WELLS—The Freeport girls’ basketball game found itself in a pivotal spot Thursday evening at the site of a painful setback from a year ago.
Coming off perhaps their biggest win this century, a decisive home triumph over reigning regional champion Lake Region, the Falcons had a chance to further cement their playoff status when they visited Wells, but they weren’t up to the challenge.
Freeport came out of the gate sluggish, trailed almost the whole way and appeared dead in the water, down, 36-29, with under four minutes to go.
Then, the Falcons came to life and almost stole it, pulling within a single point before having four separate chances to take the lead.
After two turnovers, Freeport sent junior standout Nina Davenport, who led all scorers with 22 points, to the line for a one-and-one with 1:22 remaining, but her first attempt was off target. The Falcons two more shots, but couldn’t convert and after the Warriors added a foul shot from their leading scorer, junior Alison Furness, with eight seconds to play, a last-ditch desperation heave from Freeport senior Aubrey Pennell was blocked by Furness and Wells had a 38-36 victory.
The win was huge for the Heal Points-hungry Warriors, who improved to 4-7. With the setback, the Falcons fell to 6-5 on the season.
“It was a recipe for disaster,” said Freeport’s first-year coach Jim Seavey. “We had a big win. Probably the biggest in the program’s history, regular season-wise for sure, and no school yesterday. That meant no practice, so we couldn’t reiterate to them that the big thing was avoiding a lull after a big win. These kids haven’t been in this position before. Give Wells all the credit in the world. They came to play. They were fighting for their playoff lives and we played like we were satisfied with the other night. It’s frustrating, but that’s high school sports. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Both teams entered the 2012-13 season with high hopes, but while Wells has struggled, Freeport has made great strides. The Warriors opened with losses to Greely and Poland, defeated Yarmouth and Old Orchard Beach, then lost to Freeport and Gray-New Gloucester. A home win over Fryeburg opened the new year, but Wells then lost to Lake Region, Cape Elizabeth and York.
The Falcons, meanwhile, couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious debut, dominating host North Yarmouth Academy, 66-4 (no typo). Freeport was then humbled by losses to visiting Cape Elizabeth (45-33) and host Lake Region (45-27), before getting back in the win column over visiting Wells (52-33). A close 55-52 home loss to York followed, but the Falcons began 2013 with wins at Yarmouth (69-31), at home over Falmouth (39-38) and at Fryeburg (45-42) before losing at Greely (51-41). Tuesday, Freeport made its biggest statement to date, having its way with visiting Lake Region, the defending Western B champion, 48-32, its first win over the powerhouse Lakers this millennium.
Just how the Falcons would build on that victory was the big question heading into Thursday. Would Freeport have a letdown at the site of last year’s 50-33 preliminary round playoff loss, or would it continue to develop as a serious contender by taking care of business and winning a game in a hostile gym against a foe desperate for Heal Points?
The answer was letdown.
After Furness opened the scoring with a runner 22 seconds in, Falcons junior Ashley Richardson knocked down a jumper with 7:25 to play in the first period, but the visitors wouldn’t score again for nearly five minutes.
Wells grabbed a 6-2 lead thanks to two free throws after an offensive rebound from junior Sophie Lamb and a layup from junior Jordan Agger, who was a force off the bench.
Finally, with 2:46 to play in the opening stanza, Davenport scored on a driving layup, but the Warriors countered with a bank shot from Furness and a Lamb leaner for a 10-4 advantage.
Then, in the final minute of the first, Freeport stepped it up, getting 3-point shots from senior Leigh Wyman and Davenport to forge a 10-10 deadlock after eight minutes.
When Davenport opened the second period with a jumper 19 seconds in, it appeared the Falcons might be on their way, but the 12-10 lead proved to be their first and only of the night.
Nineteen seconds later, Furness drained a short jumper and after junior Stephanie Woods hit a 3 and junior Nicole Moody made a layup after a steal, Wells was back up by five, 17-12.
After Seavey called timeout, Davenport hit a 3, but Woods fed Furness for a layup on the break and after Davenport answered with a driving layup, junior Syndey LaChapelle made a free throw for a 20-17 advantage.
Seconds after entering the game as a substitute, Freeport junior Livvy Dimick canned a long jumper, but Lamb answered with a bank shot. Wyman made two free throws, but with just seven seconds remaining, Woods hit a 3 to give the Warriors a 25-21 advantage at halftime.
Wells could have been further ahead, but 12 turnovers prevented that from happening.
The game remained tight in the third period.
After Furness hit a leaner, Falcons senior Jocelyn Davee converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup foul, free throw). Moody made a free throw, but Davenport answered with a jumper. After Furness made a foul shot, Davenport scored on a putback and with 3:51 left in the quarter, Davenport made a free throw to tie the score, 29-29.
Freeport had its chances to go ahead, but couldn’t do so and the Warriors got a free throw from Moody and a layup from Woods (set up by Agger after a steal) to take a 32-29 advantage to the final quarter.
Early in the fourth, Furness extended the Wells lead to five with a jumper, but the game took a somber tone for the hosts with 6:48 left when Agger went down with an apparent knee injury.
After a delay of several minutes, the Warriors got a 3 from junior Kaitlyn Tufts to make it 37-29.
That score remained with under four minutes left when Freeport began to rally.
With 3:39 to play, Davenport hit a 3 to end an 8 minute, 12 second drought.
Thirty-one seconds later, Davenport put back her own miss to make it a one-possession game.
With 2:32 left, junior Vanessa Lee, who was stellar off the bench, took a pass from Pennell and banked home a shot to cut the deficit to 37-36.
The Falcons had all the momentum, but wouldn’t score again.
Lee stole the ball to give Freeport a chance to go ahead, but the Falcons turned it over. Freeport then forced a Wells turnover and Davenport was fouled with 1:22 remaining and went to the line for a one-and-one with a chance to tie the score or give Freeport the lead.
The free throw was off target and Furness got the rebound, but the Warriors again turned the ball over. After a Davenport miss, Tufts got the rebound, but Lee stole the ball back and again the Falcons had an opportunity.
After draining over 30 seconds off the clock, Pennell drove the lane and threw up a shot that hit the backboard and rolled off the rim to Furness, who was fouled with eight seconds to go.
Furness made her first foul shot, but missed the second and Davenport got the rebound. Davenport passed to Pennell, who drove up the right sideline as time wound down. Pennell rose for a shot, but Furness was right there with her and Furness batted the shot away as the horn sounded and Wells had escaped, 38-36.
“As poorly as we played, we deserved to lose, but we’re getting better to the point where we had an opportunity to win,” said Seavey. “It’s true. We could have won or forced overtime. We had Nina at the line down one for a one-and-one, so I felt good about being up one. Then, we got the steal and I hemmed and hawed about calling timeout. We had numbers. We had the weak block open twice and we didn’t see it. Then, it was too late to call timeout.
“It’s been a roller-coaster, no question. I felt like the other night got us over the hump, but it takes more than one win. This league’s very competitive. Wells was a preseason favorite. I knew coming in after Tuesday that we’d be in for a dogfight and sure enough, that’s what we got.”
Davenport continued to stake her claim as one of the league’s finest players with a 22-point, nine-rebound performance. She led the team in both categories and also had two steals and a blocked shot. Wyman added five points (and three of the team’s 12 steals), Davee three and Dimick, Lee (three steals) and Richardson two apiece.
Dimick, Lee and senior Hannah Chase gave the Falcons good play off the bench.
“Vanessa Lee played well tonight,” Seavey said. “Livvy and Chase came off the bench and gave us a spark.”
Freeport turned the ball over 20 times as it often struggled against Wells’ press. More frustrating from Seavey’s perspective was the Falcons only getting seven shots from the foul line (they made four).
“We didn’t get to the line tonight against a team that’s that aggressive,” Seavey said. “When you only take seven foul shots, it’s tough to win.”
For Wells, Furness had 14 points and a game-high 10 boards. Woods added eight points, Lamb six, Moody four, Tufts three, Agger two and LaChapelle one.
The Warriors had a 27-20 rebounding advantage and registered 16 steals (four apiece from Agger, Moody and Woods). Wells was able to overcome 27 turnovers and made 7-of-12 free throws.
While Wells (now in the 12th and final playoff spot in Western B) is back in action Saturday at home against Traip, Freeport (now ninth) has the weekend off. The Falcons will go to No. 6 Gray-New Gloucester for a matinee Monday, then hosts Poland and Yarmouth back-to-back next Friday and Saturday. Home games versus Fryeburg and Traip and trips to Poland and Old Orchard Beach also remain.
There are a lot of benchmarks Freeport can reach in the weeks to come. The Falcons haven’t posted a winning record since 2001-02 (9-8), last won a playoff game in February 2003, last appeared in the quarterfinals that same season and last reached the semifinals way back in 1977.
The opportunity is there to do something special, but Freeport knows it still has a big hill to climb.
“The Gray game will be big,” Seavey said. “They’re a very good team. It will be big for Heal Points. I like to think the Lake Region game will keep us in the thick of things. We want to host a prelim game (something the Falcons haven’t done since 2005). All we can do is work on our game and get better every day. Tonight, we competed and played hard. There are still bright spots. The kids never quit. Wells thought they’d put us away and we never allowed them to do that. That’s the sign of a team coming together and believing they can compete night in and night out and find ways to get things done.”
F- 10 11 8 7- 36
W- 10 15 7 6- 38
F- Davenport 9-1-22, Wyman 1-2-5, Davee 1-1-3, Dimick 1-0-2, Lee 1-0-2, Richardson 1-0-2
W- Furness 6-2-14, Woods 3-0-8, Lamb 2-2-6, Moody 1-2-4, Tufts 1-0-3, Agger 1-0-2, LaChapelle 0-1-1
F (4) Davenport 3, Wyman 1
W (3) Woods 2, Tufts 1
F (20) Davenport 9, Lee, Pennell 3, Davee 2, Chase, Richardson, Wyman 1
W (27) Furness 10, Tufts 5, Agger 4, Lamb 3, LaChapelle, Moody 2, Woods 1
F (12) Lee, Wyman 3, Davenport, Pennell, Richardson 2
W (16) Agger, Moody, Woods 4, Lamb, Tufts 2
F (2) Davenport, Wyman 1
W (4) Lamb 2, Furness, LaChapelle 1