SOUTH PARIS — At halftime Friday night, Nate Pelletier simply asked his team to give themselves a chance.
Down by as many as 16 in the first half, Pelletier knew his Oxford Hills girls' basketball team still had something to say about its game with Cony.
"We told the girls at halftime, 'Come the fourth quarter, get us to six,'" Pelletier said. "That's all we wanted. We got to the fourth quarter, and it was a six-point game. We just wanted to get it to six to give ourselves a shot."
The Vikings got as close as one point twice in the final minute, but the the lead Cony established in the first half was just barely big enough in a 46-43 win for the Rams.
"The effort my girls put forth in the second half is exactly what we need every single game," Pelletier said. "As a coach, I couldn't ask anything more from them."
It was the third straight win for Cony and second straight over one of Eastern A's top teams. The Rams beat top-ranked Edward Little earlier in the week. The Vikings were as high as third this week.
"Up until this point, we've played every game tough," said Cony coach Karen Magnusson, whose club was sitting ninth in the latest Eastern A standings. "We just haven't had some go our way. We won three by like three points or less and won a couple at the buzzer. We're right there but now, we're just pulling out those other ones. I think they're feeling more confident, and we're finishing out games."
Cony (8-6) finished strong despite the Vikings surge in the fourth. The Rams had made it an eight-point game early in the fourth. Then Mikayla Morin scored six straight points and cut the lead to 40-38 with 4:00 left. She picked up her fourth foul soon after and came out. That slowed the Vikings momentum.
After free throws by Emily Quirion and Bayleigh Logan, an Alex Rowe three-point play made it 42-41 with 1:36 left.
"A couple baskets at the right moment turned a one-point game into a three-point game," Magnusson said. "We did the right things when we needed to."
Cony got a huge rebound and basket by Quirion, who had seven of her 12 points in the fourth, with 1:09 left. That came after a nice block in the post of a Cony shot. The Vikings got a basket by Anna Winslow to cut it to 44-43 with 52 seconds left, but Quirion added two free throws and a last-second attempt at a 3 missed for the Vikings.
"Their girls made some big shots," Pelletier said. "We had a key block and a girl goes into the lane and makes a runner. Every time we needed that clutch shot, we'd rim it out, and they'd come down and make a shot."
The Vikings (9-5) got eight points each from Winslow, Morin, Crystal West and Abbie Eastman. Cony was led by Logan with 13 while Josie Lee and Quirion each had 12.
Cony built an early lead thanks to some hot shooting. The Rams hit a trio of 3's in the first quarter and three more in the second. The Vikings struggled, shooting 1-for-5 in the first and 3-for-11 in the second while having 12 turnovers.
"They shot the lights out in the first half," Pelletier said. "For us that's probably one of the toughest teams to defend. We're bigger than them, but you have to be able to defend the 3 from them all. It took us awhile to figure out what would work for us."
The Vikings used a zone in the second half and that limited the Rams' offense. Oxford Hills utilized long arms by Morin, Winslow and Tianna Sugars to deflect passes and force six turnovers in the third. Down 31-16 early in the third, the Vikings were within 36-30 entering the fourth.
"We started scoring a little less, and they started scoring a little more," Magnusson said. "Then it became a game. You expect that from a good team. We knew they were going to make a run."
A 12-2 surge was fueled by 3's from Eastman and West. Sugars added a basket and two Winslow free throws cut the lead to six after three.