YARMOUTH — North Yarmouth Academy’s early season success in girls’ basketball was fairly easy, with the Panthers winning their first five games by an average of 46 points.

Then came a 27-point loss Tuesday at Wells in a game hastily put together earlier that day after NYA had not played in three weeks. The Panthers wanted to be tested, which is why they were so looking forward to their game with Old Orchard Beach on Friday night.

NYA certainly passed that test. The Panthers took control early with strong inside play and defense and rolled to a 45-34 win over the previously unbeaten Seagulls in a much-anticipated Class C South matchup at Curtis Gym.

The victory lifted NYA to 6-1, while Old Orchard Beach dropped to 9-1, with the teams changing spots in the Heal point standings, the Panthers now third and the Seagulls fourth.

“You know, we have another matchup at their place (on Feb. 1) and probably we could match up at some point in the tournament,” said NYA Coach Tom Robinson. “So this wasn’t a make-or-break situation for us. But the most important thing is that we needed to show we can compete in a game.

“We’ve either won by a lot or lost by a lot. It was just good to have the kids out there having fun and competing.”

“These are the games the ones we’re looking forward to the most,” said NYA’s superb junior point guard, Angel Huntsman, who had 10 points. “Close games are always the most fun to play.”

On this night, defenses controlled the game and NYA’s was better. The Panthers didn’t let the Seagulls get anything inside. NYA also dominated the offense boards behind Sarah English and Graca Bila. English finished with 19 points and Bila had eight, with the two combining for over 15 rebounds.

“We had a fire in us,” said English, who transferred to NYA from Gould Academy this year. “There was something there.”

Still, OOB came back from a 20-15 halftime deficit to tie the game at 22 with 4:49 remaining in the third on a drive by Elise MacNair, who led the Seagulls with 11 points. But seconds later, NYA regained the lead on a Huntsman basket. After two OOB turnovers, NYA’s Josephine Harper-Cunningham hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 27-22.

OOB’s Sarah Davis responded with a 3 of her own, but Huntsman made a steal that led to a layup by English. OOB’s next two possessions ended in missed shots, and English converted a nice backdoor pass from Huntsman to make it  31-25.

“We knew our shots weren’t falling,” said Huntsman. “So we had to focus on our defense.”

The Panthers slowly extended the lead in the fourth, eventually leading by 12. Old Orchard Beach finished with 25 turnovers, 11 coming in the decisive third quarter.

“That’s the game right there,” said OOB Coach Dean Plante. “We hadn’t done that all year. Their defense extended us. We just didn’t execute. We didn’t execute on defense, either.”

The victory was certainly gratifying to Robinson.

“Great team effort and team defense,” he said. “Now I don’t feel so bad picking up that Wells game. It definitely shook off some rust.”

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