What began as slow-paced contest heated up as Dirigo maintained its composure down the stretch — behind big shots by Lauren Henderson and Jessica Conant — as the Cougars roared back for a 44-39 triumph over Mt. Abram.

The game was tied or changed sides nine times in the fourth quarter at Defoe Gymnasium.

It was the Roadrunners who had come alive to erase a double-digit deficit and regained the lead on a Tori Beane 3-pointer and a basket by Mikayla Luce with just over one minute left to play. A pair of free throws by Conant (13 points) provided the eventual winning points, with 57.4 seconds left to play.

The Cougars helped their cause by making 13 of 24 free throws, including eight of 12 in the fourth quarter.

There was also plenty of extra incentive because Dirigo and Mt. Abram were ranked fifth and seventh in the most recent Class C Heal Points.

Dirigo (10-2) had patience and used its team depth by using multiple rotations throughout the game. The strategy eventually paid off.

“We wanted to pound the ball inside,” Dirigo coach Reggie Weston said. “Mount Abram is bigger than us and have some good players. That’s why I used so many different players and when each player came in, they contributed. This was a total team effort.”

Mt. Abram (6-7) had taken its first lead of the game on a Luce basket to make it 32-31 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Roadrunners were led by Miranda Smith (14 points, nine rebounds) who scored eight straight points to trail 27-25 late in the third.

“We picked up the intensity in the second half,” said Mt. Abram coach Doug Lisherness, who is retiring at the end of the season after 29 years and two state championships. “We had come out flat in the first half and I told the girls at halftime that there wasn’t really any adjustments to make, except for the fact that Dirigo was out-hustling and outplaying us.’’

A basket by Kelsey Hutchins (nine points) and a Kayla Gaudin (seven points) free throw neutralized a Beane trey. The Cougars responded when Henderson was fouled underneath and calmly sank two free throws. The Roadrunners missed a shot and Henderson drained a trey from the top of the key.

“That was critical,’’ Weston said of the freshman stepping up. “It was great to see because Lauren is going to be a big part of the team in the next few years. Hopefully this will give her a confidence boost.’’

Mt. Abram had possessions, but missed its last seven shots, including a 3 that bounced off the rim in final minute. The Roadrunners shot 26 percent, but only turned the ball over three times in second half.

“You can’t beat Dirigo with Jill Howard and Miranda Smith out,” Lisherness said after two of his top players fouled out in the fourth quarter.

The Cougars shot 28 percent and committed 13 turnovers in the game.