Maine Girls’ Academy junior Madison Legassey launches a shot during the Lions’ 53-23 loss to Gorham in Tuesday’s Class AA South semifinal.
PORTLAND—All season, they were outgunned.
All season, they gave their all anyway.
And in the final game of the season, the Maine Girls’ Academy basketball team bowed out with another valiant effort, but unfortunately for the Lions, they had the misfortune of squaring off against the state’s best team, Gorham, in a Class AA South semifinal Tuesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena.
MGA held the potent defending Class AA champion Rams to a mere six points in the first quarter, but could only muster two of its own, as Gorham sophomore post standout Mackenzie Holmes was a shot-blocking machine and the Lions committed nine turnovers.
When sophomore Catherine Reid knocked down a 3-point shot with 2:10 to go before halftime, MGA only trailed by six points, but Gorham closed the half on an 8-0 run to lead, 22-8.
The Lions were still within 11 points, 27-16, with less than two minutes to play in the third period, but Rams senior standout Emily Esposito, who will be playing at Villanova University next season, went on a quick 7-0 personal run to extend the lead to 34-18.
In the fourth, Gorham ended all doubt, opening on an 11-0 run and the Rams went on to a 53-23 victory.
Holmes had a triple-double of 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots, Esposito had 18 points and the Rams improved to 19-0, extended their two-season win streak to 40, ended MGA’s season at 8-12 and advanced to meet No. 2 South Portland (16-3) in the Class AA South Final Friday at 6 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena.
“My team is awesome,” said Lions coach Billy Goodman. “They worked hard. They kept battling. They had amazing attitudes, heart and hustle. I couldn’t ask for any more as a coach. We were picked at the bottom of the league. To get to the semis was awesome.”
It was a challenging and a rewarding season for Maine Girls’ Academy.
In the first year after the school changed its name, the crown jewel basketball program had to overcome low numbers and injuries, but in spite of it all, the Lions produced seven victories and earned the No. 4 seed in Class AA South before handling No. 5 Sanford, 40-33, in last Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Gorham has lived up to billing at the state’s best team, following last year’s undefeated Class AA championship run with an 18-0 regular season, good for the top seed in the region, which came with a bye into the semifinals.
The Rams won the regular season meeting, 70-42, at home Jan. 16.
The Lions were 4-0 all-time against Gorham in the playoffs, including a 46-31 victory in the 2013 Western A quarterfinals, the most recent meeting.
This time, however, the Rams were clearly the stronger team, even if it took them awhile to break the game open.
Neither team generated much offense in a frustrating first quarter.
Holmes opened the scoring 11 seconds in, making one of two free throws after being fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound.
After Holmes finished a pass from Esposito on the fastbreak and made a layup, MGA got its lone point of the frame on a layup by junior Jill Joyce with 5:29 to go.
Eighteen seconds later, Gorham senior captain Kristen Curley knocked down a 3 for a 6-2 lead and that’s how the first period would end.
It took awhile for the Rams to get going in the second quarter too.
After Lions senior Maddy Beaulieu made a free throw 1:45 into the frame, ending a 7:14 drought, senior Kaylea Lundin countered with a runner, ending Gorham’s 7:20 drought.
Junior Michelle Rowe added a runner for a 10-3 lead.
After Reid scored on a putback for the Lions, Holes scored on successive putbacks for Gorham.
With 2:10 to go in the half, Reid’s 3 cut the deficit to 14-8, but Lundin hit a jumper, Esposito scored her first two points at the charity stripe, Rowe made a jump shot and Lundin drove for a layup and a 22-8 halftime advantage.
“Playing in practice isn’t the same atmosphere as a game,” Holmes said, alluding to Gorham’s 12-day break between countable games. “The layoff had a little to do with our slow start. It’s hard to just jump into a game. We got into the flow at the end of the first half.”
Holmes had seven points, six rebounds and six blocks in the first half, Lundin added six points and MGA was stymied by 13 turnovers.
“I don’t necessarily think we took bad shots,” Rams coach Laughn Berthiaume said. “The 12-day layoff didn’t help us. I thought we played alright, but we didn’t make shots. When that happens, you have to make sure you have a good defense at the other end and we did. Having Mackenzie doesn’t hurt at all. She did a good job being in the right spot.”
In the third period, Gorham continued to open it up.
Rowe started the second half with a floater. After Reid stole the ball and fed junior freshman Hope Olson for a left-handed layup, Beaulieu made a free throw to cut the deficit to 24-11.
Esposito countered with a reverse layup, but Reid scored on a putback. After a free throw from Holmes, Legassey drained a 3 to cut the deficit to 27-16, but that’s as close as the Lions would get.
Esposito scored consecutive baskets, then drained a 3 and while Olson drove for a late layup, it only drew MGA within 34-18 after three quarters.
In the fourth, the Rams finally blew it open.
Esposito got the surge started with a jumper that bounced in, then, after a Curley steal, Esposito made a layup, Holmes converted an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul and free throw), Holmes set up Rowe for a layup and on the fastbreak, Esposito delivered a gorgeous feed to Holmes for a layup and a 45-18 lead with 5:23 to go.
A Legassey jumper ended the 11-0 run, but Holmes countered with a foul shot.
After Reid fed Joyce for a layup, Lundin hit a short jumper and Esposito made her final shot, a 3, for a 51-22 lead with 2:02 to play.
MGA’s final point came from freshman Taja Wilkins on a free throw before a bank shot from sophomore Sarah Walker accounted for Gorham’s final points of a 53-23 triumph.
“(The Lions) have good young athletes and they battled hard,” Berthiaume said. “Bill’s done a nice job with that group. They did all that they could.”
Esposito led the way with 18 points, 16 coming after halftime.
“If Emily can get out in transition and get easy baskets, she’s a scorer and she was going to get going eventually,” Berthiaume said.
Holmes, the state’s premier post player, had herself a day, scoring 14 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, blocking 10 shots and for good measure, dishing out a pair of assists.
“Offense wasn’t really coming for me, so I tried to get other people looks and I played hard at the defensive end,” Holmes said. “Blocking shots can be fun.”
Lundin and Rowe (eight rebounds) added eight points apiece, Curley had three and Walker two.
The Rams outrebounded the Lions, 40-26, made 22 of 53 shots from the floor (3 of 13 from 3-point range), 6 of 12 foul shots and overcame 22 turnovers by forcing 23.
Gorham is far from finished. The Rams won’t be satisfied with anything shy of a championship and the team standing between them and another state game is red-hot South Portland, which has won 13 straight games and smothered No. 3 Scarborough in its semifinal Tuesday, 43-27, holding the Red Storm scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Gorham took the regular season meeting, 44-31, Dec. 15 at Gorham. In last year’s regional final, the Rams held off the Red Riots, 37-30, in the lone prior playoff encounter.
Gorham knows nothing will come easily Friday, but bet against the Rams at your peril.
“South Portland is a great team,” Holmes said. “They have shooters, they have post play. It’ll be a challenge for us. We’ll come out and play our game and hope for the best.”
“South Portland is strong and they have a number of kids who can score,” Berthiaume said. “They play good defense. We’ll have our hands full.”
MGA was paced by Reid, who had seven points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Legassey added five points, Joyce and Olson had four apiece, Wilkins had one and Beaulieu bowed out with two points and seven rebounds.
“Maddy was a special player to coach,” Goodman said. “We’ll miss her.”
The Lions had eight steals, but gave the ball away way too much and made only 3 of 9 free throws and just 9 of 55 field goals (including 2 of 14 from 3-point land).
“We were 3-for-27 in the first half and you can’t win games like that,” Goodman said. “We kept battling. If we got some shots to go in early, it could have been a close game. I love our defense. We had to gamble once the game got out of hand and that went right into their strength, but we had to try whatever we could.”
MGA loses Beaulieu, but returns virtually its entire roster. This year’s lumps will pay off down the road and it’s not inconceivable to think the Lions will return to prominence next winter.
“I told the girls coming back that next year starts tomorrow,” Goodman said. “They got some experience. We know our weakness. If they want to work on it, maybe we can do something special.”
2013 Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 46 Gorham 31
2011 Western A semifinals
McAuley 39 Gorham 30
2010 Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 33 Gorham 22
2006 Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 61 Gorham 46