DIXFIELD — There wasn't much difference between Dirigo and Oak Hill in a season-opening Mountain Valley Conference girls' basketball game Saturday night.
In the end, it was freshman Emma Lueders stepping to the free-throw line and draining both shots with 19.4 seconds left, allowing Dirigo to hang on for a thrilling 47-46 win at Defoe Gymnasium.
Oak Hill immediately called timeout to set up a play, but failed to gain space, and the resulting shot was off the mark. Dirigo gained possession with 1.8 seconds left, following a discussion between the officials, and was able to run out the clock.
The game was important for both teams and for different reasons. For Oak Hill, it was a new beginning in the MVC after moving over from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. The Raiders finished 4-14 in the KVAC last season, and the MVC figures to be equally competitive.
"We had called for (Sadie) Goulet to come off a double screen," Oak Hill coach Tom Morong said. "Unfortunately, one of my freshman came off it a bit early. But this was still quite a game, because two weeks ago we would have lost by 22. Tonight it was one point."
On the opposite end, Dirigo had plenty of questions after having to replace four starters, which accounted for a majority of the offense. The Cougars substituted freely and their three highest scorers — Kelsey Hutchins (15), Lueders (10) and Jessica Conant (9) — each came off the bench.
“We were trying to spread the floor down the stretch and not slow it down," Dirigo coach Reggie Weston said. “We needed to create some space and open up the passing lanes. But, the girls got congested and we have things to work on. Plus, I knew Oak Hill had to come at us because they were behind.”
Dirigo had taken a 44-34 lead on Hutchins' driving basket, but the Raiders refused to go away.
Grace Sabine made two free throws and Danielle Samson (10 points and Goulet (game-high 15 points, including three 3-pointers) each made baskets.
A 3-pointer by Julie Arsenault (seven points) actually cut the deficit to 44-43, but following a timeout, Leuders made a free throw. Each team had possession of the bal, but turned the ball over.
The Cougars' Kayla Gaudin scored six points, including four free throws in the third quarter when Dirigo led 28-20. The Cougars actually won the game at the charity stripe, making 21 of 35, to 10 of 18 by Oak Hill. The teams combined for 56 turnovers.
“Dirigo went at us and we went right at them,” Morong said. “When they slowed the pace in the fourth quarter, I felt we gained momentum. But, we missed our free throws."
Dirigo hurt itself with several lazy passes but led 23-16 at halftime. Lueders and Conant sparked an 11-2 run.