TOPSHAM — Both the Mt. Ararat and Mt. Blue boys basketball teams were coming off losses, and to make matters worse, the antsy players had to wait an extra two days to get back out on the court against fresh competition and put the past behind them.

After a superb first quarter, where both the Eagles and Cougars shot 50 percent to produce a 17-17 deadlock, it was Mt. Ararat’s shooting touch, and the lack of one in the second and third quarters for Mt. Blue, that led the Eagles to a 54-45 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference win Thursday night.

Mt. Ararat improved to 3-1 and visits Lewiston on Saturday, while Mt. Blue fell to 1-2 and will look to end a two-game slide at Brewer on Saturday.

The Eagles outscored Mt. Blue 11-4 in the fateful second quarter for a 28-21 halftime lead, and sophomore guard Shyheim Ulrickson put the Cougars away with two 3-pointers in the first 38 seconds of the fourth quarter for a 42-29 edge. Ulrickson ended up with a game-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers.

“We wanted to get momentum as a team after a slow third quarter, and we worked hard on team defense and did good,” said Ulrickson, who also had four steals and three assists. “We wanted to control the tempo and not fall into what the other team was doing.”

“They shot a good percentage, and we shot a high percentage in the first quarter, and the offenses were hitting their shots,” said Mt. Ararat coach Aaron Watson. “One of the keys was defensive rebounding, and I thought we did a pretty good job doing that. Defensive rebounding wins games.”

What a start

There were eight lead changes and three ties in the exciting first quarter. Mt. Blue freshman Zack Mittelstadt had nine points in the opening frame, including a long trey for a 17-14 Mt. Blue lead.

“We don’t mind that pace and like to get up and down, and we knew that we could match up with them size-wise, and we just need to learn how to win, something that is a building process,” said first-year Mt. Blue coach Dave Pepin. “I like our team. They have a lot of guts and play hard every night.”

Mittelstadt’s 3-pointer was the last points for the visitors over a six-minute stretch as Mt. Ararat switched to a 1-3-1 defense and the Cougars went ice cold, making just one of nine attempts in the quarter and committing six turnovers.

“We were ready for the 1-3-1, but we went cold shooting, had turnovers and they picked up their defense,” said Pepin. “We only gave up 11 ourselves that quarter, but being outscored 11-4 was the difference in the game.”

The Eagles shot 42 percent (12 of 28) from the floor in the opening half, while the Cougars, after hitting on eight of 16 in the first, finished at 37 percent (nine of 24).

In the first three minutes of the third quarter, both teams had trouble finding the target and holding onto the ball. The Eagles missed their first six shots and committed four turnovers, while the Cougars missed five straight and had five miscues. Mt. Ararat’s Mason Griffin finally broke the ice with 4:44 remaining in the frame, and the teams went point for point from there, with the Eagles claiming a 36-29 edge after 24 minutes.

After Ulrickson canned his 3-pointers for a 13-point Mt. Ararat lead, Cam Abbott and Kindle Bonsall scored two points each for Mt. Blue, and a free throw by Nate Backus completed a quick 5-0 run to bring the Cougars to within eight points, 42-34.

“We got embarrassed at Messalonskee (a 66-28 loss on Friday), and we had four days of good practice,” said Pepin. “We didn’t come out here to get a moral victory, but they are buying in and playing their guts out. I believe we can knock off some teams down the road.”

Ulrickson got the home crowd going with a behind-the-back pass to Mike Crawford for two points later in the fourth. While celebrating, Mt. Blue quickly sent the ball up the court, with Abbott draining a trey to make it a six-point game, 47-41, with 3:04 remaining.

The quick turnaround drew the ire of Watson, who laid into his team during a timeout.

“One of the things our kids do a great job of is they work as hard as they can, and that possession we were not working hard and got caught up in our fans being excited about a nice play, and we just can’t do that,” said Watson. “We need to continue to keep the pressure on the other team, and when you don’t take advantage of that, it costs you.”

After the timeout, Mason Griffin answered his coach’s challenge with a hard-working three-point play for a 50-41 edge, and Griffin’s drive in the lane moments later put the Cougars away.

Crawford canned two treys for 10 points, with Griffin adding nine points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots and four assists. Jake Demosthenes chipped in eight first-half points and had eight boards as Mt. Ararat finished with a 29-21 rebounding edge.

Despite foul trouble, Bonsall had 10 points for the Cougars, with Abbott adding seven points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. Bradley Durrell pulled down a team-high 10 boards.

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