DIXFIELD — Down by one, the Dirigo Cougars had the ball and all the momentum. Sparked by a needed turnover with just over a minute to play, the Cougars had the opportunity to gain the lead and put themselves in control of Thursday’s nail-biter with Hall-Dale.

Before Dirigo could take advantage of that moment, it was gone. The inbounds pass slipped through Cougar hands and turned into a Bulldog basket. Hall-Dale never looked back for a 41-36 victory.

Both Dirigo (10-5) and Hall-Dale (12-4) are jostling for playoff positioning in Western C. The Bulldogs are also in contention for a spot in the MVC championship game. With the win, Hall-Dale jumped up into the top four in the Western C standings.

“It was two great teams battling it out,” said Hall-Dale coach Brandon Terrill. “It was a great atmosphere, a great gym. We kept saying whoever executed under pressure in the clutch is going to pull it out.”

Hall-Dale managed to do just that. With 2:25 left, Dirigo was down 37-36. The Cougars had erased a four-point Hall-Dale lead with a Hannah Knight jumper and a free throw by Ricki Sinclair. Dirigo forced a turnover and had the chance to take the lead with less than a minute remaining. The ball was mishandled, and Hailey Longfellow turned it into a breakaway. She missed the layup, but Taylor Massey put back the rebound for a 39-36 lead.

“That was a great hustle play,” said Terrill. “Hailey had a breakaway and missed it off the front iron. It was great hustle by Taylor to put it back.”

Dirigo couldn’t answer that, and Massey sealed with with two free throws with 32 seconds left.

“We didn’t execute at the end,” said Dirigo coach Reggie Weston. “We had plays, and they got a little too excited and had some unforced turnovers that killed us. We shot ourselves in the foot.”

Massey led all scorers with 16 points while Kerry Fredette added seven. Dirigo was led by Jane Hebert with 12 and Knight with 11. Hebert did all her scoring in the first three quarters but sophomore Kristina Buck did a superb defensive job down the stretch.

“She stepped up,” said Terrill. “She came in and guarded (Hebert). She’s their best player. She was killing us. The whole fourth quarter, she did a tremendous job.”

Dirigo was up 33-29 with 6:09 left after Sinclair hit a 3-pointer and sank two free throws. The Cougars couldn’t preserve the lead. Dirigo shot just 3-for-8 in the fourth and 4-for-14 in the second half. The Cougars also turned the ball over 13 times in the second half.

“Ricki sinks that 3 and we go up by two,” said Weston. “We had a jumper in our steps, but they got too excited. They passed it when they weren’t ready, and we didn’t execute. We had the lead. So we could just pull it out and use the space, but they started to force it in.”

Massey dominated the paint and put numerous Cougars in foul trouble trying to defend her. Her two baskets erased the fourth-quarter lead. She then set up the go-ahead hoops when she caught the ball on the wing and fed her teammates. Carylanne Wolfington scored in the post, and Fredette followed with a short jumper to make it 37-33.

Dirigo built a 15-7 lead in the second quarter. Hall-Dale shot 0-for-13 from the floor in the first and watched the Cougars build an early advantage. Dirigo’s hot hand quickly went cold and 14 straight points by the Bulldogs put them ahead by halftime.

“We really went after it and made the plays at the end,” said Terrill. “I give the girls all the credit. They fought so hard. I’m proud of them. This is a great win for them.” 

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