AUBURN — When five seniors stepped out on the court to start Friday’s game, none of them were trying to think about Senior Night.
With the recognition of seniors in their final home basketball matchup coming in between games of Friday’s doubleheader, the Edward Little girls’ put their minds on the task at hand.
“We tried to keep it away until the end of the game,” said senior guard Kelly Philbrook. “We wanted to focus on the game first. We knew we were going to be emotional. So we wanted to set those worries aside and just focus.”
So Philbrook, Emily Hartnett, MaryKate Masters, Ashlee Arnold and Crissy Lewis got down to business and opened a quick lead on their rivals from Lewiston. That group not only set the early tone for the Red Eddies but also built a lead EL would never relinquish in a 48-23 win.
“Before the game, Coach (Craig Jipson) told us to put the senior thing aside and play like we did in practice because we had a couple good practices before this game,” said Philbrook. “So we just focused in on the game and focused in on defense and went after it.”
EL finished the regular season at 15-3 and will earn the second seed in Eastern A. They’ll play in a fourth straight KVAC title game Monday at 5 p.m. against Cony at Cony and then play Hampden in an Eastern A quarterfinal next Friday.
“I liked our defensive effort tonight,” said Jipson. “Our defensive effort against Oxford Hills was outstanding and our defensive effort in the second half against Bangor was good. So we’re getting better defensively, but we’re going to have to step it up.”
Lewiston ended the regular season at 2-16. It was a significant step in the right direction for the Blue Devils.
“I know they’re going to hurt now, but the kids will realize what they need to work on and how to improve and whether they want to continue that commitment or not,” said Lewiston coach Mike McGraw.
Kory Norcross led EL with 17 points while Arnold finished with 15. Lewiston got four each from Jannessa Talarico, Emily Dixon and Brie Wilson.
Prior to the game, Jipson was recognized for recently becoming the all-time winningest coach in EL girl’s history. His 92nd win against Bangor last Friday put him past Cheryl Rich. Masters was also honored with a new Sixth Player Award for her efforts off the bench this season.
From there, EL’s defense stymied Lewiston and the early lead began to form. The Blue Devils turned the ball over three times in the first minute and didn’t even get a shot off until 65 seconds in. Lewiston had six turnovers in the first quarter and shot 1-for-12 after missing its first five shots.
“The thing we’ve improved upon so much this year is not turning the ball over as much and we just did that,” said McGraw.”That took the wind out of our sails because we were ready to play. So then we had to play catchup and they’re a good team. They forced us into some bad offensive situations, and we just couldn’t recover.”
Arnold started the game with a three-point play. After a Philbrook foul shot, she hit a jumper. Then Lewis put back a rebound for an 8-0 lead.
Talarico put Lewiston on the board with 3:27 left, but a drive by Norcross and a jumper by Tianna Harriman put the lead to double digits.
“We wanted to jump on them as quick as we could,” said Philbrook. “We wanted to let them know they didn’t have a chance to win this game. That’s what we did.”
Norcross had a three-point play and a jumper that made it 17-5. Then Arnold hit a 3. After an Emily Paione foul shot, EL ran off five straight, a basket by Lewis and free throws by Arnold.
Lewiston had just one field goal in the second until MacKenzie Sullivan and Kelsey Dumond hit jumpers late in the quarter.
“It was like going upstream against a lot of pressure, and it was hard,” said McGraw. “Jannessa couldn’t get untracked. Brie missed some shots inside. Usually if they can do that, it opens things up for kids like MacKenzie and Kelsey. They took away some of the things we do well, and we’re just not deep enough.”
The lead was 25-10 at the half. Norcross had nine in the third quarter as EL outscored Lewiston 15-6 for a 40-16 lead after three.
“We’ve shot like 68 percent from the line this year and we shot like 32 percent tonight,” said Jipson. “So to win by 25 and shoot that badly from the line says a lot.”