DIXFIELD — It was a play so fresh that the Dirigo girls' basketball team had barely practiced it, let alone use it in an actual game.
With nine seconds left and the game tied Saturday afternoon, Dirigo coach Reggie Weston thought the time was right to gamble with it.
It was the last thing freshman Emma Leuders was expecting, especially since it was her name that was called for the play.
"I was very surprised," said Leuders. "I was like, 'If I miss it, I'm done.'"
Leuders didn't miss. The Cougars executed the play to perfection and stunned Hall-Dale with a last-second 45-43 win over Hall-Dale.
"This will get us some points," said Weston, whose team improved to 4-2 and jumped up to fourth in the Western C standings. "They beat Boothbay and played well against Spruce Mountain. This should give us some confidence."
It wasn't just an impressive win standings-wise but a performance to build from for a young team. The Cougars were even missing starting forward Kelsey Hutchins to injury. She's been out most of the season and is expected to return next week. Still, the younger Cougars erased a nine-point deficit in the third and held off a late Bulldog charge in the final minute.
"I'm still trying to figure out how tough they are and how much court sense they have," said Weston. "They keep impressing me all the time."
Dirigo almost wilted down the stretch, watching a 43-36 lead disappear. Hall-Dale's Allison Crockett scored in the paint with 1:20 left and then had a three-point play with 50 seconds left to cut it to one. After Dirigo squandered a chance to add to the lead from the foul line, Crockett scored again with 15 seconds remaining to tie it 43-43.
"It was like, 'Oh, we had this,'" said Leuders. "We knew we just had to keep going."
Weston called for a timeout with nine seconds left to set up the game-winner. Part of the design of the play was to have two of the team's top foul shooters handling the ball. As it turned out, Dirigo didn't need it.
Leuders passed the ball into the right block to Jessica Conant. The defense converged on Conant, and she quickly dished to the right to Leuders, who had a wide-open lane to the basket. She took the ball and laid it in with two seconds left.
"I was shaking," said Leuders, who played much of the JV game as well as the varsity contest. "Even after I made the shot, I was still shaking."
Conant finished with 22 points, while Leuders and Lindsy Crutchfield each had six. Hall-Dale (2-3) got 17 from Crockett and 11 from Nicole Pelletier, who stepped up nicely when Natasha Brown battled foul trouble for much of the game.
Crockett's six straight points in the third helped open a 29-20 lead for the Bulldogs. Dirigo struggled to handle her size inside but after that, Kayla Gaudin, with a few double and triple teams, did a nice job on Crockett in the post.
"We had to get after it," said Weston. "I had to kick them in the butt and say, 'Hey, we have to step up and make a move sooner or later.'"
Dirigo's strength was its press. The Cougars forced nearly 30 turnovers, including seven in the fourth. Hall-Dale hit just one of its first eight shots in the fourth as Dirigo opened up the lead.
"Our press helped a lot," said Leuders. "We were really up in their face. That messed with them a little bit."
Down early in the fourth, Conant helped open the lead. She sank two free throws and then converted a nice pass from Leuders. A Gaudin steal led to another Conant basket. Then Gaudin finished off an Ambyr Wilson pass for eight straight and a 43-36 lead with 1:37 left. That was before Crockett rallied the Bulldogs in the final minute to tie it.
"Most of the time, teams go inside to the big girl and hope to get a foul," said Weston. "We wanted to get it to one of our best players, and we wanted Emma to go right through and hope for the best."