UMaine-Augusta’s Emily Billings, middle, grabs the ball before it goes out of bounds between Central maine Community College’s Kristina Blais, left, and Brooke Reynolds during their game in Augusta on Wednesday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
AUGUSTA — Eventually, the Mustangs out-ran the Moose.
Defending national champion Central Maine Community College got pushed by Yankee Small College Conference rival University of Maine at Augusta for three quarters, but the Mustangs had the final push, outscoring the Moose 25-5 in the fourth quarter to run away with a 75-56 victory at Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday.
“I feel like we just played with grit,” UMaine-Augusta coach Jennifer Laney said. “I think that was a big thing for us. We’ve got some new kids on the team, we’ve got a young team, and we just really came out and I thought that we got after it.
“We had a lot of good grit, and we just kind of lost it going down in the fourth.”
CMCC coach Andrew Morong spent much of the first half gritting his teeth, trying everything to get his team going.
“You wouldn’t think, this being college basketball, that you would have to motivate a college basketball team at halftime on an opponent’s floor playing in a big conference game,” Morong said. “(The halftime speech) was all just motivational.”
Morong played the role of jockey, imploring his team to go faster.
“It was all simply just push the tempo, keep pushing the tempo. I don’t know why we’re walking the ball up, go, go, go,” Morong said. “They only have eight girls, they only play five or six of them, there’s no way they can keep up the pace for 40 minutes. And we did that in the second half, and you saw they started missing shots in the second half that they made in the first half because they didn’t have their legs.”
The Mustangs (4-1, 2-0 YSCC) scored the first points of the game, but Caitlin LaFountain scored five straight for UMaine-Augusta (2-1, 1-1 YSCC) to put the Moose up 5-2. A 7-2 run run by CMCC gave the visitors a 9-7 lead, but the Moose finished the first quarter on a 6-2 run for a 13-11 advantage.
LaFountain and Kate Stevens combined for 11 of those points as the Moose controlled play down low early on.
“I thought our post players did a phenomenal job on both ends of the court,” Laney said.
The Mustangs evened play in the second quarter, improving their shooting from 11.8 percent in the first quarter to 33.3 percent in the second, and evened the score 29-29 at halftime. Kristina Blais scored seven of her 10 points in the period, and Brooke Reynolds added six.
Laney warned her team of a coming CMCC charge in the second half.
“I just kind of prepped them, I said ‘this is going to be a game of runs. With it being this close, we’re going to have some runs, CM is going to have some runs, and we just have to be mentally prepared to be able to go through that,'” Laney said.
The Moose heeded their head coach’s advice, opening the second half on a 6-0 run thanks to 3-pointers from Sidney Moore and Carmen Bragg to take a 35-29 lead. Jordyn Reynolds helped draw the Mustangs back closer by scoring CMCC’s first six points of the period. The Mustangs tied the game back up twice in the third but trailed 51-50 heading into the fourth.
The game’s biggest run belonged to the Mustangs to start the final period. Laney had to call two timeouts to try and stop it, but it wasn’t until Dominique Lewis hit a 3 with 5:17 left in the game that CMCC’s 12-0 run finally came to an end.
“Legs got a little tired underneath of us,” Laney said.
The run started with a long 2-pointer by Brooke Reynolds, who scored six of her game-high 22 points in the period. Alex Bessey poured in nine of her 15 points in the fourth.
“Well our bigs finally realized that they had a massive advantage inside, and they started just drop-stepping and keeping it simple, and just using the glass,” Morong said. “I think Kristina Blais and Alex Bessey did a great job getting by their primary defender and making UMA decide (who to defend).”
LaFountain led the Moose with 20 points, but made just one basket and scored two points in the final quarter. Moore added 15, with all of the production coming in the second and third quarters.
“The stubborn side of me says you got to point out everything they did wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Morong said. “But we just can’t start a game slow like that. If you start a game slow like that against NHTI or SMCC or UMA you’re going to be in a dogfight. So we got to focus on getting to a better start.”
Central Maine Community College’s Natalie Thurber, front, and UMaine-Augusta’s Emily Billings scramble for a ball during their game in Augusta on Wednesday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)Central Maine Community College’s Brooke Reynolds, left, drives around UMA’s Caitlin LaFountain during their game in Augusta on Wednesday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)UMaine-Augusta’s Carmen Bragg, left, tries to get around the defenses of Central Maine Community College’s Kristina Blais during their game in Augusta on Wednesday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)