For those who may not know, the Belfast girls basketball team has arrived — some might say reemerged — in a big way.

That has been evident all season and especially true Thursday night, Jan. 3 despite a difficult home loss. On the night, the Lions hung tough and nearly upset Leavitt of Turner, a perennial state Class B championship contender.

BAHS nearly secured an important Heal Point-worthy victory, but gained increased confidence in a loss to the pesky Hornets, as the visitors held strong, even with their leader, Kristen Anderson, on the sideline nursing what appeared a severe left ankle injury.

In the end, the Hornets made enough plays down the stretch to pull out a 57-54 win in a competitive, fun all-around game.

Click for photos from this game.

Anderson was injured shooting a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the third quarter. At the time of the injury, the game was knotted 35-35.

Katrina Lapham gave the Lions a huge lift as her 3-pointer with two seconds left in the third stanza gave the hosts a 38-36 edge heading into the final eight minutes.

In fact, Lapham nearly carried the Lions on her back to victory in the fourth quarter as she drilled back-to-back 3-pointers — the first with 2:17 left to tie the game 50-50 and the second with 1:35 remaining to give BAHS a 53-52 advantage.

However, Jenna Cote drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Leavitt a 55-53 advantage with 43 seconds left. After a Belfast timeout, Lion Lexi Nelligan was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws to cut the Hornet lead to 55-54 with 25.1 seconds remaining.

Leavitt's Bri DeGone iced two foul shots with 18.9 seconds left to give the visitors the three-point margin of victory, although Lapham and Nelligan both had shot attempts down the stretch for the Lions.

The game was tight throughout, tied at 11-11 after one quarter before Leavitt led 28-27 at halftime. Belfast led 38-36 after three stanza.

Pacing the Lions were Nelligan with 21 points; Lapham, 16, including four treys; McKenzie Thibodeau, eight; Ashley Littlefield, four; Courtney Drinkwater, three; and Mariah Sturgis, two. The Lions made 13-of-17 foul shots (76 percent).

Nelligan also had 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and four blocked shots; Lapham, seven rebounds; Thibodeau, three rebounds, Littlefield, five rebounds; Drinkwater, four rebounds and three assists; Mariah Sturgis, three rebounds; and Cummings, three rebounds.

For Leavitt, Anderson tallied 20 points before being helped to the bench in the third stanza. DeGone added 18 points; Cote, eight; Chantel Ellis and Mariah Treadwell, both four; Tatiann Sierra, two; and Meagan Dow, one. The Hornets netted 13-of-27 foul shots (48 percent).

With their performances this year, the Lions are a legitimate playoff contender, after years of struggling to notch a handful of wins. And that strong play has not been lost on first-year coach Stan Sturgis.

"That was a hard-fought game and I am so proud of my girls," Sturgis said. "They gave it all they had and we did not leave anything on the court and that is all a coach can ask for. I am so happy that I am the coach of the Lady Lions cause they are a coach's dream. They do what is asked. They work hard and, win or lose, they do it with class. Great game to the end and sometimes the ball just does not bounce your way."

In the Maine Principals' Association Heal Point Standings for Eastern Class B, Belfast (5-2, 10.2778 points) is sixth, while Presque Isle (8-0, 27.7160 points) is first in the 19-team region. The top 13 teams qualify for the regional playoffs.

Leavitt (8-0, 31.3272 points) is first in the 18-team Western Class B region.

The last time the Lions qualified for the regional playoffs at the Bangor Auditorium was under coach Meg Cressler in 2006-07. That is something the team is, of course, shooting for in 2012-13.

Courier Publications sports staff can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401 or by email at