Freeport's ride ends with loss to Lake Region
PORTLAND—The 2012-13 Freeport girls' basketball team will ultimately remember the journey with great fondness.
Not what happened once it reached its destination.
After a seven-game win streak got the Falcons to the Western Class B quarterfinals at the Portland Exposition Building for the first time Tuesday evening, they quickly discovered that they didn't have an answer for the top-ranked Lake Region Lakers and their potent frontline.
No. 8 Freeport was well aware of the dominance of junior Tiana-Jo Carter, who lived up to and perhaps exceeded expectations, but the Falcons were doubly done in by Lakers senior Kelsey Winslow.
The duo combined for 34 points, 26 rebounds and 12 blocked shots and as a result, the Falcons never had a fighting chance.
Freeport found itself down 13 before scoring its first points, but got back within eight, 15-7, after one quarter. Trailing just 17-10 with a little over seven minutes to play in the first half, the Falcons were bowled over by a 13-2 half-closing run as Carter had 10 points, 10 boards, five blocks and two steals in the first 16 minutes alone to give her team an insurmountable 30-12 lead.
Despite foul trouble and an inability to hit the shots that Carter didn't get to, Freeport never quit and played hard the rest of the way as Lake Region gradually pulled away and went on to a 65-29 victory.
The Lakers improved to 17-2, advanced to meet fifth-ranked Greely (15-5) in Thursday's semifinal round (4:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center) and ended the Falcons' best-ever Class B season and arguably their finest this century at 13-7.
"I told the girls, 'We may have lost to the eventual state champion,'" said Freeport's first-year coach Jim Seavey. "They have so many weapons. Carter's such a presence inside. Even if she doesn't block shots, she alters them or makes kids hesitant. We like to attack the rim, but with her standing inside, it's easier said than done."
Freeport went 9-10 a year ago, losing to Wells in the preliminary round of the playoffs, and entered 2012-13 full of high hopes.
It took Freeport awhile to hit its stride this winter, but it eventually happened. The Falcons couldn't have asked for a more auspicious debut, dominating host North Yarmouth Academy, 66-4, in the opener. Freeport was then brought back to earth a bit by losses to visiting Cape Elizabeth (45-33) and host Lake Region (45-27), before getting back in the win column over visiting Wells (52-33). A close 55-52 home loss to York followed, but the Falcons began 2013 with wins at Yarmouth (69-31), at home over Falmouth (39-38) and at Fryeburg (45-42), before losing at Greely (51-41). Freeport then made its biggest statement to date, having its way with visiting Lake Region, the defending Western B champion, 48-32, its first win over the powerhouse Lakers this millennium. Befitting its up-and-down campaign, however, the Falcons then went to Wells and lost, 38-36. Freeport lost the next night too, 52-39, at Gray-New Gloucester, but wouldn't stumble again, closing on a six-game win streak. The victims included visiting Poland (62-35), Yarmouth (60-43), Fryeburg (56-37) and Traip (54-27) and host Poland (41-29) and Old Orchard Beach (51-37), allowing the Falcons to finish 12-6 (their best record since the 2000-01 campaign), earn the No. 8 seed in Western B and secure their first home playoff game since the 2004-05 season.
Last Wednesday, Freeport made history by winning a Class B postseason contest for the first time as it held off No. 9 Maranacook, 48-37.
Lake Region, which got all the way to the state final a year ago before losing to Presque Isle, entered 2012-13 as the favorite and hasn't disappointed. The Lakers won their first six outings, being tested only twice, by Western C power Waynflete and by Gray-New Gloucester. After a narrow loss at Greely, Lake Region beat contenders Wells, York and Falmouth, then lost at Freeport. The Lakers closed the regular season on a seven-game win streak (including a revenge victory over Greely) to wind up 16-2 and first in the region.
The teams split in the regular season with Freeport's victory marking its first over Lake Region this century.
Entering Tuesday, the teams had no playoff history.
Freeport will just as soon forget what transpired, but it was memorable to see the Falcons on the Portland Expo floor in front of a strong, large and vocal cheering section.
Carter set the tone almost immediately, blocking Freeport's first shot. Winslow then put the Lakers ahead to stay at the other end, taking a pass from freshman Sierra Hancock off an inbounds pass and making a layup. The next time down, the tandem did it again, as Winslow took Hancock's pass and this time went up and laid the ball in off the left side of the backboard for a quick 4-0 lead.
Carter got her first points on a putback, then scored on a driving layup to make it 8-0 just 2 minutes, 46 seconds in, forcing Seavey to call a timeout.
It didn't stem the tide as Carter scored on a putback, Winslow made a free throw and with 2:53 remaining in the first quarter, Carter scored on a hook shot to make it 13-0.
Twenty-one seconds later, senior Aubrey Pennell had the honor of scoring the Falcons' first points ever in the Expo and in the Western B quarterfinal round when she knocked down a 3. Junior reserve Vanessa Lee added a runner to cut the deficit to eight. After Winslow scored on a putback, junior Nina Davenport hit a jump shot and Freeport was still within hailing distance, down, 15-7, after one period.
After senior Sydney Hancock made two free throws for Lake Region, Freeport freshman Jessica Wall made an impact off the bench by scoring on a putback while being fouled and hitting the free throw to make it a 17-10 game.
"You have to look for silver linings in games like this and Jessica Wall gave us some great minutes in the first half," Seavey said.
The Falcons would never get that close again.
Sydney Hancock found Winslow for a fastbreak layup, Carter made two free throws and Sydney Hancock drove for a layup to stretch the lead to 23-10 and force Seavey to stop time again.
Again it didn't help as Carter made two free throws and senior Savannah Devoe added one. After Davenport made a free throw, then converted another the next time down the floor, sophomore Sarah Hancock made two foul shots and hit a short jumper to give the Lakers a commanding 30-12 advantage at the break.
In the first 16 minutes, Freeport had committed 14 turnovers and Lake Region had a 23-11 rebounding advantage. The Falcons were hindered by foul trouble and couldn't hit shots.
"Unfortunately, (Lake Region's) experience set the tone early," Seavey said. "Carter set the tone with a block that said it was her house. Their pressure wore on us. I thought we handled the first wave of pressure fairly well, but we got into the quarter court and got discombobulated at times. (Lake Region's) got a ton of experience. It was uncharted territory for us. We had some good shots early. It they fell, it might have changed the game a little bit and given us some confidence. Chalk it up to a well-coached, well-schooled basketball team."
Carter started the second half hot as well, converting a putback. After a Sydney Hancock free throw, Davenport took a pass from junior Ashley Richardson and made a layup, but Sydney Hancock made an up-and-under layup to make it 35-14.
Davenport knocked down a long jumper just inside the 3-point lead, but Devoe answered with a putback, Devoe set up Carter for a layup and Winslow added a free throw for a 40-16 advantage.
After Davenport and Carter traded baskets, Richardson made a jump shot before Winslow scored on a putback to give the Lakers a 44-20 lead heading for the fourth and final period.
There, Lake Region finished it off, starting with a 6-0 run to start as senior Kayleigh Lepage made a layup, Winslow made a layup after a steal and Sierra Hancock did the same.
After senior Paige Wyman made a layup, Winslow and Carter each made one free throw and a layup from Sierra Hancock pushed the lead to 54-22.
Davenport made a free throw, but Sydney Hancock knocked down a 3 and Sierra Hancock made two foul shots. Freeport got a layup from sophomore Lauren Cormier and a 3 from junior Livvy Dimick, but junior Miranda Chadbourne countered with a 3 for the Lakers. The Falcons' final point of the season came courtesy freshman Kayla Belanger at the line. In the final minute, Lake Region senior Kari Eldridge banked home a 3 and that brought the curtain down on the Lakers' 65-29 triumph.
"Our effort and execution were outstanding," said Lake Region coach Paul True. "We had great motivation reading headlines about how (Freeport) took it to us the last time we played and about the last time a 1 seed lost to an 8 seed. Our kids took that personally. They took care of business. We really focused on pressuring for 32 minutes without fouling. I think the kids did a great job of that tonight."
Carter displayed why she's highly in demand among college recruiters and is viewed as one of the state's finest players as she stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks, good for a "triple-double," something rarely seen in Maine high school basketball. If that wasn't enough, she also had four steals.
Winslow shared the limelight with 17 points and 11 boards. She also had a steal and blocked one shot.
"We did a great job on Winslow the first two games," Seavey said. "We held her to four and six (points). Tiana makes her so much a better player, because you have to sag off and help on her. She's unselfish and finds her teammates. She's a woman among girls out there."
"Our focus was playing inside and out," said True. "The last part of the season, we've done a much better job of that. We have to give both Kelsey and T touches. They're very good around the basket and they're very good passers as well."
Also scoring for the Lakers were Sydney Hancock (10 points), Sierra Hancock (six), Sarah Hancock (four), Chadbourne, Devoe and Eldridge (three apiece) and Lepage (two).
To say Lake Region excelled on the glass would be an understatement. The Lakers doubled up the Falcons in rebounding, 46-23. Lake Region also had 14 steals (Sierra Hancock joined Carter with four) and forced 25 turnovers. The Lakers did commit 26 turnovers and shot 16-of-26 from the line.
Lake Region moves on to face Greely in the semis. The schools split in the regular season and have played five prior times (all this century) in the postseason, with the Lakers prevailing three times. Greely beat Lake Region in the 2001 (44-33) and the 2009 quarterfinals (39-27) and lost to the Lakers in the 2005 semifinals (45-42), the 2007 semifinals (44-32) and in last year's regional final (49-30).
A season to remember
Freeport was led by Davenport, who had 11 points, five rebounds and three steals. Dimick, Pennell and Wall (two blocks) had three points apiece, Cormier, Lee, Richardson and Wyman (four boards and four steals) all added two and Belanger finished with one.
The Falcons shot 5-of-11 from the line.
"I told (the girls) at halftime they wouldn't get 18 points back in one possession, we had to chip away," Seavey said. "Going into the fourth quarter, I said, 'No. quit. Go out and battle." They did. They battled until the final buzzer.
While the final chapter was painful, the story the 2012-13 Freeport Falcons penned was one of inspiration and triumph. The Falcons grew tremendously over the course of the season and played an exciting style.
The job Seavey did this winter certainly got the attention and respect of his counterpart.
"Jim's an outstanding coach, no question," True said. "I thought what he did with the talent base there is awesome. The biggest hurdle he had to get over was get those kids to believe they could do it. Getting here is a big step for them."
After the loss, Seavey quickly put things in perspective.
"It's been a fun ride," he said. "There was a lot of coaching and teaching to do. There was a lot of learning and growing up and the kids did that. We talked about winning out when we were 6-6. that winning out was the only way to get a home prelim and sure enough, we did that and then we won our prelim. You can't ask for much more than what we accomplished. We had an opportunity to host and win a prelim. Overall, the kids can't let tonight ruin what they accomplished the first 19 games they played. I'm proud of their effort.
"I feel bad for the seniors. They wanted to win a game on the big stage, but sometimes things don't work out. I told them that I know this feeling stinks right now, but underclassmen, remember this feeling. Wins and losses don't always define your character, it's what you learn along the way. Those kids have a lot going for them."
Losing the likes of Pennell, Wyman, starter Jocelyn Davee and key reserve Hannah Chase will hurt, but this program now expects to compete and with players like Davenport, Lee and Richardson returning to lead the way, expect Freeport to remain competitive and get back to the Expo sooner rather than later.
"Experience-wise, this will help," said Seavey. "We return Davenport, Vanessa Lee, Ashley Richardson. Kayla Belanger and Jess Wall will develop. We'll be OK. No one should write us off. There's potential. I hope (the girls) understand they have to play not just from November to February and in the month of July. They have to work on their games, not just play games. I hope we've given them something to work toward. It hurts right now, but a day or two from now, we'll look back and the girls will see they did a lot of good things. Hopefully they set the tone for what Freeport girls' basketball will become."