Holmes puts up 40 for Gorham, Greely battles but falls

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GORHAM—Of all the teams in all the Classes in the South this year, if any look on paper like rivals to the Rams, it’s the Rangers – and Tuesday night, rival Gorham Greely did, nipping at their heels throughout a ferocious matchup.

But the reigning AA Queens got the better of their visitors in the end. Despite volleying up a flurry of three-point attempts inside the last 10 seconds – they’d hit 13 already in the game, and needed another to force OT – the Rangers ultimately succumbed, 67-64.

“That’s kind of our game,” said Greely head coach Todd Flaherty, of his girls’ remarkable ability to knock down long-bombs. “We just wanted to come in and play our game. We got the score high and we wanted to run. That part worked out well.”

“I was expecting a game like we had,” said Gorham head coach Laughn Berthiaume. “We tried hard to defend the three-point line – they’ve got so many kids who can shoot the three – and that’s a difficult task. Even though we were making the effort to do it, they were breaking free, and they’ve got some tremendous shooters.”

If the game ball goes to any one player in this spectacle, it’s got to be Ram Mackenzie Holmes, who chugged through 40 points all by herself, nearly matching the combined output of powerhouse Greelyites Molly Chapin and Anna DeWolfe, who tallied 22 and 23 respectively.

“That was our mismatch,” Berthiaume said of Holmes. “They’ve got a number of shooters and we’ve got Mackenzie down low, so we had to try to defend their three and they had to try to defend us on the block. So both teams really got what they wanted, and it came down to the last shot.”

“We tried to do a couple things against Holmes,” said Flaherty, “but no matter what you do, she’s going to get hers, it looks like, most nights. We’re not very big. I probably missed the boat there; I could’ve helped our team a little more with some strategy.”

Holmes, who stands 6-foot-2, demurred regarding her own performance. She was, however, ready with praise for her teammates – and particularly for her fellow starters, Emily Esposito, Kristen Curley, Kaylea Lundin and Michelle Rowe.

“Espo – she can do everything,” Holmes said. “Kristen can shoot the three really well; Kaylea’s so smooth with the ball; Michelle is always so solid; and we have all of our people coming off the bench who are solid, and they can finish.”

Similarly, Holmes readily applauded the opposition: “We knew Greely was a great shooting team, as they showed,” she said. “The shooting was so on for them, as it always is. They’re a tough team.”

Holmes’s reach could punch a hole in the sky, and she puts it to good use inside and underneath–her designated haunts. She launched Gorham onto the scoreboard first, earning a layup in the opening moments. Greely answered immediately, tapping their treasure trove of dead-eyed outside shooters to drain the first of those 13 threes.

It would be the Rangers’ only lead all game: The Rams next broke into a critical run, battling to an 11-3 advantage on a three and a two by Lundin, as well as another two and two frees by Holmes herself.

“We were trying to slow it down on offense, don’t rush it,” said Holmes of the Rams’ approach. “Not try to get quick shots, just move the ball; I think we did a really good job of that.”

Still, this was no runaway victory for the Rams. The Rangers hashed another trio of threes in short order – and Emma Spoerri added a two – as the team clawed back to within one at 15-14. Espo, however, then drained a down-towner of her own – as if to say, “Hey, I can do that too, you know” – before slicing through the middle for an easy-looking layup to cap the first quarter at 23-16.

DeWolfe and teammate Isabel Porter added points – Porter’s on a three (go figure) and DeWolfe’s following a steal by Chapin – to begin the second. Holmes continued to machinate beneath the net, though, chewing through twos like Swedish Fish at the movies and allowing Gorham to inch further ahead again, 33-26. 

A Chapin three cut the Rangers’ deficit to 33-29 but Espo feeds to Holmes and Lundin both resulted in buckets as the Rams pulsed to 37-30. At the half, they stood on top, 39-33.

Gorham dashed further out – much further out, in fact – to start the third quarter. Espo danced along the baseline before dishing to Holmes, who made it 45-37; Lundin then leapt gazellishly and rolled in a two off her fingertips for 47-37. She added two more herself and Rowe assisted Holmes one another two to put Gorham in the lead by 14, 51-37.

“Those runs were important because they got us our momentum,” said Holmes her her team’s eruptions to start the first and second halves. “We used those to get our intensity up. They’re a great shooting team, so they were able to get back into it, but getting those runs helped us keep working till the end.”

Flaherty remarked on Gorham’s big runs: “It starts for us on the defensive end,” he said. “We realized we needed to get in the passing lanes and making passing and catching difficult. Then we can get into our transition game, and that’s where we’re our best. We just had some lulls, where they kind of did what they wanted offensively, and that’s when they went on their spurts. We can’t let them run their stuff; they’re too good for that.”

Up by double-digits, the Rams appeared to be on a confident roll – perhaps even set to cruise with comparative ease into the winner’s circle. They knew better, however, than to take the Rangers for granted, even for a moment.

“With a team like Greely, there’s no lead that’s safe,” said Berthiaume. “You try to get a good possession every time, and when we did that, we went on those little spurts. When we didn’t, we gave them extra possessions without us getting a shot. And again, those three-pointers stack up in a hurry, so they were able to come back quickly.”

Greely continued to plunk home three-pointers, and as the third quarter morphed into the fourth quarter, those artillery blasts allowed them to catch up once more. Chapin drained a three, then added a pair of twos before Porter hashed two from the line and DeWolfe hashed another three. That run put the Rangers within striking distance of their hosts, 55-52.

“Yeah, it did,” said Holmes, asked if the Rangers’ raining a baker’s dozen of threes across the evening ever began to feel exhausting. “But we were expecting it, coming out. They were hitting three after three – at that point, there was really nothing we could do but just keep trying to close out. They’re a great team.”

“I don’t know if we defended the inside as much as they just didn’t go in there,” Berthiaume said of Greely’s loving long-distance relationship with the hoop. “They set up their offense; they’ve got five guards that can shoot it and they play well together – they’re all unselfish and they pass the ball. They were making that extra pass and finding the open shooter, which made it difficult.”

Both teams’ passing looked sharp at times, although both teams also made some ill-advised ball-movement decisions as well. Berthiaume acknowledged as much: “There were times when the game got a little fast, and we need to work on being able to take care of the basketball a little bit better in some of those situations. But you know, it’s still only third game of the season for us. We’ve had some very competitive games early. It certainly has showed us a lot that we can learn, and that’s what we’re going to try to do, keep getting better.”

Gradually, Gorham pulled ahead again, reaching 63-54 on an Espo deuce. Espo, who’s been the team’s offensive leader for years now, finished with 15 on the night. She was, however, at least as valuable in distributing the ball to the rest of her herd. 

“Espo had her 15 points, she had a number of assists, rebounds – she did everything for us today, and she didn’t come off the floor,” said Berthiaume. “When the ball’s in her hands, she’s a calming influence; she gets us into our stuff. I have a lot of confidence in her. She doesn’t need to score all the time, although she can. She made the right passes today, and got the ball where it needed to get to, and that was into Mackenzie’s hands around the rim.”

Teams know to cover Esposito heavily, as Flaherty noted and the Rangers tried to do. “We just tried to play good, man-to-man defense,” Flaherty said. “We put our best defender – Molly Chapin, for the most part – on her, and we tried to help when we could and scramble around her.”

Greely made one final, mighty push as the clock wended toward zero. A three by Brooke Obar and a two by DeWolfe narrowed the score to 67-64. Inside the last 10 seconds, the Rangers found themselves on the attack a last time. Determinedly they cried havoc: DeWolfe and Co. let slip a methodical barrage of three point attempts, but to no avail. The first missed, but the team kicked the ball outside for another try; the second missed, and yet again they cycled expertly beyond the circle; finally, the third missed as well. The buzzer sounded; Gorham had won.

In addition to Holmes’s 40 and Espo’s 15, Lundin finished with 13. On the Greely side, Obar contributed 10.

The Rams advanced on the win to 3-0. Gorham opened their season with a thorough crushing of neighboring Westbrook, 64-26, then picked up another W vs. South Portland six days later, 44-31. They drop in on Bonny Eagle on Thursday the 22nd and Portland a week after that.

Greely, now 4-1, has likewise walloped their every opponent thus far: Cape Elizabeth 78-45 on Dec. 9, York 72-42 three days later, Brunswick 65-46 on the 15th and Yarmouth 54-37 soon after. The Rangers next hit the road for a stretch of their schedule that crosses into the New Year. They travel to Morse on the 22nd, for instance.

Gorhamite Kaylea Lundin escapes Greely defender Moira Train and makes for the lane.

Greely’s Isabel Porter manages – somehow – to get a hand on a ball Gorhamite Mackenzie Holmes intends for the bucket.

Emily Esposito eyeballs the rim; Greely defender Molly Chapin trails by just a step.

Michelle Rowe lays up a ball for Gorham.

Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes acsends toward the net with Greely defender Moira Train in tow.

Alexis Fotter takes to the air for Gorham; Moira Train attempts to shoot Fotter down.

Having outpaced Emily Esposito, Moira Train lays up a ball.

Anna DeWolfe tallied led the Rangers’ attack with 23.

Kristen Curley thwarts Isabel Porter from behind.

Brook Obar lofts up an inside jumper for Greely; Courtney Brent defends for Gorham.

Greely’s Brooke Obar slips past Gorham defender Courtney Brent.

Emily Esposito works low on the attack for Gorham, guarded by Greelylite Emma Spoerri.

The Lady Rangers stand unite for the National Anthem prior to the start of play.