Tough enough

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DIXFIELD -There was a small space at each end of the court that the Mt. Abram girls’ basketball team called their own Monday.

The Roadrunners’ post players were able to control much of the low post, set up shop and went to work at each end of the floor.

The Dirigo Cougars, however, made the commute pretty difficult.

“We couldn’t get it down there enough,” said Mt. Abram coach Doug Lisherness.

Mt. Abram’s Brittany York and Janessa Thomas made for a sizable matchup problem for the unbeaten Cougars. The two combined for 19 points and neutralized Dirigo’s hopes of offense inside.

But Dirigo’s strength on defense superseded the Roadrunners’ inside game. The Cougars made it difficult for Mt. Abram to feed its post game and toughed out a hard-fought 46-40 win.

Dirigo finished strong, turning a 39-37 lead into a nine-point advantage with seven straight points in the final two minutes.

“I was pleased with our kids for how they handled themselves during the stretch run,” said Dirigo coach Gavin Kane. “We wanted to spread them out on the defensive end of the floor and get ourselves to the foul line.”

Dirigo (14-0) got 11 points from Nikki Kaulback and 10 from Katie Hutchinson, who also had four steals and five assists. Abby Fenstermacher and Katherine Gagne each had seven while Shannon Daley added six. The Cougars hit 10-of-11 free throws in the final quarter, including eight straight to finish the game.

After a Morgan Cummings basket with 2:47 left, the Roadrunners had the chance to tie at 39-39. Thomas had a short shot from the middle of the paint that hit the rim and bounced out. Daley hauled in the rebound. Moments later, Kaulback was fouled and hit both free throws for a 41-37 lead with 1:58 left.

Mt. Abram struggled the entire game to execute against the Cougars defensive pressure. A Kaulback steal kept the momentum in Dirigo’s favor, and she set up a fast break basket and three-point play by Megan Russell.

“It was important to hold them on defense and definitely not foul,” said Kaulback. “We had to play aggressive enough and not let them get any shots in.”

After two more Cougar free throws made it 46-37, Cummings hit another 3-pointer in the final minute. Cummings led the Roadrunners (7-6) with 11 while Thomas had 10 and York had nine. Kenni Norton was also an outside presence with eight.

“We broke down mentally,” said Lisherness. “We had a few turnovers down at the end. In a game like that, it can cost you and it did. We haven’t been in ballgames like this.”

Mt. Abram burst out to a six-point lead in the first quarter as Thomas and York dominated the post, and Dirigo went 2-for-8 from the floor. Kaulback came off the bench and gave the Cougars a spark from the outside. Her jumper in the final minute had Dirigo down 18-17 at the half.

“Sometimes I was like, ‘Oh my God’ I’m shooting too much because I was missing,” said Kaulback. “But coach was telling me to keep shooting.”

The Cougars hit from the outside more frequently as Fenstermacher hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Daley and Gagne managed to get some hoops inside. Gagne scored twice late in the third to build a three-point lead and hit two free throws to start the fourth to make it 34-29.

“Mt. Abram did a great job with their zone defenses, and forcing us to a perimeter game” said Kane. “I thought we were very tentative against the zone in the first half, but we started to attack it a little better in the second half.”

The Roadrunners stayed in striking distance down the stretch and got within two twice.

“If we continue to play the way we did against Madison and with the intensity we had tonight, I’m happy,” said Lisherness. “We’re playing up to our ability. Dirigo beat us. I don’t think we lost the game. I think Dirigo beat us, and as a coach, you don’t mind those games.”

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