Mt. Blue’s Lexi Mittelstadt (24) defends Spruce Mountain’s Alex Bessey (5) last week. Also in on the play are Spruce’s Calley Baker (25) and Mt. Blue’s Kasadie Barker (22).

Mt. Blue head coach Fred Conlogue and his staff went into Thursday’s matchup against Spruce Mountain with a plan that might seem crazy, at least on paper. They decided to hand the responsibility of guarding Phoenix phenom Alex Bessey to a freshman, Lexi Mittelstadt. A freshman.

Now, Bessey still scored 22 points, and the entire Mt. Blue lineup seemed to be keeping an eye on her, but Mittelstadt was the first line of a defense that made sure Bessey didn’t get anything easy.

“We decided to give her the toughest assignment at Leavitt (on Tuesday), and we did it again tonight,” Conlogue said following Thursday’s game. “And that was a decision we made; we didn’t even tell the girls that, because she is a freshman.

“We just felt that her athleticism and her knowledge of the game would help her figure out how to stop her. Nobody else (has been) doing it all season. I think (Bessey) had six (actually seven points) in the first half, and most of the games I’ve scouted she’s had 14 or 15 at halftime.”

The fourth is strong with Gray-NG

When the Gray-New Gloucester girls led Yarmouth by one entering the fourth quarter on Tuesday, the Patriots had the Clippers right where they wanted them. Well, at least half the time and on one half of the court.

“We put more stock in our defense than our offense,” Gray-NG coach Mike Andreasen said. “You give me a two-point lead, I’d rather have them have the ball than we have the ball. In fact, if I was in overtime in the NFL, I’d probably defer because defensively, when we get behind the ball we’re pretty solid.”

“Defensively, that’s kind of our strong side of the game,” senior center Skye Conley said, “so that’s where we really won it I guess.”

The Patriots only scored four points in the fourth quarter of a 31-27 victory, but they held the Clippers to just one.

It was no surprise that the Patriots held onto a fourth-quarter lead. They’ve done it numerous times over the past two seasons, in which they’ve gone 32-6 including playoffs.

“We usually like to feel that if we’re ahead in the fourth quarter we’re in pretty good shape,” Andreasen said. “I look at the games we lost last year. The Houlton game (in the state final), we weren’t ahead in the fourth quarter. The Greely game last year, the York game. Most of the games when lost, we were behind and playing catch-up.”

Climbing the Mountain Valley Conference paying off

The Mountain Valley Conference boys’ basketball spotlight continues to shine on unbeaten Winthrop. But the overall strength and depth of the conference could be key to teams positioning themselves for the upcoming tournament, and flourishing once they get there.

“I think a lot of the coaches in our league knew that anybody could beat anybody on a given night, so everybody has got to show up and try to play their best game,”  Lisbon coach Jake Gentle said. “It’s never an easy night. There’s never an easy win for anybody.”

With regular-season play slated to wrap up on Tuesday, the conference could have as many as three teams earn Class C South’s four first-round byes. That would require Hall-Dale handing Winthrop its first loss in both teams’ finale. The Ramblers would clinch the top seed with a win, and Madison is firmly entrenched in the No. 3 spot.

Boothbay and Wiscasset will be battling for seeding when they meet in their finale Tuesday. Mt. Abram, which earned bushels of Heal points by beating Madison last Tuesday, and Dirigo, with signature wins over Oak Hill and Lisbon, will be trying to hold off Telstar for the last preliminary round berth when they play Carrabec and Mountain Valley, respectively, on Tuesday.

In Class B South, Oak Hill has a bye to the quarterfinals sewn up. Lisbon has won three in a row to put itself in a similar position but will probably have to win its final game at Monmouth Academy on Tuesday to insure that it won’t need a prelim game to get in. After beating Lisbon last week, Mountain Valley is hot on Gray-New Gloucester’s heels for the final prelim spot, but the Patriots have a game in hand on the Falcons.

All-around Ashley

In Tuesday’s instant-classic showdown between Monmouth and Mountain Valley (which won, 60-57), two of the area’s best players went toe-to-toe for a stretch in the fourth quarter.

Monmouth’s Tia Day and Mountain Valley’s Ashley Russell each scored 12 points in the final period.

Day hit five 3-pointers and finished the game with 21 points.

Russell finished with 24 points. She scored many different ways, including a 3-pointer and 11 free throws.

“Guarding a girl like Ashley Russell is tough,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “When you’ve got a girl with guard abilities that can go down and post up, you always have that dilemma of do you put a guard on her or do you put a post player on her? When we switched over to a post player, she went out and hit a 3 on us. She’s a good player. That’s tough to stop all the time.”

Staff writer Wil Kramlich contributed to this story.

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