AUGUSTA, Maine — The Lawrence Bulldogs have developed a fairly regular pattern of lowering expectations during the season only to rise above them with some stunning postseason play.
It may have begun back in 1986, Mike McGee’s first year as the head coach at his alma mater, when the Fairfield school won its last two games just to make the tournament as a .500 team, then avenged a 53-point loss to Waterville in the regional final.
More than two decades later, that same formula is working.
Senior forward Max Haney, benched late in the first half, returned in the fourth quarter Saturday to hit a key 3-pointer and then the winning free throws with 2.4 seconds left as the 10th-seeded Bulldogs shocked No. 2 Brewer 42-40 in an Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinal at the Augusta Civic Center.
“Everybody knew we had to give it our all,” said senior center Brooks Spaulding, who led Lawrence with 18 points, 14 in the first half. “We knew we were going to be the underdogs, and no one was going to expect anything from us.”
It marked the second upset victory already this postseason for 11-9 Lawrence, which won its last two regular-season games to reach .500 and then topped No. 7 Cony of Augusta 47-43 in overtime in the preliminary round.
“We got blown out by Mt. Blue [65-23] about six weeks ago and I got after these kids for not being Lawrence kids, not being mentally and physically tough and not playing together, and slowly this process just started taking place,” said McGee. “It’s been amazing. We won just like this at Cony. We were down the whole game, but these kids have become so mentally and physically tough, it’s great to see. You talk about lifetime lessons, it’s been happening right in front of my eyes.”
The win advances Lawrence (11-9) to a Wednesday night semifinal rematch against No. 6 Mt. Blue of Farmington, which defeated No. 3 Morse of Bath 58-45 in its quarterfinal.
Brewer (14-5) got a combined 21 points from Dom Drake and Billy Bissell in the first half while forcing 12 Lawrence turnovers, but that effort was good for just a 25-24 lead at the break. The Witches then held Lawrence to two third-quarter points but only managed to extend their lead to six, 32-26.
Then Haney opened the quarter with his only field goal, a 3-pointer from the left corner, and the Bulldogs were back in offensive business.
“There were many points in the game that were possible breaking points, not to blow it open but to make it enough of a cushion that our pressure would become more aggressive and bother them,” said Brewer coach Clayton Blood. “But every time we got to five or six they’d make a big hoop, so we never got that intense pressure going.”
A spinning runner by Bobby Belanger and an offensive rebound basket by Christian Powers pulled Lawrence into a 39-39 tie with 1:34 to play.
Brewer worked the clock down until Kyle O’Connell was fouled while driving to the basket with 14.2 seconds left. The senior point guard made the second of two free throws to give the Witches a one-point lead — and Lawrence one more chance.
The Bulldogs got the ball to Spaulding, who made 1 of 2 from the line after being fouled with 4.6 seconds left.
Haney then was fouled as he grabbed the offensive rebound of Spaulding’s miss, and after a timeout he calmly sank two free throws to give Lawrence the lead.
“I just tried to picture myself back at Lawrence, just shooting by myself,” said Haney. “It’s hard here because you can see the people behind the backboard, but I just tried to relax myself as best I could.”
A final 30-foot shot by Brewer’s Coby Hutchins bounced off the rim as time expired.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY GABOR DEGRE