Freeport drops a heartbreaker
FREEPORT—The Freeport girls' basketball team is getting close.
To being one of the top contenders in Western Class B.
The Falcons hosted perennial power York Thursday night in a game that featured everything from the smallest player on the floor looming large on her birthday, stars living up to billing and plenty of momentum changes.
Freeport overcame a sluggish start to lead by as many as eight points in the second quarter and 32-28 at halftime, but the Wildcats started the second half on a 9-0 run to retake the lead. With less than four minutes to play, York enjoyed a 51-43 advantage, but these Falcons refuse to quit and when junior standout Nina Davenport scored on a putback with 1:45 remaining, they had a 52-51 lead.
Unfortunately for the home folks, the Wildcats answered as their standout, senior Emily Campbell, fed freshman Chloe Smedley, in her first career start, for the winning layup with 1:03 to go. After a Davenport free throw went in-and-out, York senior Ruby Cribby added two foul shots with 11 seconds left, but Freeport had one last chance and as time expired, junior Venessa Lee threw up a 3-point prayer that went halfway down the cylinder before popping back out, giving the Wildcats a palpitating 55-52 triumph and a 6-0 record and dropping the Falcons to 2-3.
"It was like a tournament atmosphere tonight," said Freeport's first-year coach Jim Seavey. "I just told the kids that this was part of the learning curve, learning to win a game like that. I'm guessing in years past, Freeport would've packed up the tent down eight points in the fourth quarter. Not only did we come back, but we had a one-point lead and we had an opportunity to win it. We had an unlucky turnover at halfcourt and an in-and-out 3-pointer from somebody who doesn't normally shoot 3s. We'll be better for it in the long run."
Climbing the ladder
Freeport was a playoff team last winter, losing in the preliminary round, and expected to be a challenger this season. Part of that optimism is due to a lengthy list of returners and part is Seavey joining the program after leading two different schools (Greely and Scarborough) to Gold Balls.
The Falcons couldn't have asked for a more auspicious debut, dominating host North Yarmouth Academy, 66-4 (no typo). Freeport was then humbled by losses to visiting Cape Elizabeth (45-33) and host Lake Region (45-27), before getting back in the win column Tuesday (52-33) over visiting Wells.
York, the 2010 Class B state champion, a regional finalist in 2011 and a semifinalist last winter, hasn't missed a beat this season. The Wildcats won their first five outings: 52-38 over visiting Fryeburg, 39-34 over visiting Greely (avenging last year's playoff ouster), 48-39 at Poland, 70-47 over visiting Yarmouth and 54-27 at Traip.
Last season, Freeport gave host York fits before dropping a 55-49 decision three days before Christmas.
Thursday, the Falcons did it again and this time, almost enjoyed their first win over the Wildcats this century.
Just 16 seconds in, the visitors grabbed the lead on a 3-pointer from freshman Shannon Todd and a little over a minute later, Campbell added a driving layup for a quick 5-0 lead.
Then, Freeport got it going.
Senior Leigh Wyman and 5-foot junior Ashley Richardson (playing on her 17th birthday) both scored layups to cut the deficit to 5-4. After Campbell answered with a 3, Davenport got on the score sheet with a pair of free throws, but a jumper by Todd pushed the York lead to 10-6.
The Falcons kept the pressure on and after a leaner from senior Aubrey Pennell, Wyman drained a 3 just inside the final minute of the first quarter to give Freeport its first lead. Campbell countered with a 3-ball for the Wildcats, but with 12 seconds to go, Davenport sank a 3 and the hosts had a 14-13 advantage after one period.
The Falcons continued to play and shoot well in the second stanza.
A putback from Davenport got the quarter started. Strabley then made her presence felt with a free throw and after Davenport scored on another putback, Strabley made two more foul shots to make it 18-16.
Davenport then converted an old-fashioned three-point play, scoring on a leaner, drawing the third foul on Strabley, then hitting the free throw. After Campbell scored on a runner, Pennell converted a three-point play and with 5 minutes to go before halftime, Pennell sank two more free throws to give Freeport its biggest lead, 26-18.
At that point, the Wildcats were on the ropes with several players in foul trouble, but the Falcons couldn't open up a healthier lead.
Todd banked home a 3 and after Richardson made a layup, Cribby sank two free throws. Richardson answered with a baseline jumper, but sophomore Samantha Robinson made a free throw and Campbell converted a three-point play to make it a one possession game, 30-27.
With 1:24 to go in the half, Davenport hit a jumper, but that would be the Falcons' last points for quite awhile. A foul shot by sophomore Paige McElwain pulled York within 32-28 at the break.
In the first half, Davenport (14 points, eight rebounds) and Campbell (13 points) lived up to billing, but Freeport had also been bolstered by the play of Richardson, while the Wildcats, playing without senior center Marquis MacGlashing (who missed the game due to a death in the family) had been able to hang around thanks in large part to the play of Smedley and Todd.
"(Freeport) beat our press relatively easily and got it to the weak side and we didn't adjust well to that," said longtime York coach Rick Clark. "We missed Marquis immensely. She's the anchor of our defense. She's a talker, a fiery one. If she was in the middle, that wouldn't have happened. We had to spread out as a result of that."
As an experienced tournament team, it wasn't shocking that York came out and made a statement to begin the second half. What was pleasantly surprising was the way the Falcons answered.
Smedley led the rally at the start of the third period, scoring on a putback and after Cribby made two foul shots to tie the score, hitting two of her own to give the Wildcats their first lead since the first quarter. Smedley then converted a three-point play with 5:47 left int he quarter and just like that, York had a 37-32 advantage.
Making matters worse for the hosts, Pennell was whistled for her fourth foul with 48 seconds later, but without their floor general, the Falcons managed to hang tough.
A layup by Davenport with 4:36 left in the third snapped a 4 minute, 48 second scoring drought and the Wildcats' 10-0 run, but Cribby answered with a putback. Davenport scored on a bank shot, but Todd made a layup. Then, Davenport hit a jumper and Richardson (who was serenaded with "Happy Birthday" by the crowd at halftime) made a layup to pull Freeport back within a point, but a clutch 3 from York junior Anne Graziano gave the visitors a 44-40 lead with eight minutes to go.
The fourth period would be back-and-forth as both veteran coaches relished their chess match. Seavey put Pennell back on the floor, often pulling her when the Falcons went on defense and getting her back in the game on offense.
Initially, however, the Wildcats extended their lead and pushed Freeport to the brink.
A 3 from Campbell opened the period. After Davenport hit a leaner, Cribby scored on a putback. Pennell got a point back at the free throw line, but with 3:56 left, Smedley was fouled after an offensive rebound and sank both foul shots to make it 51-43.
It's quite likely that sometime in February, the Falcons will look back at the ensuing stretch as the one that helped them turn the corner on the road to whatever success they'll enjoy this season.
All but left for finished, Freeport rose to the occasion and almost shocked its more experienced and pedigreed opponent.
The rally started with a 3 from Wyman with 3:38 left. After a York turnover, Lee was fouled and added a free throw (she actually made both, but the second was waved off due to a lane violation, a call that would loom large). Pennell then buried a 3, giving the Falcons seven points in just 23 seconds and just like that, the deficit was one, 51-50.
It took awhile for Freeport to go ahead, but with 1:45 showing, Wyman's 3 was off target, only to fall into Davenport's hands underneath and Davenport laid the ball home for a 52-51 advantage, the Falcons' first lead since 32-30, way back in the second minute of the second half.
This fairy tale wouldn't have a happy ending, however.
York calmly brought the ball downcourt, worked it into Campbell in the post and instead of forcing a play, Campbell fed Smedley for a layup.
With 1:03 remaining, the Wildcats had gone ahead to stay, 53-52.
With plenty of time to go, Freeport would have its chances to answer.
After the teams traded turnovers, the first came with 38 seconds to go when Davenport was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. The foul shot appeared on target, but in a disturbing sign of things to come, went in-and-out and was rebounded by Campbell.
The Falcons hoped to steal the ball, but ultimately had to foul Cribby.
Cribby went to the line for a one-and-one and she too missed the front end, but Campbell snuck in for the rebound, allowing the Wildcats to keep possession.
"The scouting report said that if we were quick, we could get rebounds on them and it paid off on that particular one," said Clark. "Emily was sick. She almost didn't play."
York ran the clock down to 11 seconds before Cribby was fouled again (by Pennell, who fouled out).
This time, both shots were on target and Freeport trailed, 55-52.
"Ruby missed the first time, then got a second chance," Clark said.
Davenport raced for the hoop, but her shot was blocked out of bounds by Campbell with four seconds to play, giving the Falcons time to get off a 3 to tie it.
The inbounds play came to Richardson, who would have loved to cap her birthday with a tying shot, but she was hounded by a defender and passed the ball up top to Lee. Lee didn't think and didn't hesitate. She just shot and the horn sounded with the ball in the air.
The shot's trajectory and distance appeared on-target, but once more the home rim was unkind to the Falcons. The shot went in-and-out and that was that.
York 55 Freeport 52.
"It was a good look," said Clark. "I thought the time was going to run out before she got it off. Then I realized it was in time. We'll take it.
"We switched our defense in the second half and that seemed to take them out of the game for a long time, then we got careless. I had two freshmen out there for the last stretch.
"It's nice to have Jim back in the league. We've had a lot of these games before. It's always fun. Back and forth. Adjustments being made. I enjoy that kind of basketball. That will make us and them better down the stretch."
"In the second half, we missed some bunnies that we made in the first half," said Seavey. "The kids tightened up a bit under pressure. York's well coached and well drilled. Their experience stepped up in the second half. I think they outrebounded us by a big margin. We did a much better job on the boards in the first half."
Davenport led all scorers with 24 points. She also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds and had a pair of steals.
"(Nina's) our go-to player, no question," said Seavey. "She's a competitor and wants to win every time she's on the floor. The offense has to go through her. If we don't let her touch the ball every down the floor, I'm not doing my job. That's not saying we don't have other kids with roles who will complement her."
Pennell, despite being limited in the second half due to fouls, added 11 points, five assists and two steals.
"Aubrey had to sit for a long time," said Seavey. "She's the kid we need on the floor. She knows that."
Richardson wound up with eight points and even grabbed four boards.
"Ashley has the heart of a lion," said Seavey. "She plays bigger than she is because of her desire. She played really well on both ends of the floor. She battles in the paint with all the trees as the smallest munchkin out there. You have to love the kid's desire and competitiveness."
Wyman (five rebounds, two blocks, two steals) also had eight points, while Lee added one.
Freeport committed 18 turnovers, but forced 22, and shot 8-of-12 from the foul stripe. Despite being outscored by nine points at the foul line and by six from behind the 3-point arc, the Falcons almost found a way to win.
"Our schedule's been brutal," Seavey said. "We went Lake Region, Wells and York. That's a tough stretch. I would've liked to have gotten two out of three, but we got one out of three."
For York, Campbell excelled with 16 points, a game-high dozen rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Smedley was a revelation with 14 points, five boards and two steals.
"That was Chloe's first start ever," Clark said. "You like to see play like that."
Cribby (four boards) and Todd both had 10 points, Graziano finished with three and McElwain and Robinson each added one. The Wildcats were 17-of-23 from the line.
"I was very pleased with the play off the bench," Clark said. "We may be a game or two ahead of where I thought we'd be. I'm pleased with how quickly the freshmen have been taken in by the upperclassmen."
York is idle until Jan. 3 when it hosts Falmouth.
As for Freeport, the Falcons also return to action Jan. 3 at Yarmouth. First, they'll compete against a pair of Massachusetts teams at a holiday tournament in Auburn.
Freeport only figures to improve in the weeks to come.
"We'll just get better," Seavey said. "Once we get healthy and clicking, I think we'll be pretty good. It's a process. New system, new style, new expectations and accountability. They haven't had that in the past. I don't think a three-point loss to the No. 1 team in Western Maine right now is a bad thing."