PORTLAND—Through a season where the biggest tests have come not on the floor, but in the training room, the Greely girls’ basketball team has steadied the ship with one thing it can always count on.
Yes, old reliable, that Rangers defense, just keeps showing up time after time to show the way, even with injury claiming a pair of starting senior guards and one sharpshooting junior first off the bench.
Fueled by this relentless defensive regiment, third-ranked Greely needed only three quarters to methodically disengage from No. 6 Mountain Valley, racing to an early lead and never looking back en route to a 52-24 victory on a snowy Tuesday afternoon in Western Class B quarterfinal action at the Portland Expo.
Senior captain Megan Grondin paced the offense with a game-high 13 points, senior captain Nicole Faietta dropped in 11, but the Rangers defensive prowess earned first star of this game by limiting the Falcons to 11 field goals and just 24 points, nine in the second half.
With the win, Greely (17-2) earns the chance to slow the second-ranked Leavitt Hornets’ (18-1) high-octane collection of guards Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Leavitt cruised past No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester 63-38 in another quarterfinal matinee Tuesday behind the explosive Anderson sisters, with junior Courtney and freshman Kristen combining for 34 points to dispatch the Patriots (12-7). Greely and Leavitt did not meet during the regular season.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk about Leavitt,” said Grondin. “We know they are a guard-oriented team and we’ll spend the time we do have preparing for that. We’ll have to get a hand in the face of the shooter, contest every shot. Defense will be the key for us.”
The Rangers never trailed against the Falcons (11-8) in the quarterfinal, with senior Abby Young hitting the first of four Greely 3-pointers to start the game. Grondin scored the next seven points for the Rangers on a three-point play, a bucket in the paint and two foul shots to build an early 10-4 lead.
Faietta joined the party on a layup in transition after a Young steal and senior captain Karlee Biskup shed her defender with a nasty crossover dribble and drove in for her first basket to stretch the lead to 14-4 with three minutes still left to play in the first quarter.
Mountain Valley’s top guard, junior Lindsay Gallant, swished a soft jumper from the left elbow, Biskup answered with another driving two from the left side, before back-to-back jumpers from Gallant (seven points) and sophomore Chelsea Boudreau pulled the Falcons back to within six points at 16-10. Greely sophomore Sara Warnock (six points) scored her first hoop with one minute left and things weren’t looking good for the Falcons, down 18-10 to start the second quarter.
Hobbled ever so slightly from the effects of a sprained ankle suffered last week, Faietta took over the second quarter with hard-nosed defense and her get-out-and-go-style to match Grondin’s seven first-quarter points with seven of her own in the second.
Mountain Valley got a wild 3 from senior captain Emily Knapp that banked home from the elbow extended, but Greely ran off the next seven straight on a 3 from sophomore Caroline Hamilton, two foul shots and a steal and layup in transition from Faietta to take a 25-13 lead with just under five minutes to go in the second quarter.
The Falcons got one more hoop before the half, a driving layup from sophomore captain Ayla Allen to finish the quarter with five total points, but eight consecutive from the Rangers the rest of the way stacked up to an 18-point lead at intermission.
Warnock scored again inside, Faietta connected on a deep 3 and Biskup drilled another 3 with 12 seconds left for a commanding 33-15 Greely advantage at the half.
“We always play hard defense and that was the key today,” said Biskup (seven points). “We try and take it game by game. We have a deep bench and everyone gets to play. We all contribute in different ways. If someone doesn’t score, they rebound or help out in other ways. But we know that if we play defense the offense will come.”
And play defense they did, the Rangers returned from a brief respite and pinned another single-digit quarter on the Falcons in the third. Quickly flipping the switch on every made basket into a fullcourt press, Greely simply overwhelmed Mountain Valley’s guards and forced just about every type of turnover in the book, from double dribbles, to travels, errant passes and even the old five-second violation simply trying to inbound the basketball.
Greely’s lead swelled to 20 points for the first time when Young (five points) started off the third quarter with a basket inside on a nice dish from Grondin to make it 35-15. The Falcons got a rare four straight on buckets from senior Emily Knapp and junior McKenzie Paterson to trim the deficit to 16, which they did again after Grondin hit the first of two from the line on consecutive trips, and Gallant scored her last field goal to make it 37-21 midway through the third.
But that would be the final spark the Falcons could muster in this one, as the Rangers reeled off nine straight points to close out the quarter on top by 25 and went exclusively to the bench the rest of the way.
Grondin chased down a long rebound and returned it for a hoop with a soft left-handed floater on the right side and buried her next two from the line in a game she hit seven of her nine tries from the stripe to pull the Rangers ahead by 20 points once again at 41-21.
Hamilton iced another 3 from the corner, her second, and Faietta finished the Falcons off with a pair of foul shots to make it 46-21 to begin the fourth quarter.
Greely coach Billy Goodman used his bench quite liberally throughout, and emptied it completely for the final quarter which the Rangers won 6-3. Freshmen forward Jaclyn Storey got in the scoring column with short jumper in the fourth, and junior Meghan Bickford brought the Greely crowd to its feet when she swished a deep jumper from the elbow extended to close out a convincing 52-24 win, and it was officially time to start looking ahead for the Rangers.
“The next two teams ahead of us are two of the best in the state, not just Class B,” said Goodman. “It’s going to be a challenge. They’re very different, but we’ve had the opportunity to play against similar teams. We play Lake Region which has great guards that can shoot the 3, and we know all about York.”