More history for Freeport! Falcons edge Poland to reach elusive regional final

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Freeport’s players rush the court in joy and relief at the final horn of Thursday’s 40-38 victory over Poland in the Class B South semifinals. The Falcons advanced to the regional final for the first time in any class since 1976 and will battle Lake Region Saturday at 1 p.m., for the right to play for the state title.

Jason Gendron photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 40 Poland 38

F- 14 8 9 9- 40
P- 11 10 7 10- 38

F- Goodman 5-2-13, Driscoll 5-2-12, Smith 3-0-6, Rinaldi 0-3-3, Bogue Marlow 1-0-2, Cormier 1-0-2, Gould 1-0-2

P- Theriault 6-6-18, Seeley 3-4-10, Brousseau 2-2-6, Gagne 1-0-2, Vallee 1-0-2

3-pointers:
F (1) Goodman 1

Turnovers:
F- 9
P- 25

Free throws
F:  7-10
P: 12-14

PORTLAND—Break out your platform shoes and bicentennial quarters, Freeport’s girls’ basketball team has turned the clock back to 1976.

And the history-making Falcons aren’t done yet in their quest for gold.

Thursday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, third-ranked Freeport took the court for its first semifinal round game in any class in 41 seasons and once again, the Falcons were pushed to the brink by a talented opponent, this time by second-seeded Poland, but once again, despite giving their coaches and fans some heart palpitations, they managed to make history and advance.

Freeport forced five first quarter turnovers and grabbed a 14-11 lead behind six points from senior Jessie Driscoll.

A 3-pointer from senior Allie Goodman put the Falcons up by four, but the Knights, behind senior standout Nathalie Theriault, went on an 8-0 run before a late 5-0 Freeport surge, capped by a jumper from Megan Cormier, gave it the lead for good and a 22-21 advantage at halftime.

The Falcons looked to pull away in the third quarter and when Goodman made consecutive hoops, they had a 31-23 lead, but Poland got the final five points of the frame to make it a three-point game entering the fourth period.

There, the Knights refused to go quietly, but Freeport wouldn’t let it slip away.

A driving layup from sophomore Catriona Gould with 5:02 to play gave the Falcons a 35-30 lead, but Theriault converted a three-point play and after Theriault fouled out, Poland cut the deficit to 36-35 on a jumper from sophomore Alyssa Gagne with 3:20 to go.

Falcons senior Taylor Rinaldi countered with two foul shots, but Gagne set up senior Jessica Seeley for a layup with 35.1 seconds to go and the Knights were again within one.

Goodman put Freeport on the brink of victory with two free throws 12 seconds later, but a Seeley free throw made it a two-point game and when Poland stole the ball late, it had a chance to tie or win it before a last-second turnover made it official and the Falcons held on to prevail, 40-38.

Goodman had a team-high 13 points, Driscoll added 12 and Freeport improved to 16-4, ended Poland’s season at 15-5 and in the process, advanced to the regional final for the first time in 42 years, where it will face No. 4 Lake Region (15-5) in the Class B South Final Saturday at 1 p.m., at Cross Insurance Arena.

“We’re starting a new tradition,” said Falcons coach Mike Hart. “We left town today with a police escort and a street lined with parents and fans. The girls are making great memories for themselves. They’ll never forget these moments.” 

Finally

Freeport won the Class C state title in 1976, in just the second year of the girls’ tournament and the next year, the Falcons got to the Western Class C semifinals.

That February, Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated as president, The Oakland Raiders had just beaten the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, the movie “Slap Shot” had just been released and Manfred Mann’s “Blinded By The Light” topped the charts.

The Falcons didn’t make it back to that round until Thursday.

Freeport came in to the season hoping to do big things. After losing in the quarterfinals two years in a row to Gray-New Gloucester, the 2017-18 Falcons had to deal with expectations for the first time and met them in a big way, going 14-4 and earning the No. 3 seed in the region before holding off sixth-ranked Wells, 46-42, in a compelling quarterfinal Tuesday (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories).

Poland, meanwhile, had a terrific year as well, also going 14-4, then defeating No. 7 Mountain Valley, 59-29, in the quarterfinals.

On Jan. 9, the Falcons won, 55-42, at the Knights.

The teams had no playoff history.

Thursday, they produced a nailbiter that Freeport barely managed to win.

Both teams started slowly, combining to miss their first five shots, then they both settled in and the first quarter was back-and-forth.

A driving left-handed layup from Theriault broke the ice 90 seconds in.

Freeport’s first points came on a floater from Goodman which rattled around and in.

Poland got two free throws from Seeley and a layup from senior Morgan Brousseau, off an inbounds pass from Theriault, made it 6-2 Poland.

The Falcons came back on a bank shot from Driscoll and a Driscoll runner off the glass to tie it.

“Nerves come into play, but once you step on the court, they wash away and it’s game time,” Driscoll said.

After Theriault converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw), Goodman countered with a leaner, but Theriault took a pass from senior Sarah Moody and made a layup for an 11-8 lead.

The last six points of the quarter then went to Freeport.

Off an inbounds set, Goodman passed to Driscoll for a layup. Then, after a blocked shot by Cormier at one end, senior Johanna Bogue Marlow, the hero of the quarterfinal victory, fed sophomore Caroline Smith for a layup and the Falcons’ first lead. 

With 45.6 seconds on the clock, Smith buried a long jumper and the Falcons had a 14-11 lead after one quarter. 

Freeport forced five turnovers and got six points from Driscoll to counter seven points from Theriault.

In the second quarter, the game remained close.

Two Theriault free throws started the frame and after Goodman knocked down a 3-pointer, Brousseau hit a jumper in the lane and Theriault drove for a layup to tie it, 17-17.

A Theriault leaner off the glass put Poland back on top and Theriault threw a long pass to Seeley for a layup to cap the 8-0 run with 4:35 left in the half.

The Knights wouldn’t score again before halftime, however, and the Falcons got the final five points of the half to retake the lead.

After a steal, Driscoll made a layup to end a 3 minute, 19 second drought.

After Driscoll added a free throw, Cormier got a baseline jumper to rattle in with 25.1 seconds on the clock and Freeport clung to a 22-21 advantage at halftime.

In the first half, Driscoll led the Falcons with nine points, while Goodman added seven. Theriault led all scorers with 13 points, but Poland’s nine turnovers, compared to just four for Freeport, were the difference.

The third period saw the Falcons open up their biggest lead before the Knights roared back.

Freeport started fast, as Bogue Marlow drove for a layup and after a Knights turnover, Driscoll took a long pass from Smith, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to make it 27-21.

With 3:56 left in the quarter, Theriault set up sophomore Sophia Vallee for a layup on the fastbreak to end the Falcons’ 10-0 run and an 8:39 drought.

Goodman countered with a putback, then Goodman hit a baseline jumper to give Freeport its biggest lead.

Poland responded, however, as Theriault made two free throws and Seeley hit one before Theriault fed Seeley for a late layup to cut the deficit to 31-28 after three quarters. 

In the fourth, nothing was decided until the final horn.

Just three seconds into the final stanza, Theriault was called for a charge, her fourth foul.

Smith extended the lead with a short jump shot, but with 5:50 to play, Brousseau made two free throws.

After Gould drove for a layup for Freeport, Theriault collected a rebound (the Falcons and their fans wanted an over the back fifth foul but didn’t get it), put it in while being fouled and added the free throw to cut the deficit to 35-33.

Then, with 4:08 left, Theriault did pick up her fifth foul, as senior Taylor Rinaldi drew it and Rinaldi added the free throw for a three-point lead.

“We keep track of fouls and we know when a player is in trouble,” Driscoll said. “(Taylor) did a great job.”

The Knights answered as Gagne hit a clutch jumper, but with 2:58 to go, Rinaldi was fouled again and this time, she sank both attempts.

After a Brousseau miss, Freeport turned the ball over and Poland had another chance, but Driscoll stole the ball back.

With 1 minute left, Goodman was fouled, but she missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Knights still had life.

And they took advantage, as Gagne set up Seeley for a layup which make it a one-point game again, 38-37, with 35.1 seconds remaining.

Twelve seconds later, Goodman got fouled and had another chance to extend the lead and this time, she did so, making both free throws.

And the game still wasn’t over.

With 10.4 seconds remaining, Seeley drew a foul and made the first free throw, but on the second attempt, Poland was called for a lane violation and the Falcons got the ball.

All Freeport had to do was inbound it and run out the clock.

The Falcons did the first part, but not the second, as they threw it away and Gagne threw a pass up ahead to Seeley, who had a chance to tie the game as time wound down.

Seeley drove to the basket and put up a shot that bounced off and the whistle blew.

For a split second, it appeared a foul might be called, but instead, Seeley was called for traveling and with just 0.7 on the clock, that made it official.

Freeport inbounded the ball, the horn sounded and at 2:21 p.m., the biggest victory in the modern history of the program was in the books.

Falcons 40 Knights 38.

“It’s incredible, a weight lifted off our shoulders,” Driscoll said. “This is where we wanted to be. It’s a surreal moment to be here.”

“We love each other and believe in each other,” said Smith. “It was very nervewracking at the end. I don’t want any more games like that. They shave a few years off our lives.”

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Goodman said. “It was exhilaration (at the end). All of our hard work has paid off. To experience this with my teammates is great. It was very nervewracking. We had to stay with it and play hard at the end.”

“Credit to Poland,” Hart added. “They played hard and didn’t give up. They came at us. We started to play a little bit not to lose, which isn’t good at the end of a game. At the end of the day, it takes a lot of guts to get through all of that and still come out with a win. I told the girls, I can’t express how proud I am. They’re resilient. They didn’t give up on either side of the ball today.

“Playing Wells in the first round was great for us. I wanted to see how we reacted to a neutral site environment. That was great preparation for today. I think this is toughest conference that basketball has to offer. From top to bottom any given night, any team can win or lose.”

Seven different girls scored for Freeport, who got clutch contributions from all eight girls who saw the floor.

“We’re an incredibly deep team,” Driscoll said. “Everyone contributes in their own specific way.” 

“Cat made some big plays and Taylor drawing (Theriault’s) fifth foul was a huge moment,” Goodman said.

“Everyone came to play,” Hart added. “I have a core group of kids who have played for me for four years. It’s about experience and getting better. Girls who didn’t play today work hard in practice and their play in practice gives others the opportunity to come out and play on the big stage and that shouldn’t be forgotten.” 

Goodman led the way with 13 points.

Driscoll added a dozen, to go with a game-high five steals.

Smith finished with six points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Rinaldi had three critical free throws, while Bogue Marlow, Cormier and Gould all added two points.

The Falcons hit 7 of 10 free throws and only turned the ball over nine times, while forcing 25.

“We spend a lot of time working on defense,” Smith said. “Our intensity was the difference.”

“We didn’t convert a lot of turnovers into points and that’s why the game became tighter and tighter,” Hart said.

Poland got 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals from Theriault in her swan song.

“We knew she’s an incredible player,” Smith said. “She had more than half their points at halftime. We tried to keep focusing on her.” 

“Nathalie is a heck of a ball player,” said Hart. “It’s fun to watch her compete.” 

Seeley added 10 points and four rebounds, Brousseau had six points and 10 boards and Gagne and Vallee each scored two points.

The Knights had a 33-17 rebounding advantage and made 12 of 14 free throws, but fell just short.

All eyes on Saturday

Freeport is 32 minutes from regional glory, but a grueling tournament run will feature its toughest foe Saturday afternoon.

The Falcons enjoyed a 59-47 win Feb. 2 at Lake Region (behind 22 points from Goodman and 18 from Smith), but the Lakers are flying high after upsetting top-ranked, defending state champion Gray-New Gloucester in their semifinal Thursday, 34-31.

The teams met just once previously in the tournament, a 65-29 Lake Region win in the 2013 Western B quarterfinals.

Freeport will have its hands full, but believes it can keep its storybook run going.

“It’s going to be incredible,” Smith said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a really long time. We’ll stay focused.”

“We have to play the way we’re capable of playing and make big plays,” Driscoll said. “We’ve come so far. We’ll really bring it. We’ll be confident. We believe in each other. I love these girls to death. We’re there for each other and we don’t want it to end.”

“We have to get better at end of game situations, but we have a great opportunity for ourselves,” Hart added. “We have holes we need to plug. We have to continue to get better and we have to come to play. Lake Region’s tough.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Freeport senior Jessie Driscoll shoots over Poland senior Jessica Seeley. Driscoll had 12 points.

Freeport sophomore Caroline Smith launches a long shot. 

Freeport senior Allie Goodman floats a shot over the Poland defense. Goodman had a team-high 13 points.

Freeport senior Jessie Driscoll has a shot blocked by Poland senior Nathalie Theriault.

Freeport sophomore Catriona Gould makes a key late layup.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.