DIXFIELD – When Kaylie DeMillo dropped 44 points on Madison in Tuesday’s game, the Dirigo girls’ basketball team couldn’t help but take notice.

As if the Cougars didn’t have enough incentive already, DeMillo exploits made Dirigo’s mission clear.

“They beat us last year,” said Megan Russell, who saw the Tigers topple Dirigo twice last season, including at home where the Cougars had a string of 69 straight wins ended by the Tigers. “We really, really wanted the revenge and take back our winning streak.”

So the unbeaten Cougars resorted to extraordinary measures to stymie DeMillo Friday. Dirigo unveiled a 1-3-1 zone to frustrate the Tigers in a 49-33 win in a battle of the two top teams in the Western C standings.

“We spent a fair amount of time on that in practice throughout the season,” said Dirigo coach Gavin Kane. “Part of that was in anticipation for this game. As a general rule, we don’t play a lot of zone, but I felt that if we played it well, it could be a very effective defense for us.”

DeMillo was held to just six points through the first three quarters. She finished with 15, but three of her four 3-pointers came in the final quarter with the Cougars (10-0) nursing a double-digit lead. No other Tiger managed more than five points.

“I was definitely surprised,” said Jay coach Chris Bessey. “Obviously, when you think of Dirigo, you think of man-to-man halfcourt defense. It’s understandable why he went to the 1-3-1. It worked well limiting Kaylie’s shot.”

Dirigo burst out to a quick lead and was up by eight in the opening quarter. Megan Russell led the charge with five of her 13 points in the first stanza.

“That was really important,” said Russell. “The first 10 minutes of the game is pretty much the deciding factor of what’s going to happen.”

Shannon Daley and Katie Hutchinson each finished with 10, while Katherine Gagne added nine.

In the first quarter, Russell, Abby Fenstermacher and Jane Hebert helped the Cougars race out to a 12-4 lead as the Tigers (9-2) missed their first six shots and turned the ball over four times in the first four minutes.

Jay settled down in the second quarter and managed to find a few holes in the Cougar defense. The Tigers got a late basket from Mallory Bonnevie and two free throws from Liz LeBlanc to get within 21-16 at the half.

A leaner by Kristen Adams got Jay to within three to start the third, but hopes for a Tiger rally came up short. Dirigo ran off 15 straight points and left the Tigers staggering.

“They dropped into a zone,” said Russell. “We just tried to move the ball and get some open shots and penetrate.”

Daley had six straight points to start the run. Gagne scored off a Russell feed, and Russell followed with a 3-pointer. Gagne and Hutchinson added scores for a 36-18 lead. Jay shot 1-for-9 in the third and went 7-for-29 through the first three quarters.

“One of our focuses at halftime was to make sure we had good possession on the offensive end of the floor,” said Kane. “The last two ballgames, we struggled on the offensive end of the floor. I thought we did a much better job in our halfcourt offense this evening.”

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