CUMBERLAND—This winter, the majority of the attention on Western Class B girls’ basketball has been directed toward defending state champion Leavitt, 2010 champion York or perennial power Lake Region.
Now, with the tournament two weeks away, the Greely Rangers have crashed the party.
Friday evening, in a palpitating showdown between longtime rivals, the Rangers welcomed top-ranked Lake Region and the teams put on a 32-minute show that wasn’t decided until the final horn.
Greely led virtually the whole way, taking control early behind the heroics of fabulous freshman Ashley Storey, but the tenacious Lakers never quit and forged a 35-35 tie on a 3 from senior Abby Craffey with just under two minutes to play.
With 1:06 remaining, after Lake Region missed two foul shots that could have given it the lead, Rangers senior Haylee Munson took a pass from junior Jackie Storey and hit a clutch jumper.
The lead only lasted 35 seconds, however, as Lakers junior Sydney Hancock drove in among the trees and dished off to sophomore Tiana-Jo Carter at the last moment for a layup.
Undaunted, Greely came down and this time Munson set up Storey, who calmly buried a jumper in the lane with 7.8 seconds remaining.
This time, Lake Region couldn’t answer as a last second prayer was well off the mark and the Rangers improved to 13-3 with the 39-37 win, dropping the Lakers to 14-2 in the process.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Storey. “We knew they were one of the best teams in the league. We knew we had to come out and play our hardest, play together and hopefully it would work for us and it did.”
Greely got to the Western B semifinals a year ago before losing to nemesis York. This winter, the Rangers, under new coach Kim Hilbrich, have gradually evolved into a dynamic team.
Greely dropped its opener at Wells (49-43), then put it together, beating visiting York (for the first time in 10 tries, 43-41), host Falmouth (37-30), visiting Fryeburg (39-29), host Cape Elizabeth (49-23) and visiting Poland (47-31). The new year didn’t start auspiciously with a 40-27 loss at Lake Region (a game which was lowlighted by an over 11-minute scoring drought). Four straight victories followed as the Rangers downed host Yarmouth (48-18), visiting Traip (42-31), host Freeport (53-38) and visiting Falmouth (43-37). After a 40-30 loss at York, Greely downed visiting Gray-New Gloucester (53-44), host Fryeburg (47-37) and visiting Yarmouth (56-43).
Lake Region, which lost to York in last year’s semifinal round, won 13 straight to start the year, highlighted by victories over York, Wells, Greely and a 51-46 overtime triumph at Falmouth. The string was snapped last week with a 44-37 loss at resurgent York, but the Lakers bounced back and downed visiting Falmouth, 56-34, Tuesday.
The teams have seen plenty of each other over the years and generally play low-scoring, down to the wire affairs.
Since the 2001-02 season, including the contest last month, the Rangers and Lakers had met 22 times, with Greely holding a 12-10 advantage. That includes three postseason encounters.
Lake Region ended the Rangers’ run as Class B champions with a 45-42 triumph in the 2005 semifinals and also eliminated Greely, 44-32, in the 2007 semifinals. The Rangers were 39-27 winners over the Lakers in the 2009 quarterfinals.
Friday night, both teams’ assets (and potential liabilities) were on display.
Greely broke the ice a minute in when Munson fed Ashley Storey for a layup. Lake Region answered and took its only lead when Craffey hit a 3. Jackie Storey made a layup to put the Rangers back on top and Ashley Storey made a layup after a pretty spin move for a 6-3 advantage.
After Carter made a free throw, Ashley Storey scored on a leaner. A Carter bank shot and Hancock driving layup drew the Lakers even at 8-8, but the hosts closed the first period on a 6-0 run, taking a 14-8 lead behind a layup from Jackie Storey, a Storey free throw and a 3-ball from senior Courtney Nielsen.
Carter opened the second quarter scoring with a leaner, but Ashley Storey made a free throw and Jackie Storey took a full court length pass from junior Caton Beaulieu and made a layup for a 17-10 advantage.
Lake Region senior Rachel Wandishin stemmed the tide with a 3, but Ashley Storey managed to hit a leaner over Carter and another Storey jumper gave the Rangers a 21-13 lead at the break.
“We worked our offense and got the looks and the rebounds,” Storey said. “Our defense was great. I think(the Lakers) were nervous when they came in. Even though we lost to them last game, we needed to show them that we’re a different team this time. We were confident. At practice, we worked on our defense against them. Some of our coaches played like they were the other team. If we shut them down, we knew we could play with (Lake Region).”
As expected, the Lakers came out with more energy in the third period and got back in the game.
In the first minute, Carter hit a bank shot and Hancock made a driving layup to cut the deficit to four. Ashley Storey answered with a leaner, but Carter hit a bank shot. A driving layup from Munson and a Storey combo special (Jackie to Ashley for a layup) pushed the lead to 27-19, but Lake Region would go on a 12-4 run to draw even.
After Carter made a layup with 5:08 to go in the third, she made a bank shot a minute later and was fouled on the play. She then converted the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. A layup by Ashley Storey after a baseline drive made it 29-24, but Hancock made a layup after a steal and two free throws from freshman Sarah Hancock after a steal made it a one-point contest.
After a Greely timeout, Munson set up Ashley Storey for a bank shot, but with 2:25 left in the period, Sydney Hancock drained a 3 and the game was tied, 31-31.
The Rangers never let the Lakers go ahead, however.
Jackie Storey made a jumper and the next time down, scored on a putback after an impressive move and Greely clung to a 35-31 advantage heading for the fourth.
There, futility reigned most of the quarter before a wild finish served as the coda.
For nearly six minutes, neither team was able to score a single point. They combined for 10 turnovers and multiple missed shots before Sydney Hancock was fouled with 2:10 remaining. She made her first free throw to end an 8 minute, 15 second drought, but missed the second.
“Both teams are known for defense and it was just defensive stop after defensive stop,” said Munson.
Lake Region got the ball back and with 1:52 to go, Craffey took center stage and hit a 3 to tie the score, as the large and vocal Lakers’ side of the gym erupted.
After Jackie Storey missed a jumper, Sydney Hancock rebounded. At the other end, Sarah Hancock’s 3 was off the mark, but Carter got the rebound. After Jackie Storey blocked her first attempt, Carter got the ball back and went up and was fouled by Storey with 1:22 remaining.
Carter had a chance to give Lake Region its first lead since the early moments, but both free throws were off the mark.
After Jackie Storey grabbed the rebound, Greely transitioned to offense and after working the ball around, Storey fed Munson, who had an open look and drained it, making it 37-35 Rangers.
“The ball ended up in my hands,” Munson said. “I’ve been working on that shot in practice. Getting it more consistent. It worked out for me, but I knew they have a lot of good shooters. I didn’t think that was the end.”
The Lakers indeed answered as the fearless Sydney Hancock drove into the lane and gave the ball to Carter for the tying layup.
Greely came back down the court and initially appeared confused, but as the clock went under 10 seconds, Munson drove, drew the defense and fed Jackie Storey in the lane. Storey didn’t hesitate, her shot was true with 7.8 seconds left and the Rangers had the lead for good.
“We knew we didn’t need to force anything,” Storey said. “I’ve been working on that shot all season. When I got the ball there, I was open and shot it, hoping it would go in. If not, I knew I had to play tough D. I haven’t had a winning shot before. It was pretty exciting.”
“That was ad-libbed,” Munson said. “Coach set us up with a play, but most of our plays we look for an open shot. It was pretty exciting.”
“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” Ashley Storey said. “We were in a free for all. She made it and made everyone go wild. It was a great moment.”
“We have plays that we run and I tell them it’s a blueprint, but I let them see what’s open and they take advantage of it,” Hilbrich added. “That elbow shot is a shot that I think will be bread and butter for her for a long time. The referee was standing right of me. I couldn’t see it.”
Lake Region had a different reaction.
“It wasn’t what we wanted at all,” said Lakers coach Paul True. “It was a little bit of a communication breakdown. That’s my responsibility. I was trying to get a foul there at the end (since we had one to give). We weren’t quick enough to make them inbound the ball again. Their guard penetrated, we helped a little bit too much and Jackie hit a big shot.”
Dangerous Lake Region did have one last chance, but Sydney Hancock had to race into the frontcourt as time wound down and her heave wasn’t even close.
Greely 39 Lake Region 37.
“We knew we didn’t want to foul or let them get a 3 off,” Munson said. “We had to play as good defense as we could for a few seconds. This is a big win. We knew going into it that it would be a big turning point for us if we could win. We still have games left, but this is big for us. I had a good feeling about the game. We were ready to play hard. I didn’t think we’d be up so much at halftime. They’ve been our rivals. It felt good to beat them. It’s been a big year for us. I think we started off big with our win over York.”
“We couldn’t let them shoot,” Ashley Storey said. “We had to get back. We couldn’t let them drive, shoot a 3, or foul them. It’s pretty big because since they’re one of the top teams. We knew we needed to beat them to get a higher ranking.”
“I just told them to keep playing the tenacious defense I knew they could play and it was theirs for the taking,” Hilbrich added. “They took care of the basketball and played defense. It was all about defense. Lake Region played a great game. We were neck-and-neck. One thing I love about this team is that they don’t quit. They know what they can do and they go out and perform. That’s a lot of fun for me.”
Ashley Storey, who plays like anything but a freshman, led all scorers with 19 points. She also had 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
“Ashley’s going to be a lot of fun the next three years,” said Hilbrich, in the understatement of the night.
Jackie Storey saved her best for last and wound up with 13 points. She also had four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Munson added four points and Nielsen had three. Senior Caroline Hamilton didn’t score, but had four steals. Beaulieu had three steals.
The Rangers were outrebounded, 22-18, made just 2-of-5 free throws and turned the ball over 19 times, but found a way to prevail.
“This was a total team effort,” Hilbrich said. “Every single one of them hustled the whole game. It was fun to watch. I’ve told them all year they have the ability to do this and play anyone in the league. This helps them understand they can play with anybody. They don’t quit. We have hustle and desire in spades.”
While Carter had a team-high 16 points and 17 boards for the Lakers, she had to fight for every basket and rebound.
“Obviously, she has to get used to playing against double and triple teams, but our other kids have to get more active than they were tonight to help them out,” True said. “We seem to get settled in one spot and get stagnant. That’s a problem.”
Greely didn’t expect to stop Carter, but it realized its goal of limiting her impact.
“Tiana’s a really good friend of mine,” Jackie Storey said. “She plays with me in AAU. I know she’s really good at rebounding. We knew we had to box out and keep her off the boards to be successful. Lake Region always plays a good game. They have a great coach. They have strong ball handlers and post players.”
“Coach initially put Jackie on Carter and she wanted her to front her,” Ashley Storey said. “I had to be there to help her out. She didn’t get many open looks. She got a bunch of rebounds, but we shut her down for the most part.”
“(Carter’s) an amazing player,” Hilbrich added. “With Ashley and Jackie, I feel like I’ve got really good bigs as well. They knew what they had to do and they helped each other out. They kept their hands up and they rebounded well. One of our focuses tonight was rebounding and not letting them get more than one shot. They did, but not often. We’ve stressed only letting them get one shot. We took care of the boards. That was pivotal.”
Sydney Hancock added 10 points (as well as three steals and three rebounds), Craffey six, Wandishin three and Sarah Hancock two.
Lake Region turned the ball over 22 times and only made 5-of-11 free throws.
“It’s a very tough loss,” True said. “We had some difficulties executing at the offensive end. They did a nice job defensively and made it difficult for us to score. I don’t think we executed well on the offensive end. We had (senior Allison Clark) go down yesterday, who was on the bench.”
Lake Region (still first, for now, in the Western Class B Heal Points standings) is at Fryeburg Tuesday and finishes the regular season at home versus Gray-New Gloucester Feb. 10. The Lakers will be one of the top seeds for the tournament (which begins for Western B girls’ teams Feb. 21), but still have work to do.
“We know anybody can beat anybody on any given night,” True said. “That’s been reinforced the past week and a half. Hopefully our kids will improve. I know we’ll play hard. We’ll keep battling. I’m looking at finishing second, assuming York wins out. I don’t think we can drop more than that unless we really drop the ball over the next two games. It’ll be a fun tournament. I’m looking forward to it.”
Greely (now third in the standings) goes to Gray-New Gloucester Tuesday and hosts Cape Elizabeth Feb. 10 to wrap up its schedule. The Rangers’ days of sneaking up on the opposition are long gone and they’ll be expected to make a deep tournament run.
They welcome the challenge.
“People will pay attention to us now,” Munson said. “We have a target on our backs now. It’ll be an exciting tournament.”
“This will hopefully bump us up so we don’t have to play a prelim game (the top four teams get a bye into the quarterfinals),” said Jackie Storey. “That would be a little less strenuous. It’s almost more fun to be the underdog and come back and show everyone who we are and what we can do. No one really thought we’d be anything with a new coach and all. The fact that we are where we are now, it’s fun to prove people wrong.”
“We have to keep practicing, believing in ourselves, take care of the basketball and do the fundamental things to win,” Hilbrich added. “I’m ecstatic for this win for them and what it does for their confidence. These kinds of wins are always good. Even down the road. The whole year’s been a lot of fun. From top to bottom, I have a really good group of kids.”
LR- 8 5 18 6- 37
G- 14 7 14 4- 39
LR- Carter 7-2-16, Sydney Hancock 4-1-10, Craffey 2-0-6, Wandishin 1-0-3, Sarah Hancock 0-2-2
G- A. Storey 9-1-19, J. Storey 6-1-13, Munson 2-0-4, Nielsen 1-0-3
LR (4) Craffey 2, Sydney Hancock, Wandishin 1
G (1) Nielsen 1
LR (22) Carter 17, Wandishin 2, Devoe, Sydney Hancock, VanLoan 1
G (18) A. Storey 10, J. Storey 4, Beaulieu 3, Hamilton 1
LR (9) Sydney Hancock 3, Carter, Wandishin 2, Craffey, Sarah Hancock 1
G (13) Hamilton 4, Beaulieu, A. Storey 3, Munson 2, J. Storey 1
LR (2) Carter 2
G (5) A. Storey 3, J. Storey 2