AUGUSTA – Playing without one of your top players can be a challenge. It can also be a necessity.

The Dirigo girls’ basketball team had to overcome foul trouble and a game Hall-Dale club Tuesday night, but winning the nail-biters has been something the Cougars have come to expect from themselves. With a few close calls in recent tournament history and some tight games this season, Dirigo wasn’t too rattled with the game on the line its Western C quarterfinal. The Cougars survived another scare to thwart the Hall-Dale threat in a 41-37 victory.

“In the locker room one of the main things we were talking about was staying composed, keeping our composure and confidence,” said Dirigo senior forward Katherine Gagne.

Dirigo had center Shannon Daley nursing two fouls through the second quarter and then lost starting guard Katie Hutchinson to fouls in the final minutes. Dirigo also had three other starters with three or four fouls by game’s end. The Cougars got great help off the bench from Jane Hebert, Nikki Kaulback and Carrie Jamison while players like Gagne, Megan Russell and Abby Fenstermacher rose to the occasion.

“I thought a lot of girls came off the bench and played well for us,” said Dirigo coach Gavin Kane. “We had a period of time when we were sitting at least two starters. So the younger players did very well.”

Daley finished with 12 points for the Cougars (18-1) while Gagne had 10. Hall-Dale (10-10) was led by Katie Frett with 14 before she fouled out.

Dirigo had opened an eight-point lead in the third but watched the Bulldogs cut it to three after an Erika Brann steal. A Daley three-point play ended the third with Dirigo up 31-25. Hall-Dale opened the fourth with back-to-back hoops, including a Katy Brown 3-pointer to get within 31-30. Dirigo answered that with a backdoor pass to Russell from Hutchinson with 5:50 left.

“We have several different set plays that we save for a time when we can get a high percentage shot,” said Kane. “We were able to connect on a couple of those.”

Gagne followed that up with a fast break hoop for a 35-30 lead, but Hall-Dale persisted. Free throws by Frett and a 3-pointer by Britta Olsen kept the Bulldogs within range, but Dirigo’s free-throw shooting and poise down the stretch won out.

“We’ve had a lot of close games,” said Daley. “The MVC is tough this year. We’ve were in so many close games, I think it helped us build confidence that we’ve done it before. We know we can pull through. We just have to stick together.”

Dirigo opened the lead originally in the second quarter with Daley on the bench with two fouls. Gagne led the charge with some outstanding defensive play and six points as the Cougars turned a 12-10 deficit into a 24-18 lead.

“Katherine Gagne had a great second quarter for us,” said Kane. “That was so key for us with Shannon sitting on the bench. Basically, we were hoping to buy time, but we ended up stretching out the lead just a little bit.”

The Cougar defense clamped down on the Bulldogs and forced five turnovers in the second quarter and limited Hall-Dale to just three shots from the floor. Meanwhile, the Cougar offense began to click. After shooting 4-for-11 in the opening quarter, the Cougars went 6-for-12 and started to hit some outside shots, turning a four-point deficit into a six-point lead.

“We just need it,” said Gagne. “We became more intense.”

Six straight points opened the lead late in the second. A Fenstermacher free throw put the Cougars back in the lead. Then. Gagne scored on a drive and added another in the paint. A Kaulback jumper made it 24-17 before a Bulldogs free throw by Brann cut it to 24-18. Hall-Dale didn’t help its cause shooting just 2-for-13 from the free throw line in the first half.

“We were just finding the open man, and we made really good cuts to the basket,” said Gagne.

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