FAIRFIELD, Maine — Brewer’s Leah Jackson showed off her toughness and determination with the game on the line against the Lawrence Bulldogs Friday night.
With the clock ticking down in a crucial KVAC Class A matchup, the Brewer High School senior forward grabbed a rebound off a missed free throw, drove the length of the court and kissed home a tough layup as time expired and the Witches earned a pointworthy 43-41 victory at a packed and noisy Folsom Gym.
With Brewer fourth and the Bulldogs ninth in unofficial Heal point rankings, there was a lot riding on this midseason matchup.
“This is huge, it’s going to help us a lot at the end of the season with Heal points,” said Brewer senior forward Sheri Valley.
Neither team gave much ground — the largest lead either club held was seven.
“I think this conference is extremely wide open. If you don’t come ready to play hard, you’re going to lose,” said Witches coach Andy Nickerson, whose club improves to 6-2.
Brewer opened up its largest lead of the night with 4:12 to play after Valley sank a pair of free throws, but the 5-3 Bulldogs scored six consecutive points — all off Brewer turnovers — and took a two-point lead when Kelli Murray drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 30 seconds to play.
The Witches appeared doomed seconds later, after Lawrence’s Kristin Melcher came up with a steal in the backcourt. However, she could not hit the front end of a one-and-one, and Jackson grabbed the rebound and drove the length of the court to tie the game.
That was a preview of things to come.
On Lawrence’s next possession, Murray was fouled on a midrange jumper with six seconds left, and Nickerson used one of the two timeouts he had left to draw up a play.
After Murray missed both free throws and Jackson grabbed the rebound, the Witches just got out of her way and let her do the rest.
“In practice coach tells us to go at game speed, get to the hoop as fast as you can. That’s what I tried to do,” said Jackson, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
“That was our plan, just get the ball to Leah and just let her go,” added Valley.
The Witches held the dangerous Murray to seven points, often collapsing on her whenever she penetrated into the lane, but Melcher (nine points) and Haley McGee (eight points) stepped in to hit some big shots for coach Jason Pellerin’s Bulldogs.
“I learn something new about these girls all the time. They’ve got quite a lot of fight in them,” said Pellerin. “I found out more about them tonight than I had in however many games we played previously.”
The Bulldogs got multiple wide-open looks from the perimeter against Brewer’s zone, but Lawrence was just 1-for-19 from 3-point range.
The Witches defended the paint better in the second half and outworked the Bulldogs on the glass, limiting their second-chance opportunities. Meghan McLain grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
“In the locker room coach was telling us if we wanted this game we had to up the intensity and up our energy,” said Valley, who scored 12 of her game-high 19 points in the second half.
Nickerson was pleased with the way his club was able to pull through in a hostile environment.
“This is a great gym to play in. We have so much respect for [Lawrence], coach Pellerin does a great job,” said Nickerson. “We feel very fortunate to get out of here with a win.”