In early December, the Belfast girls basketball team suffered a tough 42-29 loss to Oceanside in a game the host Mariners dominated. The Lions never forgot how they felt walking off the court that night.

Fast forward 51 days and the story was reversed as the host Lions handed the visiting Mariners a somewhat surprising 50-38 loss on Thursday night, Jan. 31 in a game Belfast controlled from start to finish — using tough defense and clutch all-around shooting to get the job done.

The victory was one of the most important in recent Lion history because it came against a topnotch Eastern Class B opponent and was worth a bundle of Heal Points.

After Thursday outcome, in the Maine Principals' Association Heal Point Standings for Eastern Class B, Oceanside (13-2, 91.2963 points) is second and Belfast (11-4, 65.9259 points) fourth. Presque Isle (16-0, 125.1543 points) is first in the 19-team region. The top 13 teams qualify for the playoffs.

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The Lions defeated Oceanside for many reasons, but none more important than unrelenting, hard-nosed defense that help result in 24 Mariner turnovers.

Belfast got off to a fast start and never let off the gas pedal en route to the win. The Lions led 12-3, 18-13 and 27-21 at the quarter breaks.

Keying the Lions were Lexi Nelligan (24 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, blocked shot), Courtney Drinkwater (13 points, 6 rebounds), McKenzie Thibodeau (8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), Katrina Lapham (4 points, 2 assists), Breann Cummings (point), Ashley Littlefield (3 rebound), Madison Cummings (2 steals) and Mariah Sturgis (2 rebounds).

For Oceanside, Hannah Plourde (14 points, 7 rebounds), Emily Gould (7 points, 2 rebounds), Kennadi Grover (7 points, 12 rebounds), Phoebe Ferraiolo (4 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals), Makenna Brooks (3 points, 2 rebounds) and Brooke Dugan (point, 2 steals) led the charge. Ashley Gardner also grabbed three rebounds.

Belfast made 20-of-34 free throws (59 percent), including 15-of-25 (60 percent) in the fourth stanza, and the Mariners 13-of-27 overall (48 percent).

The Lions made a statement early by surging to an 8-0 lead, with Oceanside's first points coming on Gould's layup with 2:06 left in the opening quarter. Nelligan's play helped the hosts grab a 12-3 cushion at the break.

The Mariners tried to stay within arm's reach, but Nelligan's conventional three-point play made it 17-6 early in the second stanza. Belfast's defense gave Oceanside fits and the usually high-scoring Mariners had only six points in the first 14 minutes of action, then scored seven over the final two minutes of the first half to climb within 18-13 at the break, thanks, in part, to a 3-pointer from Gould.

Oceanside appeared to have stolen back the momentum from the Lions after being outplayed for much of the first 16 minutes; however, Belfast regained it quickly in the third stanza. Free throws from Drinkwater and Nelligan help pave the way as Belfast continued to turn in its most complete, 32-minute performance of the season.

Each time the Mariners looked to make a push, the Lions answered, with Nelligan making 6-of-7 free throws down the stretch for the hosts. Oceanside did cut its deficit to 31-26 behind the play of Plourde, but Lapham made two key foul shots near the end of the game and Thibodeau put the victory on ice with a conventional three-point play with 1:10 left.

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