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Greely digs deep to beat Wells; York next (again)

Sports

Greely digs deep to beat Wells; York next (again)

PORTLAND—One of these days, people are going to start giving the Greely girls' basketball team the credit it's due.

Until then, the Rangers will just keep on doing what they do best.

Winning.

Third-ranked Greely raced to a 17-7 lead over No. 6 Wells in the teams' Western Class B quarterfinal round matchup Tuesday afternoon at the Portland Exposition Building, but the Warriors battled back and led by a point twice in the second half.

Ultimately, the Rangers, thanks to their great balance, were able to hold on, forcing three turnovers and making 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute with the game on the line en route to a 43-38 victory.

Junior Jackie Storey led the Rangers with 11 points, while senior Caroline Hamilton hit some clutch shots early and senior Haylee Munson, junior Caton Beaulieu and freshman Ashley Storey all made critical plays late as Greely improved to 16-3, ended Wells' year at 14-6 and set up yet another showdown with its recent tournament obstacle York, Thursday at 3 p.m., in the semifinals at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

"I feel like we've been overlooked a little bit all year long," said Greely's first-year coach Kim Hilbrich. "We've grown by leaps and bounds this year. A lot has happened. I've been learning as well. The girls wanted to win. They wanted this. It was their desire and drive that got those turnovers."

Underappreciated

Greely got to the Western B semifinals a year ago before losing to nemesis York. This winter, the Rangers, under 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), visiting Yarmouth (56-43), visiting Lake Region (39-37), host Gray-New Gloucester (44-33) and visiting Cape Elizabeth (41-26) to wind up 15-3, good for the No. 3 seed.

Wells, which went 9-10 last year, losing to Gray-New Gloucester in the preliminary round, followed up its Opening Night win with a 48-33 triumph at Poland. The Warriors were then upset, 42-39, by visiting Yarmouth. After downing visiting Old Orchard Beach (54-36), Wells rallied for a 45-44 home win over Freeport before losing at Gray-New Gloucester (58-53). A 44-27 win at Fryeburg was followed by a 52-44 home loss to Lake Region. The Warriors' up and down play continued when they won at Cape Elizabeth (33-26), then fell at York (49-32). Wells then put it all together, rattling off seven straight victories: 53-49 over visiting Traip, 48-38 at Freeport, 47-43 over visiting Falmouth, 47-42 at Waynflete, 40-39 over visiting Cape Elizabeth, 39-38 at Falmouth and 42-37 at Traip. The regular season ended with a 34-27 home loss to York, but the Warriors went into the playoffs at No. 6 with a 13-5 mark.

Last Wednesday, Wells pulled away late to knock off No. 11 Freeport, 50-33, in a preliminary round contest, earning a trip to the Expo as a reward.

The teams had only met once before in the postseason, a 49-37 Warriors' victory in the 2002 quarterfinals.

Greely entered the game confident, knowing it come a long way since its loss at Wells way back on Dec. 9.

"That loss was motivation throughout the season," Beaulieu said. "We used it to fire us up. We learned from that and we were more ready this time. We wanted revenge."

"Wells has come along way, like we have," Hilbrich said. "They're well coached. They're a very good team. When we played them last time, we were without Caton and Jackie fouled out."

Tuesday, the Rangers came out strong and took a healthy lead.

Hamilton set up Jackie Storey for a layup on which she was fouled and Storey added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play to break the ice. Hamilton then took a pass from Beaulieu and made a layup to make it 5-0.

The Warriors got their first points when sophomore Alison Furness made two free throws, but Munson set up Hamilton for a 3 and in transition, Hamilton passed to Storey for a layup and a 10-2 advantage with the game not even three minutes old.

Wells came around and showed some life, thanks to play of sophomore Nicole Moody off the bench. Moody hit a left-handed runner off the glass, then set up senior Jeni Wallingford for a 3, which made it a 10-7 game.

Undaunted, Greely ran off seven straight points as Munson hit a jumper in the lane, Munson set up Hamilton for another 3 and Storey passed to her sister Ashley for a layup, giving the Rangers a 17-7 bulge. A jumper from Moody as time wound down pulled the Warriors within eight at quarter's end.

Greely wasn't able to keep up the intensity in the second period.

Moody converted a three-point play 39 seconds in, but Rangers senior Ellie Weickert made a baseline jumper. Then, off an inbounds pass, Furness was spotted wide open under the basket and senior Kelly Beisswanger got her the ball for a layup. Moody added two foul shots to make it 19-16.

After Weickert hit another jumper, Beisswanger again set up Furness for a layup with a pretty pass.

The first half then came to a frenetic finish as the Beisswanger-Furness combo struck again for another layup with 21.8 seconds to go. Ten seconds later, at the other end, Munson banked home a floater, but back raced the Warriors and with 1.7 seconds showing, Beisswanger made a leaner and Wells was only down one at halftime, 23-22.

"I think we got a little comfortable with our lead and stopped doing things that were working," Hamilton said. "They wanted to win and figured out what worked for them. They played really well."

Forty-one seconds into the second half, the Warriors took the lead for the first time as Furness set up senior Mariyah Health for a layup. Jackie Storey took a pass from Munson and answered with a layup after a nice move, but with 5:29 remaining in the third period, after a steal, Wallingford took a pass from senior Abby Moody and made a layup to put Wells up, 26-25.

With 4:28 left, Munson scored on a driving layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to put Greely ahead to stay, 28-26. Senior Courtney Nielsen (from Beaulieu) followed with a 3 and Munson scored on a driving layup to end the 8-0 run and make it 33-26 Rangers.

A free throw from Nicole Moody ended a 5 minute, 24 second scoring drought and pulled the Warriors within 33-27 heading for the fourth.

There, Wells refused to go quietly, but Greely was able to hold on.

A driving layup from Jackie Storey pushed the lead to eight. Moody answered with a driving leaner, Wallingford made a foul shot and Heath added two free throws and suddenly the Rangers' lead was only three, 35-32.

Making matters worse, Beaulieu and Jackie Storey both had four fouls, but they remained on the floor in this do-or-die contest.

"I fouled out of the last Wells game," said Storey. "I knew I'd have that issue. I had to be careful and not foul, but I didn't do too well in the first half. I just didn't let it get to my head."

"We had foul trouble all game," Hilbrich said. "I just decided I'd let them play and if they fouled out, we'd deal with that, but I wanted the best I had on the floor."

With 3:42 left, Greely got a little breathing room when Beaulieu took an inbounds pass, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to push the lead to six.

"We saw the middle was open," Beaulieu said. "After our posts played through, since the defense puts a lot of emphasis on Jackie and Ashley. I saw the middle was open. Coach kept saying to go up into them and go up strong and I'd get a foul. I got the basket and a foul too."

Again, the Warriors answered as Moody made a layup after a steal and Beisswanger, off an inbounds play, passed to Heath for a layup, making it 38-36 Rangers.

After a Munson miss, Wells had the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead, but the Warriors turned it over when Moody tried to get through a triple team and traveled. After Greely failed to inbound the ball within five seconds, the Warriors had another chance, but Munson stole the ball and Hilbrich called timeout with 47.9 seconds to play.

"It was huge for us to force turnovers" Hilbrich said. "I don't think it was the person catching the ball, I think it was the pressure defense on the player throwing the ball."

Ashley Storey got the inbounds pass and was fouled. She hadn't scored since the first period or attempted a free throw all game, so going to the line for a one-and-one in that situation, as a freshman, had to be harrowing.

Yet Storey never flinched.

She calmly buried the first attempt, then did the same with the second to give the Rangers slight breathing room.

Good thing because Furness took a pass from Moody and hit a leaner off the backboard to again make it a two-point contest, 40-38, with 28 seconds to go.

With 20.5 seconds remaining, Greely turned the ball over and Wells had an opportunity to tie or win.

Inbounding under their basket, the Warriors tried for another quick hitter for a layup, but the pass went through Heath's hands and was snared by Hamilton.

"We were in our zone out-of-bounds play," Hamilton said. "There had been layups all game down low. We packed it in down low. I was up top. I read their outlet pass and got it."

Hamilton passed the ball to Jackie Storey and she was fouled with 15 seconds to go.

Storey, like her little sister, was true on both free throws and it was 42-38.

"At the beginning of the season, we did free throws and we'd have to run if we didn't make them," Storey said. "I knew they were trying to foul. When I got the ball, I held my elbows out. I knew they'd foul me. I wanted to do it for the team."

Moody's bid at the other end was blocked out of bounds by Ashley Storey. Hamilton then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled with 6.9 seconds left. She made the first free throw, but missed the second.

"In practice, I'm one of the best free throw shooters," said Hamilton. "I got the first one, got the roll. I didn't mean to miss the second, but time came off the clock."

And the Warriors had run out of time as the final horn sounded.

Greely 43 Wells 38.

"We knew coming in from the last time we played that we'd have to deal with pressing," Beaulieu said. "Coach prepared us well to beat the press. We had the right cuts most of the time. We wanted to hold them to one shot. Everyone in the post boxed out to try to keep them to one shot. We were pretty calm the whole time. If you get rattled in the last minute, it can turn the game around. We focused on keeping our cool."

"It was a tough one," said Storey. "Coach made the analogy that this starts the second half of our season. We started out with the same team and had a different outcome. We didn't play our best game, but we did play as a team and that got us through this one. When we play as a team, we're hard to stop."

"They played hard the last quarter for me," Hilbrich said. "That was really good. We had a freshman make some pivotal free throws. We saw what that freshman's made of. I was really excited about that. We work a lot on free throws. We expect to make them at the end. I could smile because we had people where we wanted at the end to shoot those shots. I'd like to jump out early all the time and keep the lead. Unfortunately, we didn't. We almost let it slip away."

The Rangers had seven girls score, paced by Jackie Storey's 11 points. Storey also had two rebounds and a steal.

"We're playing together as a team," Storey said. "We're close and that helps us. We always say defense wins games. It did tonight. We stress that it's not all about scoring. Rebounds, assists and steals are just as important. There are other things beside scoring you can do for the team."

Hamilton added nine points and four rebounds.

"We have each other's backs," said Hamilton. "We have players who will drop 10 a night. No one will score 20, although Ashley could. We're really a team."

Munson also had nine points (along with four boards and a pair of steals). Ashley Storey (who had a game high 12 rebounds and two blocks) and Weickert both added four points, while Beaulieu (three boards, two steals) and Nielsen each finished with three.

Greely, which had a 25-18 rebounding advantage, committed 19 turnovers, but made 8-of-11 free throws.

For Wells, Nicole Moody starred, scoring 14 points in a reserve role. Furness added 10, Heath and Wallingford both had six, while Beisswanger had two (along with five boards and three steals). Abby Moody didn't score, but finished with five rebounds and three steals.

The Warriors turned the ball over 14 times and shot 9-of-14 from the charity stripe.

Deja vu

Next up for Greely is York (15-4, after its quarterfinal round win over Gray-New Gloucester).

The Rangers finally ended a nine-game losing streak to the Wildcats Dec. 13 at home, then lost at York Jan. 24.

Greely and York have played seven previous times in the playoffs, with the Wildcats leading, 4-3. York has beaten Greely in each of the past three tournaments: 49-30 in the 2009 regional final, 50-38 in the 2010 regional final and 46-15 in last year's semifinal round.

Suffice it to say the Rangers are sick and tired of losing to York at the Civic Center.

This could be the year that hex comes to an end.

"We want to play them again," said Beaulieu. "We have to keep pressuring their guards and make it hard for them to enter it to their two strong post players. We have to not let them get open shots, hold them to one shot. We have to play intense defense and the offense will come from that. We've been under the radar the whole time. Hopefully we can get three more wins out of the season. Every practice, every game, we work hard. We push each other. That helps a lot."

"For me, it would be great because the past three years, I've  lost to them," Hamilton said. "It would make it better to beat them. I'm very confident. I love my team. I think we can go all the way, but so many other teams can do it too."

"We've seen a lot of them," said Storey. "We got our first win against them earlier in the season since before I was playing. York's knocked us out three times. We haven't really gotten our redemption. It would be extra sweet to beat them at the Civic Center."

Hilbrich expects Greely to be up to the task.

"We'll practice hard and make sure we don't make mistakes like we did today," she said. "I'm excited. My kids want to play the best."

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

Photo: Keith Thompson / For The Forecaster

Greely junior Caton Beaulieu goes up for a second half shot during the Rangers' 43-38 win over Wells in Tuesday's Western Class B quarterfinal. The Rangers will next face York Thursday in the semifinals.

Photo: Keith Thompson / For The Forecaster

Greely freshman Ashley Storey uses her size advantage near the basket.