BELFAST, Maine — Belfast girls basketball coach Stan Sturgis was determined not to make the same mistake twice when his Lions hosted Oceanside of Rockland/Thomaston on Thursday night.
He didn’t repeat the mistake, and the Lions rode a 24-point night by senior forward Lexi Nelligan to upset the Mariners 50-36.
Sturgis’ mistake the first time the teams played, at Rockland in the second game of the season, was the result of eagerness.
“We jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but I didn’t do a good job of coaching them,” he said Thursday. “I left my starters in too long, and they got burned out.”
Oceanside came back to post a 42-29 win that night.
This time when the Lions jumped ahead 8-0, Sturgis didn’t hesitate to let all of his girls play.
“All 10 [Hannah Nichols didn’t play because she was injured in the JV game] contributed,” said Sturgis. “They played hard and got some good minutes.
“They deserved to win.”
Nelligan kicked it off by hitting the first basket for Belfast and finished with eight points in the first quarter.
“It felt good,” said Nelligan. She thought if she could get kickstart the scoring, the Lions would be fine.
“I knew if the team got into a rhythm, the wouldn’t be able to beat us,” she said.
“We knew they would run their 1-3-1 [zone defense],” said junior guard Madison Cummings. “We ran a couple of plays in practice to break it, and it went really well.”
The idea was to get the ball in to Nelligan, senior McKenzie Thibodeau and senior Courtney Drinkwater.
“We went inside first, then back outside [if it wasn’t open],” said Cummings. “If it was not there [outside], then we’d send it back inside again.”
At the same time, the Lions turned up their defense, clogging the inside and forcing the Mariners to shoot a lot of long-range jumpers. If they tried to get inside, the Mariners had to negotiate a gantlet of Lions to get a shot off. It proved difficult.
“Our goal was to make them beat us with low-percentage instead of high-percentage ones,” said Sturgis. “You’ve gotta gamble sometimes.”
He has seen that kind of defensive effort from his team earlier this year and he enjoyed seeing it again.
“We’ve been among the top two defensive teams all year [in the KVAC Class B],” said Sturgis. “But we let it get away the last couple of games.”
The Lions forced 21 Oceanside turnovers while committing only 12. The big difference was Belfast converted some of the turnovers into points, while Oceanside struggled to do so.
The Lions also converted a few offensive rebounds into baskets, Nelligan did it three times and Thibodeau once.
Nelligan finished with a double-double with 24 points and 13 rebounds, and Driknwater scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Nelligan scored 10 of her points in the fourth quarter as the Lions halted one last rally by the Mariners.
Oceanside trimmed Belfast’s lead to 31-26 with 5:17 to go, but the Lions, led by Nelligan again, scored 15 of their last 19 points from the free-throw line.
Six of Nelligan’s points in the final eight minutes came on free throws as the Lions tried to get the ball inside or played keepaway with the ball out high.
The Belfast defense held Mariners 1,000-point scorer Kennadi Grover to seven points in the game as her every possession was contested.
The Mariners couldn’t get their outside game going, making only a single 3-pointer in the game.
Courtney Drinkwater added 13 points for Belfast (11-4), and McKenzie Thibodeau had eight.
Hannah Plourde led Oceanside (13-2) with 14 points, and Emily Gould posted nine.
The Lions had jumped in front with a 12-3 lead after the first eight minutes. They were able to take an 18-13 edge into the locker room at halftime and were still on top by six points heading into the fourth quarter.
With wins over Nokomis on Jan. 21 and now Oceanside, the Lions are feeling good as the tournament approaches in a couple of weeks.
“Now we know we can play with anyone,” said Nelligan.