LIVERMORE FALLS — Ricki Sinclair expected Livermore Falls to quickly diagnose Dirigo’s final play in Thursday night’s MVC clash, so she called Jane Hebert over and developed an alternative plan so the Cougars could get off a good last shot.

Still, Sinclair wasn’t expecting the ball when she rubbed off a screen in the key and jogged down the back side of the paint toward the basket. But the senior guard knew what to do with it when Hebert made a perfect lob pass over the top of the defense.

Sinclair’s laid the ball in with 2.5 seconds left, her only points of the game, to give Dirigo a thrilling 30-28 victory over Livermore Falls. It was the Cougars’ second two-point victory over the Andies this season (32-30 on Dec. 17).

“All day, Livermore Falls knew our plays,” Sinclair said, “So, I told Jane when we went out on the court, ‘It’s probably not going to be there. Be ready to kick it to the corner and cut.’ And I thought that’s what we were doing, so I came off the screen kind of lazy, and then I look up and the ball’s coming at me, and I was just like, ‘Oh, no. Here it is.'”

The Cougars knocked the ball away on the Andies’ ensuing attempt to go the length of the court to tie or win it. Now they are about 1½ points ahead the Andies for second place in the crowded Western C Heals, with both teams sporting a 10-4 record.

Hannah Knight led Dirigo with 11 points and Hebert chipped in with seven. Marissa Welch paced Livermore Falls with 12 points and 12 rebounds while Kathryn Ventrella added nine points.

Dirigo threatened to pull away several times. Hebert’s foul-line jumper and Knight’s buzzer-beating runner opened up a 25-18 lead at the end of three quarters. Two free throws and a layup off a steal by Ventrella pulled the Andies within three briefly. As the Cougars tried to slow the game down, the Andies countered with a half-court trap. Dirigo was able to exploit it initially for a Morgan Hutchins hoop that made it 28-22. But three subsequent Cougar turnovers led to hoops by Ventrella, Welch and a Welch putback of an Annika Durrell miss that tied the game at 28 with 40 seconds remaining.

“Give Livermore credit. They play good defense. They’re up in your face,” Dirigo coach Reggie Weston said. 

“That’s the first time we’ve used it all year,” Andies coach Mark Simpson said of the trap. “I just brought them over and said, ‘OK girls, are you ready to try this?’ That sparked us, got us going.”

The Cougars played the stifling defense in the first half, limiting the Andies to 3-for-17 shooting. They were particularly effective in defending the 5-foot-11 Welch in the post, holding her to just two points.

“Ricki did a good job on Ventrella, who’s very quick, and I think kept her from focusing on getting it into Welch so easily,” Weston said. “And Morgan I thought did a good job on her, being a little bit shorter. She had to earn them. She did earn them, though, I’ll tell you what.”

“They played great defense, and they just forced our hand as far as every time Marissa got it, she was just being clubbed to death,” Simpson said. “That’s what (the officials) were allowing and so that’s what (Dirigo) did. They played us very, very well.”

Back-to-back jumpers by Hutchins and Knight gave the Cougars a 16-9 lead with 1:08 to go in the half, but the Andies were able to pull within four before intermission on free throws from Kathrynn Lake and Hannah Therrien.

They resumed pounding the ball inside to Welch to start the second half, and she tied it at 16-16 with a pair of hoops. The Cougars got tough on defense again, holding the Andies without a field goal for the final 4:53 of the third, and went on a 9-2 run to close the quarter that was sparked by Hebert’s steal and layup that resulted in a three-point play.

“We knew that they had really strong post players and we knew that they had a few outside shooters, and honestly, we didn’t go over a lot offensively,” Sinclair said. “We basically concentrated on buckling down on defense and rebounding.”

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