PORTLAND—This time around, the Greely girls’ basketball team did not have its way with Mountain Valley.
After the Rangers beat the Falcons in each of the past three tournaments, including with ease the past two years, the squads squared off again Tuesday evening at the Portland Exposition Building for a Western Class B quarterfinal round tilt.
Mountain Valley made it clear early that it came to play and the Falcons took Greely down to the wire.
The Rangers appeared to have the game in hand, up 28-20 in the third, but Mountain Valley closed the period on an 11-2 run to lead, 31-30, heading for the fourth. There, Greely took the lead for good on junior Caroline Hamilton’s fourth 3-pointer of the night, but the Rangers had to hold on for dear life in the waning seconds when the Falcons first had a chance to take the lead, then tie.
Greely dodged those bullets and won, 42-39, improved to 15-4, ended Mountain Valley’s season at 14-5 and earned the right to meet undefeated, defending Class B state champion York (19-0, riding a 41-game win streak) Thursday at 4:30 p.m., in the semifinal round at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“We played a lot of close games this year and our girls bring it,” said Rangers coach Billy Goodman. “They don’t play nervous. When they play like that under pressure, I’m very proud of them.”
Greely, which lost to York in each of the past two seasons in the regional final (50-38 a year ago), has produced another solid season, even after losing several key contributors to graduation. The Rangers handled every team but nemesis York and Lake Region, each of which they fell to twice. Greely still managed to produce its 15th successive winning mark.
Mountain Valley won 14 of its 18 games and came to Portland as the higher seeded teams.
The teams have now met in four successive tournaments. The Rangers had success with the Falcons in the past three postseasons. Three years ago, the Rangers held off Mountain Valley, 43-40, in the quarterfinals. In 2009, Greely won, 49-27, in the semifinals. Last year, the Rangers rolled, 52-24, in the quarterfinals. Greely also beat Mountain Valley in the 1993 quarterfinals (48-45) and the 2003 semifinals (56-42).
Tuesday night, the Rangers would do it again, but not without a tussle.
It took three minutes for either team to break the ice and that game when Falcons junior Ayla Allen made a free throw. The first field goal came with 3:48 to play in the eight-minute first period when Greely sophomore Jacyln Storey took a pass from junior Haylee Munson and made a layup. Hamilton followed with her first 3 and with 2:27 to play in the first, senior Sara Warnock made a free throw.
Mountain Valley finally made a field goal with 2:02 to go in the quarter when Allen drained a 3. Junior Christine Briggs followed with one to give the Falcons their first lead, 7-6, but with 4.1 seconds remaining in the period, Munson canned a 3-ball to make it 9-7 Rangers after one.
Early in the second quarter, senior McKenzie Paterson and Allen each made a foul shot to tie the score. Greely went back on top, 11-9, on a Warnock jumper, but Allen answered with a 3 to put the Falcons ahead. Hamilton gave the lead back to the Rangers with a 3-ball and senior Chelsea Bridges (assisted by senior Megan Coale) added a layup for a 16-12 advantage.
After freshman Brianne Roberts made a free throw for Mountain Valley, Hamilton made another 3 for Greely’s biggest lead to that point, 19-13. Allen answered with a 3 before Hamilton made a runner to give the Rangers a 21-16 halftime advantage.
In a statistical oddity, Mountain Valley didn’t manage a single two-point field goal in the first half. The Falcons had four 3s and four foul shots. The teams combined for just four turnovers in the first 16 minutes.
The play picked up in the third period and it appeared as if Greely would pull away before Mountain Valley answered.
A layup by Falcons senior Lindsay Gallant opened the third quarter. Bridges and Gallant traded layups before Coale made two free throws, then hit a 3 with 5:04 to go for a 28-20 lead.
Mountain Valley roared right back behind a 3-ball from Allen, a layup from junior Makayla White, a Briggs 3 and a pair of White foul shots for a 30-28 advantage. The Rangers tied the score when Munson made a layup, but a late free throw from junior Kaitlin Armstrong gave the Falcons a 31-30 lead heading for the fourth.
It took just 22 seconds of the final stanza for Greely to take the lead for good. Not surprisingly, the shot came from Hamilton, behind the 3-point arc, and the Rangers were up, 33-31.
“I just let it go,” Hamilton said. “I’ve played here a lot in the summer. I know what it feels like to shoot here, but I’m not used to playing in front of this many people.”
Warnock then took over and willed Greely to victory.
First, she converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 6:19 remaining to push the lead to five. After Paterson answered with a jumper, Warnock made two foul shots with 4:57 showing to make it 38-33. After Allen fed Roberts for a layup, Warnock scored on a putback with 3:21 remaining for a 40-35 advantage.
“What you saw was a senior who didn’t want to lose,” Goodman said. “She did it on offense and defense. She stepped up when we needed her.”
With 1:58 left, Mountain Valley got to 40-37 on a pair of Paterson foul shots. Seven seconds later, Hamilton had a chance to extend the lead, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. With 1:27 to go, the Falcons made things really interesting when Paterson made a leaner to make it 40-39.
After running more than 30 seconds off the clock, Coale took an ill-advised 3 that was short. Warnock got to the ball before it went out of bounds, but saved it to Allen, giving Mountain Valley a chance to take the lead.
With 15.5 seconds left, Falcons coach Richard Allen called timeout, hoping to draw up a game winning play. Mountain Valley would get a good look as Roberts got free in the lane, but her shot with 12.4 seconds to go was off the mark and Greely sophomore Caton Beaulieu grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
Beaulieu, who hadn’t scored up to that point, showed great poise and made both free throws for a 42-39 lead, meaning the Falcons needed a 3 to tie. Allen would get a look in traffic, but her forced attempt was off. The rebound was wrestled for and the ball was eventually tied up. The arrow favored Mountain Valley, but just 0.2 seconds remained.
With that little time on the clock, a team can’t catch and shoot. A player can only tip in a shot, meaning the Falcons needed a prayer. Paterson got a shot off as the horn sounded, but it wouldn’t have counted.
The Rangers survived, 42-39.
“We knew they needed a 3, so we made sure not to foul or get an open look,” Warnock said. “We found a way. Defense was our key and we moved the ball around a lot. I think our tournament experience pays off. Another thing that definitely helped us was playing a lot of close games in the regular season. I wasn’t surprised it was close. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. We came in prepared.”
“We wanted to pull it out,” Hamilton said. “Everyone knows we lost some players. They have a lot of the same players. We’ve had a lot of close games this year and we’ve learned from them. We stayed together and did smart things. We wanted to make them foul us, make our shots and hold on.”
“We just didn’t want to give up a 3 or give up an open look at the end,” Goodman added. “We’ve played well on defense. I know our weakness is scoring sometimes. Defense is where it starts. If the offense is there, great. I liked our ball movement. I have players playing better than two months ago. “
Hamilton led Greely with 14 points.
“Hamilton’s been picking up her game,” Goodman said. “She did what I asked. She’s going to get even better.”
Warnock had seven of her 10 points in the fourth quarter. She also grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked two shots.
“Sara’s rebounds and defense were part of the reason we won,” Hamilton said. “Her presence there.”
Coale (four boards) and Munson had five points apiece, Bridges finished with four and Beaulieu and Storey two each.
The Rangers, who averaged over 20 turnovers per game, committed a mere six in this game.
“We cut down on turnovers tonight,” said Goodman. “We had a great week of practice. We had a whole week to work on it. It made a difference.”
Greely made 8 of 12 free throw attempts.
Mountain Valley was led by Allen with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Warnock did a good job neutralizing her in the second half, however.
“It was important I found to move my feet,” Warnock said. “They set screens for her. They wanted her to have the ball because she had the hot hand. I had to move my feet and get a hand in her face, especially in the second half.”
Paterson (five rebounds and a steal) finished with seven points, Briggs six, Gallant and White (four boards and a block) had four points apiece, Roberts three and Armstrong one. The Falcons only turned the ball over on four occasions. Seven misses in 16 free throw attempts loomed large.
Mountain Valley graduates Gallant and Paterson, but should find itself right back at the Expo next winter.
Nothing to lose
The Rangers, meanwhile, move on to face the daunting task of taking on York, which has beaten them in eight straight contests, including one-sided victories this winter (54-28 in York two days before Christmas and 48-22 in Cumberland on Jan. 13). Greely hasn’t beaten the Wildcats since Feb. 19, 2007 (54-40, in the Western B quarterfinals).
The teams have met previous times in the postseason. Greely won in the 1983 regional final (69-43), the 2004 quarterfinals (48-38) and the aforementioned 2007 quarterfinal round. York triumphed in the 2000 semis (57-41), 2009 regional final (49-30) and again in last year’s regional final game.
The Wildcats haven’t lost since the 2009 state final, hardly broke a sweat this season and dominated No. 8 Gray-New Gloucester, 55-14, in their quarterfinal Tuesday (York went on a 32-1 tear in the second and third quarters).
The Rangers obviously have their hands full, but will enter the game carefree, hoping to shock the world.
“We’ll take any chance we can get,” Hamilton said. “We want our chance. They’re a really smart team. We have to be smart too. We can’t turn the ball over and we have to make our shots.”
“We’ve worked on taking care of the ball a lot and I think that will help us against York,” said Warnock. “I really feel like we have unfinished business with them.”
“We get to play,” said Goodman, who spent the off day Wednesday, which happens to be his birthday, preparing for the challenge. “We’ve had zero success against them, but we have nothing to lose. We’ll show up and if we can get some scoring early, we’ll make it a game. We had a competitive game with them the first game. We were down 15-11 at halftime. They went on a run and beat us by 25.
“They’re a tough team to play. They’re very good on offense and defense. Not a lot of weaknesses. When you have open shots, you have to make them to stay in the game. You have to play the perfect game to beat them. They’re patient and can run the floor as good as anyone. They can press, play halfcourt D, fullcourt D. They have a good program down there. They’ll be good for a long time.”
The Western Class B Final is Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Class B state final is Friday, March 4, beginning at 6 p.m., at the Civic Center.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports