hoped wouldn’t happen. But you know, you pick your poison.”

The Eagles took a lethal dose of Irving in the second quarter after switching the defense to man-to-man. The junior center, who was the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year for the second straight year, demanded the ball in the post on at least a couple of trips up the floor. Her teammates obliged, and there was nothing the Eagles could do to stop her.

“Everyone was doing a good job of shooting and passing the ball around, but, I mean, when I’m open, I want the ball,” Irving said. “I like to take advantage of the man-to-man.”

After Taylor Easler’s putback pulled Messalonskee within eight early in the second, Irving, assisted by Jordyn Towers and Dominique Lewis, scored two straight hoops inside to send the lead into double figures for good. The second bucket ended up being a three-point play that made it 26-13 Bulldogs midway through the period.

Irving topped that sequence with back-to-back three-point plays near the end of the first half to give Lawrence a 36-17 lead at intermission.


With seven straight points early in the third quarter, Irving surpassed Messalonskee’s team total, 23-21.

Weigang added 11 points and seven rebounds for Lawrence, while Boudreau finished with 10 points.

Sophie Holmes and Kelsey Dillon led Messalonskee with eight points apiece.

The Eagles graduate one senior, guard Halee Flewelling, who had four points.

“We lost six seniors, four starters, so we only had three players with tourney experience,” Derosby said. “These kids could have sat back and played that card. But I thought we played hard to the end. It doesn’t matter the score, you don’t give up.”

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