AUGUSTA, Maine — The defending state champion Lawrence of Fairfield girls basketball team is known for the inside play of senior center Nia Irving and the perimeter work of classmate Dominique Lewis.
But the undefeated Bulldogs also can play tenacious defense, as they showed during their 55-26 victory over Hampden Academy in a Class A North semifinal Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center.
Coach John Donato’s club limited Hampden to a single field goal during the opening quarter en route to its 41st victory in its last 42 games over the last two seasons.
“We played very good defense,” said Donato. “Every player on our floor was smaller than theirs, but we had a lot of heart.
“Offensively it wasn’t a great day, but we just played better defense.”
Top-ranked Lawrence (20-0) faces No. 2 Messalonskee of Oakland (17-3) for the regional title at 1:05 p.m. Friday. Messalonskee defeated No. 3 Gardiner 55-47 in Wednesday’s first semifinal behind 24 points from Sophia Holmes.
No. 5 Hampden ends its season at 11-9.
Irving paced Lawrence with 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Lewis — who along with Irving was named a Miss Basketball semifinalist earlier in the day — scored 15 points.
Irving scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds during the first half alone as Lawrence built a 26-8 lead.
She staked the Bulldogs to a 5-0 lead with two free throws and a three-point play after grabbing her first two offensive rebounds of the contest.
The lead grew to 9-2 on a steal and drive by Morgan Boudreau and a long jumper by Hunter Mercier before Hampden got its lone points of the opening period on a 10-foot jumper by Braylee Wildman with 3:56 remaining.
The Lawrence cushion grew to 19-2 early in the second quarter on the second of Irving’s three-point plays in the half.
“It’s all about who comes out and plays defense the hardest and who crashes the boards and who makes their opening shots,” said Irving.
Hampden then got back-to-back 3-pointers by Courtney Dunton and Peyton Smith, but the Broncos struggled offensively against Lawrence’s perimeter quickness and committed 11 turnovers in the half while making just 3 of 18 shots.
Lewis, shadowed by HA sophomore Marissa Gilpin for much of the game, got untracked offensively after intermission with four 3-pointers in five attempts.
“Marissa (Gilpin) did a great job defending me,” Lewis said, “but Nia had her inside game so they had to double down on her and that left us the outside game and we shot pretty well, I thought.”