FARMINGTON — The steal in and off itself was challenge enough for Eryn Doiron.
When the Mt. Blue sophomore guard earned possession of the ball in the final minute Tuesday night, she still had to stay in bounds, find someone to pass the ball to and then hope her Cougar teammates could turn her efforts into points.
Amazingly enough, Doiron did just that, and her spectacular efforts led to a Miranda Nicely three-point play.
“I caught it and I threw it,” said Doiron. “I was like, ‘Please someone catch this.’ They did and my team pulled it off so well. She got that three-point play.”
That basket gave Mt. Blue the lead for good. The Cougars’ stellar defense shutout out Lewiston the rest of the way to give Mt. Blue a thrilling 39-37 win over the Blue Devils in an Eastern A preliminary.
The Cougars (9-10) advance to the regional quarterfinals to play top-ranked Edward Little Friday night at the August Civic Center. It’s the third straight trip to Augusta for Mt. Blue.
“Our defense was tough,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “We didn’t put the ball in the hole. We’ve been struggling with that. I have to take my hat off to Lewiston too. They’re a team that hasn’t been in a playoff game in a long time, and they came in here and played their hearts out. We were fortunate enough that our girls hung in. When the opportunities arose, they stepped it up and kept their composure.”
It was the first playoff game for Lewiston since 2005. The Blue Devils rallied from a six-point deficit in the final quarter but couldn’t fend off the Mt. Blue rally.
“The girls kept grinding away,” Lewiston coach Mike Labonte said. “They pretty much left everything on the floor. They don’t have anything to be ashamed of. A couple of turnovers on our part, and they made one or two more plays then we did. You have to give them credit.”
Lewiston (5-14) got a game-high 22 points from Brie Wilson. She had nine of Lewiston’ 13 points in the final quarter.
Mt. Blue got 20 from Nicely, who scored the final five points of the game in the last 51 seconds.
“If we’re going to make it, it’s on her,” Philbrick said of Nicely. “She stepped up and put us on her shoulders when it counted.”
After Nicely sank two free throws to get Mt. Blue within 37-36, Doiron stole the inbounds pass. Her momentum nearly took her out of bounds but she maintained her balance, only to be trapped in the corner. She jumped and turned to look for a saving pass. There was open space in the backcourt and that’s where Doiron threw the ball.
“I saw Kiana (Thompson) but it didn’t quite get to her,” Doiron said. “Emily (Knowles) happened to show up and with those hands of hers and long arms, she snatched it right down.”
Knowles then made the heads-up play to find Nicely underneath the basket. She fed her in the post for a layup and foul with 47 seconds left.
“Emily gave me a great pass,” Nicely said. “She saw me. I just laid it in and got fouled. I hit the foul shot, just like practice. That’s what I was thinking, that it was just like practice.”
Mt. Blue still had significant defensive stops to make. On Lewiston’s next possession, the Blue Devils got an open look for Kristina Blais but her shot didn’t go. Knowles got the rebound and was fouled with 16 seconds left.
After she missed the free throws, Lewiston had one more chance. Stellar defense from Doiron and Caitlin Kane in the backcourt made Lewiston work to bring the ball up. By the time the Blue Devils got to halfcourt, it had less then eight seconds left to execute a play. All Lewiston could muster was a failed attempt with four seconds left.
“When they were pressing us, we had a hard time getting it in,” Labonte said. “Brie was clutch down the stretch at the foul line to try to keep us ahead.”
Lewiston had been down 30-24 early in the fourth but rallied to tie it on a drive by Blais. Wilson and a jumper by Maethon helped erase the deficit. Two free throws by Wilson put Lewiston ahead with 3:00 left and helped Lewiston maintain the lead. Mt. Blue got free throws from Addie Brinkman and a drive by Kane to stay within reach.
“We knew we just had to stick to it and buckle down,” Nicely said. “We knew we could come out with a win. We just had to keep playing and keep plugging.”
Mt. Blue’s defense was superb for much of the game. Lewiston was plagued by 14 turnovers in the first half and shot just 6-for-17 from the floor. The Blue Devils weren’t getting the open looks from the outside. Wilson had 11 of Lewiston’s 13 points in the first half.
“We’ve been hitting five, six, seven or eight 3’s, and we weren’t hitting any of them,” said Labonte, whose team got just one 3 from Jenessa Talarico. “You have to give them credit. They played great defense and didn’t give us much space.”
The Cougars also struggled offensively and couldn’t take advantage of the defensive effort. Mt. Blue shot 4-for-20 in the first half and had 12 turnovers.
“We knew we had to settle down,” Nicely said. “We knew we could do it. We knew we were going to get our opportunities to score and get the win.”
Doiron was also a spark offensively at times. Her free throws and a late basket gave Mt. Blue the 14-13 lead at the half. Then the Cougars got nine from Nicely in the third to open up a lead.
“There’s never been any quit in these girls,” Philbrick said. “A large part of the game, I had two sophomores on the court, Eryn Doiron and Emilee Eustis. I think they were unbelievable. That’s when we got the six-point lead. That’s when they got some steals.”