TOWNSEND -- On a night reserved for North Middlesex Regional sharpshooter Hadley Beauregard and a long-awaited crowning achievement, it was visiting Lunenburg's full-court press which stole the headlines.
The Blue Knights pressed and pressed some more to keep the host Patriots guessing a few times, all while wearing out a path to the foul line en route to a 44-39 non-league victory at the new North Middlesex Gymnasium Friday night.
The win lifts LHS to 9-3 on the season, with the first chance to qualify for the Central Mass. Division 3 sectional tournament coming up Tuesday when the Knights travel to Tyngsboro.
North Middlesex fell to 6-5 and will take on Oakmont Regional in a key Mid-Wach C matchup Tuesday.
Beauregard (game-high 24 points) was honored 2:14 into the contest after her finger-roll layup sank through the bottom of the net to signify her eclipsing the 1,000-point plateau for her varsity career. She actually surpassed the mark seven days prior against St. Bernard's at the Activity Center in Fitchburg, but Friday's game was North Middlesex's first in Townsend since then, and the home crowd was happy to help Beauregard celebrate.
North Middlesex had taken a 16-11 lead after Beauregard hit an old-fashioned three-point play early in the second.
But Lunenburg would go on a half-closing 17-4 run, nine points of which coming from the charity stripe: The Knights utilized a 1-3-1 and a 2-2-1 zone press to great effect during the second quarter, slowing the pace of play down and not allowing North Middlesex to pass to an open player.
"That was the goal, to slow (North Middlesex) down," Lunenburg coach Frank Greene said. "They're very patient, but it slowed their offense down, and we were hoping to limit their shots and rebound it. We struggled with rebounding in the very beginning, but the press is there to either speed the game up or slow it down, and tonight was to slow it down."
Longtime North Middlesex coach Pat Murphy noted the Patriots were too patient as they looked for a teammate during that stretch.
"And in spite of being too patient, we still turned the ball over way too many times. We didn't score for three minutes: Offensively, we are challenged at times. We need another person to step up on a consistent basis, and it hasn't happened yet," Murphy said.
"The plan was to let Hadley make the decisions on the press: when we rush, we tend to turn the ball over, and that's been our M.O. all year. That's why we tried to slow it down, reverse it, and we couldn't hit a shot."
With those two presses, LHS forced 11 Patriot turnovers and held the hosts to 3 of 12 from the field, to take a 28-20 lead into the locker room.
The Knights were 4 of 13 from the field in that stanza, but were also 10 of 11 from the line for the entirety of the second quarter.
"We have some really good free throw shooters, and that's our strong suit. If we can get the other team in foul trouble, we're OK," Greene said.
"That was the big difference in the game," Murphy said.
And while Lunenburg would eventually maintain a 10-point lead throughout the third and would make it 12 on Kayla Rhoades' bucket nearly three minutes into the fourth, the Knights peeled the press back just as the Patriots closed in and made it a two-point game with two minutes left to go.
Three-pointers by Maggie Hacker and Beauregard 72 seconds apart made it a two-possession game at 41-35, before Erin Bourgeois' defensive rebound led to an outlet pass to Beauregard, who easily laid it up and in to make it a four-point game.
"We hit some shots, and we didn't turn it over as much (in the fourth)," Murphy explained. "We hung tough and we did what we had to do; if we hit a few more shots ..."
And after Hackler hit two of three from the line on the next North Middlesex trip, a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Elise Lilly (team-high 12 points) on the next Blue Knight trip accounted for the final score.
Lunenburg went back to the bread-and-butter press to deny North Middlesex possession -- and eventually the basket -- for the final two minutes.
Sarah Blomgren and Madison Sullender each contributed 11 points -- Sullender's as the first player off the bench -- in the victory for Lunenburg.
"(Sullender) has played well this year. She's found her spark; I know she can score and shoot. Her defense has kept her on the bench, but tonight she proved she can play defense," Greene said.