AUGUSTA, Maine — Getting the ball to the freshman is not the typical coaching strategy when an opponent has just erased a 13-point deficit to forge a fourth-quarter tie.
But fourth-ranked Lawrence of Fairfield countered fifth-seeded Mt. Blue of Farmington’s second-half comeback with just such a plan Friday night, and Nia Irving made Bulldogs’ coach John Donato look like a genius.
Irving, a 5-foot-11-inch freshman forward, scored eight unanswered points midway through the final period to break up the sudden stalemate as Lawrence pulled away to a 73-62 victory over the Cougars in their Eastern Maine Class A girls basketball quarterfinal at the Augusta Civic Center.
“The point of emphasis was definitely for us to get our heads back in the game, and I think that’s exactly what we did,” said Irving.
Lawrence (14-5) will play No. 9 Cony of Augusta in a Wednesday semifinal after the Rams upset No. 1 Edward Little of Auburn 52-35 in Friday’s late game.
Irving finished with game-high totals of 28 points and 19 rebounds as she outmuscled Mt. Blue ‘s frontcourt players.
“When you play four against five it’s a tossup, and we just lucked out to win,” said Donato. “My big girl played better than theirs. They had no answer for her inside.”
Yet Mt. Blue had rallied from a 42-29 third-quarter deficit behind senior guard Gabrielle Foy and junior guard Miranda Nicely to tie the game at 48-48 on a jumper by senior guard Makenzie Conlogue with 6:22 left in the game.
But Lawrence answered by working the ball back inside to its freshman force with decisive results.
Irving scored from the low post off a pass from Brianna Soucy, converted two three-point plays — the first after grabbing an offensive rebound and the second on a feed from classmate Dominique Lewis — and then converted another Lewis assist into a layup to restore the Bulldogs to a 58-51 advantage with four minutes remaining.
“Coach said (to get the ball inside) and me and Domi just have this telepathic thing going on,” said Irving, who has been a teammate of Lewis since the fourth grade. “We know when to get each other the ball.”
Mt. Blue (14-5) got back within 58-53 on a fast-break layup by Conlogue with 3:38 left, but Irving fed sophomore forward Paige Belanger for a three-point play to start an 8-0 Lawrence run that put the game away.
Lewis finished with 18 points for the Bulldogs while Belanger scored 13.
Foy and Nicely scored 18 points each for Mt. Blue, with all of Foy’s offense coming after intermission.