DIXFIELD — Be ready or be behind.
That’s the fate team’s may face against the Spruce Mountain Phoenix girls’ basketball team.
If a team isn’t ready for an intense, aggressive, in-your-face welcome from the Phoenix, than it might be a long night for that opponent.
It was Dirigo’s turn to experience that scenario Tuesday. Spruce Mountain roared out to a quick double-digit lead. Though the Cougars were able to regroup and stay within reach, the Phoenix maintained that advantage the rest of the way in a 44-28 win.
“We talked to the kids prior to the game about getting out to a quick start and trying not to let Dirigo get some momentum and get excited early in the ballgame,” Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane said.
The Phoenix (15-0) built a quick 10-point lead and never allowed Dirigo to get closer than eight points the rest of the way. The lead was up to as many as 13 by halftime before the Phoenix opened it up little by little in the second half.
“It was a big win,” said Kane, whose team is ranked atop the Western B standings. “We knew if we don’t falter down the stretch, this could solidify a bye in the tournament. Dirigo is worth a lot of points, and we’re hoping to be in the top four spots.”
Nicole Hamblin lead the Phoenix with 10 points while Samantha Richards had nine. Vanese Barnes added eight points and seven rebounds. Dirigo (11-4) got seven from Kelsey Hutchins.
“We came out, and they got us a little panicky,” said Dirigo coach Reggie Weston, whose team is ranked fifth in the Western C standings. “We tried to calm them down. We usually handle the pressure quite well.”
Dirigo turned the ball over six times on its first seven possessions. On the other opportunity, the Cougars settled for an air ball. Meanwhile, Spruce Mountain turned the turnovers into a quick 10-0 lead.
Barnes scored first followed by Emily Keene. Kailee Newcomb scored off a steal. Hamblin finished off a leaner and Richards put in a drive for the 10-0 advantage in just 3:35. The Phoenix hit five of its first six shots, 7-for-12 in the quarter, while Dirigo shot just 2-for-12 from the floor.
In the second, the Phoenix couldn’t open the lead. Spruce Mountain hit just one of its first 10 shots. Dirigo couldn’t take advantage, hitting just one of its first five and finishing 3-for-15 in the quarter.
“I thought we had a good opportunity in the first half to open it up a little and give ourselves a little bit of distance,” Kane said. “To their credit, they kept working and kept the game close.”
Free throws by Barnes late in the second made it 27-14 at the half. Dirigo stayed within reach but couldn’t get a run going to rally. Dirigo couldn’t string together any consecutive field goals, despite forcing numerous Phoenix turnovers.
“We couldn’t take advantage of it,” Weston said. “We had some good looks.”
Alexis Noyes opened the half with a 3 for the Cougars, but Dirigo didn’t get any closer. Baskets by Richards and Newcomb maintained the lead during the third. Free throws by Richards late in the quarter made it 34-20 entering the fourth.
Emma Lueders, Sabrina Daoud and Gretchen Bradbury combined for four straight points for the Cougars, but it came in the final minutes of the game.
“We knew Dirigo was going to come out and play hard,” Kane said. “I was disappointed in the second half with the fact that we lost composure on the offensive end of the floor. We took a number of hurried shots and that played into their hands.”