Deering girls no match for unbeaten Gorham in "Battle of the Rams"

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Deering senior Abi Ramirez is smothered by Gorham senior Kaylea Lundin during the team’s contest Friday night. Defending Class AA champion Gorham rolled to a 50-23 victory.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Gorham 50 Deering 23

G- 13 15 16 6- 50
D- 6 3 6 8- 23

G- Esposito 9-1-20, Holmes 8-3-19, Hamilton 2-0-4, Rowe 1-2-4, Brent 1-0-2, Desjardin 0-1-1

D- Ramirez 4-1-9, Titherington 2-0-6, Drelich 1-0-2, Giroux 1-0-2, Haines 1-0-2, Mastropasqua 0-2-2

3-pointers:
G (1) Esposito 1
D (2) Titherington 2

Turnovers:
G- 14
D- 17

FTs
G: 7-11
D: 3-4

PORTLAND—It’s difficult enough contending with the Gorham girls’ basketball team when you’re at full strength.

Shorthanded, it becomes exponentially more difficult.

The Deering Rams learned that the hard way Friday evening when they became the latest victim of the defending (and if things continue this way, soon to be repeat) Class AA state champions.

Playing without senior Amanda Brett, who is sidelined indefinitely with a leg injury, Deering hung tough in the first quarter and only trailed, 13-6, but Gorham, behind its two superstars, blew it open in the second period.

The inside dominance of sophomore Mackenzie Holmes, who made life miserable for Deering at both ends of the floor, and the brilliance of Villanova University-bound senior Emily Esposito, who hit contested shots from all over, sparked a 17-0 run that spelled a 28-9 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, Holmes went on a personal 7-0 run to help stretch the lead to 44-15, then in the fourth, Gorham put the finishing touches on a decisive 50-23 victory.

Esposito had a game-high 20 points, Holmes added 19 and Gorham improved to 12-0, extended its two-season win streak to 33 games and dropped Deering to 8-4 in the process.

“(Gorham’s) one of the best girls’ teams that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “They have no weakness. They’re big, they’re athletic, they have a nice, little point guard. They have two scholarship players. You can’t play timid against them. They have too many strengths.”

Class by itself

Gorham has excelled so far in its title defense.

Gorham opened with a 64-26 victory at Westbrook, then defeated visiting South Portland (44-31), Massabesic (75-40) and Greely (67-64) and host Bonny Eagle (60-39) and Portland (73-36) to close the 2016 portion of their schedule. Gorham then opened the new year with wins over visiting Windham (69-32), host Thornton Academy (60-52), host Scarborough (58-26), visiting Bonny Eagle (80-42) and visiting Maine Girls’ Academy (70-42). 

Deering opened with a 52-32 victory at Portland, then fell at home to South Portland (57-46) and closed the old year with wins at Edward Little (54-40), at home over Sanford (43-17), at home over Lewiston (58-42) and at Bangor (48-38). The Rams started 2017 with a 56-53 overtime loss at Cheverus and after winning at Massabesic (62-41) and Windham (46-30), fell at Thornton Academy (44-40). Tuesday, Deering got back on track with a 51-31 home victory over Noble.

Gorham rolled over visiting Deering a year ago, 58-23.

Friday, Deering hoped to reverse that result, but Gorham was too much.

Gorham senior Michelle Rowe scored the game’s first point at the foul line, but Deering countered on two foul shots from sophomore Mandy Mastropasqua.

After the visitors got a jumper from Esposito, Deering senior Abi Ramirez grabbed a rebound, then went coast-to-coast for a layup and a 4-3 lead, which proved to be its last.

Holmes put Gorham on top with a layup after a nice drop stop, Holmes added two free throws, Rowe hit another, Esposito did the same and after a Holmes block, senior Kaylea Lundin fed Esposito for a layup and an 11-4 lead.

A layup from Deering sophomore Delaney Haines ended the 8-0 run, but inside the final minute, Holmes took a feed from Esposito and made another layup to make it 13-6 Gorham after one quarter. 

The visitors ended all doubt in the second period.

Esposito showed her dexterity by hitting a fadeaway jumper, then making a layup after a steal.

Holmes was whistled for her second foul, but stayed on the floor and took a pass from Lundin and made a layup, then converted a pretty reverse layup for a 21-6 lead.

“This is the first night we’ve looked completely mismatched with post play, but Holmes will do that against everybody,” Murphy said.

After sophomore Courtney Brent scored on a putback, Esposito hit a leaner in traffic, then made an even more impressive shot, burying a 3 with Deering senior Tasia Titherington’s hand in her face to cap a 17-0 run.

“We tried to start strong and intense,” Holmes said. “Sometimes, we have a habit of waiting until the second half, but we’ve worked on getting teams early and keeping our intensity the entire game.”

Ramirez ended a 7 minute, 46 second drought with a free throw, then made a layup after a steal, but that only cut Deering’s deficit to 28-9 at halftime.

In the first half, Esposito had 14 points, while Holmes added 10, to go with three blocks.

“I thought we did a good job of getting Mackenzie touches inside and Emily has a mid-range game that’s really hard to defend and when they’re both going, we’re going to be tough,” said Gorham coach Laughn Berthiaume. “It wasn’t bad defense. They had pretty good defense, but Emily made some great shots.” 

Gorham continued to dominate in the third quarter.

Rowe started the second half with a putback. After Ramirez drove for a layup, Esposito and Holmes again took center stage.

First, Esposito hit another fadeaway jumper. Holmes then scored on a putback, Holmes finished a feed from Esposito with a layup, then made a layup while being fouled and drained the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play and personal seven-point run before Esposito capped the 11-0 surge with a leaner.

Ramirez drove for a layup and Deering senior Sydney Giroux put home a missed shot, but junior Alexis Fotter hit a free throw for Gorham and in transition, sophomore Brittany Desjardin fed freshman Jacqui Hamilton for a layup and a 44-15 advantage after three periods.

In the fourth, it didn’t take long for both coaches to empty their benches.

After Holmes blocked a shot at one end, she took a pass from Esposito and made a layup at the other, Titherington scored her first points, on a 3, but Esposito countered with a driving layup.

With 4:22 to go, Titherington hit a 3 to make the score 48-21 and essentially end the night for the starters.

Down the stretch, Deering freshman Elizabeth Drelich made a jumper and Hamilton countered with a bank shot and that brought the curtain down on Gorham’s 50-23 triumph.

“We’re trying to work on things we can to get better,” Berthiaume said. “We game plan other team’s strengths and try to do everything we can to take care of our job. The girls are playing hard and they’re having a lot of fun.”

Esposito put on a show with 20 points and five rebounds.

“Emily’s such a great player,” Holmes said. “I’ve played with her for a year-and-a-half and it’s really fun. She’s such a versatile player. She has great moves inside and outside.”

Holmes stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, five rebounds, four blocked shots and a steal.

“(My move) depends on what the defense is doing,” Holmes said. “If they double team me, I kick it out. If there’s one (defender), I’ll try to make a move. My teammates look for me and I look for them. It’s a two-way street.”

Hamilton and Rowe (six rebounds) added four points each, Brent had two and Desjardin one.

Gorham overcame 14 turnovers and made 7 of 11 free throws.

For Deering, Ramirez led the way with nine points and nine rebounds. Titherington added six points and Drelich, Giroux, Haines and Mastropasqua had two apiece.

Deering turned the ball over 17 times and hit 3 of 4 free throws.

“We had to be aggressive with the ball and take care of it,” Murphy said. “We settled for getting further and further away from the basket. We had too many empty trips.”

Each team had 26 rebounds.

Three weeks left

The tournament draws ever nearer and both teams will hope to finish the regular season strong.

Gorham (which has a solid lead in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) travels to Bangor Wednesday, hosts Sanford Friday, then welcomes Thornton Academy, visits Noble, plays host to Cheverus and closes at Windham.

“We’re competitive in practice and we bring that to games,” Holmes said. “We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing. There’s stuff we can work on. It’s been a fun season.” 

“I’d like us to defensive rebound better than we have,” said Berthiaume. “There are things like that we can always improve on.”

Deering (fourth in AA North) looks to bounce back Tuesday when Oxford Hills pays a visit. After going to Maine Girls’ Academy Friday, the Rams host Bonny Eagle, play at South Portland and Scarborough, then finish with a home game versus Portland.

Deering is still holding out hope that Brett can return this season, but for the time being, the Rams will do their best with the lineup they have.

“We hope to get (Amanda) back,” Murphy said. “The leadership is big with her, but she also gives us another post presence. She’s rehabbing and is hoping to come back. We’ll make do with what we’ve got. Kids have had to play different roles and have done a great job. Sydney Giroux has done a great job. (Sophomore) Ashleigh Mathison has given us great minutes.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Gorham senior Emily Esposito and Deering senior Tasia Titherington battle for possession.

Gorham sophomore Mackenzie Holmes races up the floor. Holmes had 19 points in the win.

Deering senior Tasia Titherington goes up and under Gorham freshman Jacqui Hamilton.

Deering sophomore Delaney Haines soars to the basket.

Deering senior Abi Ramirez has to alter her shot as Gorham sophomore Mackenzie Holmes defends.

Deering senior Sydney Giroux goes up for a shot as Gorham senior Emily Esposito defends.

Deering sophomore Delaney Haines is defended by Gorham sophomore Brittany Desjardin.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.