Gorham junior Emily Esposito goes up for a shot as Cheverus junior Kaylin Malmquist defends during the Rams’ 64-36 win Tuesday. Esposito matched the Stags with 36 points as Gorham improved to 17-0.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
G- 11 17 18 18- 64
C- 8 9 12 7- 36
G- Esposito 15-4-36, Holmes 7-6-20, Lundin 1-1-3, Fennie 1-0-2, Rowe 1-0-2, Merrifield 0-1-1
C- Cavallaro 3-0-9, Dawson 3-0-8, Poulin 3-0-8, Malmquist 2-0-5, Sanborn 1-2-5, Kane 0-1-1
G (2) Esposito 2
C (9) Cavallaro 3, Dawson, Poulin 2, Malmquist, Sanborn 1
PORTLAND—There’s a reason the Gorham girls’ basketball team remains undefeated this winter.
A couple reasons, actually.
And those reasons were on full display Tuesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium.
Surging Cheverus hosted the undefeated Rams and quickly discovered that they had no answers for one of the state’s top prospects as well as one of the state’s premier freshmen.
The Stags took an early 3-0 lead, but Gorham answered behind junior standout Emily Esposito and freshman phenom Mackenzie Holmes to race to an 11-3 lead.
Cheverus pulled within three after one quarter, but by halftime, thanks to 15 points from Esposito and nine from Holmes, the Rams held a 28-17 lead.
The tandem was even more dominant in the third period, scoring all 18 of Gorham’s points as the visitors opened up a 46-29 advantage.
The Stags were never able to counter and the Rams pulled away and went on to a 64-36 victory.
Esposito had a transcendent game, scoring 36 points and Holmes dazzled as well, to the tune of 20 points, as Gorham improved to 17-0 and dropped Cheverus to 10-7 in the process.
“We’d won six of seven and tried to get things going, but we just couldn’t tonight,” said Stags coach Steve Huntington.
Cheverus started fast this winter, crushing visiting Noble (70-19) and winning at Portland (56-46) and at home over Bangor (49-37), before coming back to Earth, losing at home to South Portland (58-34) and at Edward Little (57-41), before getting back on track, 67-49, over visiting Oxford Hills. After a 59-42 loss at Deering, the Stags fell at home to McAuley (56-44) and at South Portland, 55-29. Cheverus then turned it up a notch, beating visiting Bonny Eagle (57-35), visiting Scarborough (60-57, in overtime), host Sanford (65-47) and visiting Lewiston (65-59). After a 62-47 loss at Windham, the Stags sprung a 44-40 upset at defending regional champion Thornton Academy and in their last game, last Tuesday, they prevailed at Massabesic, 51-28.
Gorham, the preseason favorite in the new Class AA South, opened with wins over visiting Westbrook (61-36), visiting Scarborough (34-28), host South Portland (40-38), host Massabesic (50-37), host Greely (57-49) and visiting Bonny Eagle (59-39). The new year brought more triumph, as the Rams defeated visiting Windham (61-26), visiting Thornton Academy (61-48), visiting Portland (58-30), host Bonny Eagle (59-29), host McAuley (53-48), visiting Bangor (72-40), host Sanford (63-37), visiting Deering (58-23), host Thornton Academy (60-51) and visiting Noble (83-30).
Last year, Gorham prevailed, 66-47, in Portland.
Tuesday, Cheverus hoped to beat the Rams for the fifth time in the past six meetings, but Gorham took another step toward perfection.
The Stags got off to a good start when sophomore Abby Cavallaro knocked down a 3-pointer just 11 seconds in, but Gorham rattled off 11 straight points to take control.
After not scoring for 2 minutes, 20 seconds to start the contest, the Rams got on the board on a leaner from Esposito. Esposito then hit a jumper to give Gorham the lead for good.
A putback from Holmes, a jumper from junior Kaylea Lundin and an Esposito transition 3 (off a pass from Lundin) made it 11-3 and forced Huntington to call timeout.
It worked, as a jumper from sophomore Emme Poulin snapped a 6:13 drought and Poulin added a 3 to pull Cheverus within one possession, 11-8, after one period.
Gorham gradually pulled away in the second quarter.
Junior Danasia Fennie started the frame with a bank shot, but Cavallaro answered with a 3. After Holmes made a bank shot, Holmes added a free throw.
The Stags pulled within two, 16-14, on a 3 from Poulin with 4:34 to go in the half, but Esposito scored on a driving leaner, Holmes put back a miss, Esposito scored on a bank shot, Esposito set up Holmes for a layup and Esposito added a layup after a steal for a 25-14 lead.
With 25.9 seconds to go in the half, sophomore Deirdre Sanborn made a 3 to stem the tide, but with 10.1 seconds remaining, Esposito calmly buried a 3 for a 28-17 advantage at the break.
In the first half, Esposito had 15 points, five blocks and four rebounds and Holmes added nine points, six boards and five blocks.
Poulin had eight points and Cavallaro added six for the Stags, but 13 turnovers helped dig a hole.
Esposito and Holmes continued to put on a show in the third period, but Cheverus refused to buckle.
Holmes started the second half with a driving layup and a pair of free throws, but junior Kaylin Malmquist made a left handed bank shot and junior Brooke Dawson buried a 3 to cut the deficit to 10.
After Esposito hit a spinner in the lane, Poulin set up Dawson for a layup, but Esposito made another spinner in the lane and Esposito drove the baseline for a layup to make it 38-24.
Malmquist countered with a 3, but but Esposito put back her own miss. After Sanborn made two foul shots, Holmes set up Esposito for a bank shot, Esposito fed Holmes for a layup and just before the horn, Fennie fed Holmes for a layup and a commanding 46-29 advantage.
“They keyed on Mackenzie and she kicked it out,” Esposito said. “Everyone did their part. In practice, we do a good job with inside-out drills. We know each other so well by this point. We get each other, where we’ll be.”
Esposito and Holmes had a few more baskets to score down the stretch as Gorham put the finishing touches on its decisive win.
Holmes set up Esposito for a layup to start the fourth period. After Lundin made a free throw to snap the Esposito/Holmes’ combo run of 35 straight Rams’ points, Holmes added two foul shots for a 51-29 advantage.
Cavallaro countered with a 3, but Holmes made a free throw, Esposito converted a leaner, Esposito made a layup after a steal, was fouled and sank the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play, Esposito drained both ends of a one-and-one, then Esposito drove the baseline and made a layup for a 61-32 lead with 2:44 to play.
Sophomore Kat Kane ended the Gorham 10-0 run with a free throw, but Rams sophomore Michelle Rowe made a hook shot. Dawson buried a 3 for Cheverus’ final points and a free throw from senior Molly Merrifield clinched Gorham’s 64-36 victory.
“It’s been ups and downs this year, but we have a great team,” Esposito said. “I don’t think of it as 17-0. We think of it as game by game.”
“Their 3-point shooting worried us,” said Berthiaume. “It’s a big part of their game. Greely was similar. We had to aware of several players. We had to close out hard and didn’t want them to get comfortable on the 3-point line. I thought early in the game, we didn’t finish shots around the rim, but we got good looks. We were a little more effective in the second half.”
Esposito, who has been recruited by several top programs, stole the show. Not only did she score 36 points, she also had nine rebounds, eight steals and three assists.
“Emily can do all kinds of things,” Berthiaume said. “She affects the game in so many ways. You’re always thinking about what you can do to put her in a spot to be successful.”
“(Esposito’s) smart enough to know if she has a smaller player on her, she’ll take her the post,” said Huntington. “She’s tremendous on the defensive end. You have to stay away from her side of the court on offense. She anticipates so well. She has great hands. She’s a great athlete. Every time it felt like we had some groove, she took over and if she didn’t, (Holmes) did.”
Holmes added 20 points, 15 rebounds (11 offensive), six blocked shots, two assists and two steals.
“From a fundamental standpoint, (Holmes is) tremendous,” said Huntington. “She knows when to go right, she knows when to go left. She doesn’t give up on plays. She rebounds. She does a lot of things.”
“Mackenzie has great hands, is efficient around the rim and shoots free throws well,” Berthiaume said. “(She and Emily) both demand a lot of attention and relieve that attention from each other. When they both get it going, we’re pretty dangerous.”
Lundin had three points (to go with five rebounds, four assists and three steals), Fennie (six rebounds, four assists and a block) and Rowe added two apiece and Merrifield had one.
Gorham enjoyed a 45-33 rebounding advantage, only committed 11 turnovers and made 12 of 21 free throws.
Cheverus was led by Cavallaro’s nine points. Dawson and Poulin both had eight, Malmquist and Sanborn five apiece and Kane one.
The Stags made nine 3s, but turned the ball over 22 times and made 3 of 6 free throws.
Gorham closes at Windham Thursday. The Rams have the top seed in Class AA South wrapped up and will be the decided favorite when the tournament commences.
“I think there’s more we can do,” Esposito said. “We see that every day in practice. We’ll play our game and we won’t listen to what people say. I think that’s our biggest asset.”
“As a coach, I’m always looking to improve,” Berthiaume said “It’s important to not sit back and think about what you’ve done. I think we’ll be ready. They girls trust each other. We’re looking forward to it.”
Cheverus finishes Thursday at nemesis McAuley, a foe the Stags have gone 0-24 against all-time.
“The schedule we’ve had is tough,” Huntington said. “It will be the last of the “Holy Wars.” There won’t be one after this year, since they’re no longer affiliated. The girls have talked about it. It means a lot to them. It will mean a lot for us to get on the right track for the playoffs. Last time, we were right there and we’ve grown. I think we’ll be right there.”
Cheverus sophomore Deirdre Sanborn goes up for a shot as Gorham freshman Mackenzie Holmes, left, and sophomore Michelle Rowe defend.
Cheverus junior Kaylin Malmquist chases down a loose ball as Gorham junior Kaylea Lundin gives chase.
Cheverus junior Brooke Dawson wrests the ball away from Gorham sophomore Michelle Rowe.
Cheverus junior Alayna Briggs has a shot blocked by Gorham freshman Mackenzie Holmes.
Cheverus sophomore Emme Poulin tries to keep up with Gorham junior Emily Esposito.
Cheverus junior Ally Tillotson is surrounded by Gorham defenders sophomore Michelle Rowe (20), junior Kaylea Lundin and junior Danasia Fennie.