Freeport girls open 2014 with resounding win
FREEPORT—The Freeport girls' basketball team may not have brought a glowing record into the new year, but does this squad ever have an upside.
The Falcons lost five of their first six contests this winter, but just before the Christmas break, they took top contenders York and Wells to the wire, gaining confidence in the process, and in their first effort of 2014, they put everything together.
Hosting winless Kennebunk Friday evening, Freeport raced to a 21-13 lead after one period, as senior standout Nina Davenport had 12 points and the Falcons forced 10 turnovers.
Those two trends continued in the second quarter, as Davenport added nine points, the Rams turned the ball over 16 times and by halftime, Freeport was in control, up, 40-19.
The Falcons ended all doubt in the third period, pushing their lead to as many as 28 points and while Kennebunk hung tough in the fourth, Freeport put the finishing touches on a 71-43 triumph.
Davenport posted a triple-double, scoring 30 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and collecting 10 steals, unheralded senior Vanessa Lee added 10 points and nine boards and senior sparkplug Ashley Richardson had nine of the Falcons' 30 steals as they improved to 2-5 on the year, served warning that they expect to be a factor going forward, and dropped the Rams to 0-7 in the process.
"A fast start's really important," said Davenport. "We've been on the road a lot early in the season and we've been a little lethargic in the first half. It was good to come out and get a solid lead. We had a little wiggle room in the second half."
Work to do
Freeport, which got to the quarterfinals last year for the first time since moving up to Class B, before losing to eventual regional champion Lake Region, lost five of its first six games, although it was very competitive in most of them.
The Falcons started the season with losses at Poland (52-31) and Greely (55-46) before winning their home opener, 42-37, over Fryeburg. After a 48-36 loss at Cape Elizabeth, Freeport dropped heartbreakers to visiting York (47-46) and host Wells (45-40).
While those losses might appear demoralizing on the outside, the Falcons viewed them as a positive.
"We knew we could compete with all those teams, so doing that was a confidence booster," Richardson said. "We played amazing against York and Wells. I think it goes to show that the whole conference is competitive."
"Against York, we were up after one, up at halftime, up after three, but we couldn't hold on," Freeport coach Jim Seavey said. "We were up six at the half at Wells. That shows we can play with anybody."
Kennebunk, which is playing a Western Maine Conference regular season schedule this winter despite being eligible for the Class A tournament in February, hasn't fared well against Class B competition. The Rams opened with a 57-25 home loss to Yarmouth, then fell at Poland (50-31), at home to Greely (50-25), at Fryeburg (66-25), at home to York (60-20) and at home to Cape Elizabeth (46-29).
Friday's meeting was the first between the schools this century and quickly went the Falcons' way.
Kennebunk took its only lead when junior Abigail Doyle banked home a shot nine seconds in. Davenport then drove for a layup for her first points, then stole the ball and made another layup.
After the Rams tied the score on a layup by freshman Sierra Tartre, Davenport put Freeport ahead to stay with a driving layup, sophomore Lauren Cormier added a jumper and Davenport made another layup after a steal, pushing the Falcons' lead to 10-4 just a shade over two minutes in.
After Kennebunk got a layup from junior Sarah Bradley, Freeport sophomore Kayla Belanger made a free throw, but Doyle made successive layups to pull the visitors within a point, 11-10.
They would draw no closer.
Richardson set up Davenport for a layup, Davenport was fouled after a steal and made a free throw, Lee scored her first points on a putback, Davenport added another free throw and after a Richardson steal, Lee made a layup to make it 19-10.
A bank shot from senior captain Hayley Richardson allowed the Rams to end the Falcons' run, but Ashley Richardson countered with a putback. A Bradley free throw pulled Kennebunk within 21-13 after one quarter.
"I was pleased with the offense in the first quarter," Seavey said. "We put up 21. We gave up 13 in the first quarter and most of that was in transition."
Freeport kept the pressure on in the second period and while it's offense remained potent, the Falcons' defense got even better, allowing them to open up a healthy lead.
Just 43 seconds in, Davenport somehow managed to score on a left-handed shot after a nice spin move. Davenport then added a free throw, Davenport scored on a layup after a steal, senior Livvy Dimick made a free throw, then sank a 3 and just like that, Freeport was up 17, 30-13.
A Hayley Richardson free throw allowed the Rams to end the Falcons' run, but after an Ashley Richardson steal, sophomore Jess Wall made a layup. Hayley Richardson got a point back for Kennebunk at the free throw line, but Davenport hit two foul shots, Davenport set up junior Mackenzie Ackley for a layup and Davenport sank a jumper to make it 38-15.
After freshman Gabby Fogg made two free throws for the Rams, Ashley Richardson hit a runner. Doyle made a leaner in the final minute, but Freeport took a 40-19 lead to halftime.
In the first 16 minutes, the Falcons got 21 points, eight steals, four rebounds and a blocked shot from Davenport, eight steals from Richardson and forced 26 turnovers.
"With our speed and athleticism, transition is how we get a lot of points," said Davenport.
"Obviously things changed a little bit in the second quarter when we took away their transition," Seavey said. "When we press like that, we'll be OK."
The biggest question entering the second half was whether Davenport would eclipse her season high of 29 points.
Kennebunk got the first basket as Hayley Richardson hit a leaner, but Cormier answered with a leaner for the hosts. After Bradley scored on a putback, Ashley Richardson set up Lee for a layup, Richardson made a jump shot, then Davenport sank a 3 for a 49-23 lead.
After a jumper from Rams junior Hannah Pepin, Davenport scored on a driving layup and off an inbounds pass, Richardson set up Lee for another layup. Pepin and Tartre made successive 3s for the visitors, but Davenport set up Lee for a layup, Davenport hit a leaner in the lane and Ackley sank a pair of free throws to put Freeport ahead, 59-31, with eight minutes to go.
It appeared the Falcons' starters were done for the night, but Kennebunk made a run that ultimately forced them back into action.
Bradley started the final stanza with a leaner, was fouled on the shot and hit the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. Bradley added a layup after a steal and after another steal, Hayley Richardson made a foul shot. Freeport freshman Regan Lynch, who really impressed off the bench, countered with a jumper, but Richardson made a free throw and freshman Anna Cressey scored on a putback to make it a 61-40 game.
With 4:40 to go, back came Freeport's starters and they promptly ended the surge.
First, Belanger converted a three-point play. Belanger then made both ends of a one-and-one. After single free throws from Fogg and Bradley, Cormier sank a pair, as did Davenport, giving her a season high in points.
With 53 seconds to go, Freeport's final point came from Lynch at the foul line. A late free throw from Kennebunk sophomore Emily Moore accounted for the 71-43 final score.
"We're playing more like we practice," Seavey said. "They work their butts off in practice. It's hard when there haven't been expectations, but we have more competitors now. It hurts to lose now. Nina and Ashley rub off on the younger kids. Nina's become more vocal this year."
Davenport did a little over everything, not only scoring 30 points, but also collecting 10 rebounds and 10 steals, blocking a shot and dishing out three assists.
"(Nina's) really awesome," Richardson said. "She really carries the team. When she's on the floor she makes everyone else feel better about ourselves."
"I wouldn't trade her for anyone," Seavey said. "This is my 20th year and she might be the best player I've coached. I've had Miss Maine winners, finalists. She's right up there in the top five anyway."
Davenport could have had even more points, had not she not missed a few free throws and layups and like any true competitor, said she'll be more haunted by the shots she missed than the ones she converted.
"I'll think more about the ones who got away," Davenport said.
"(Nina) came out and said, 'Coach, I can't make a layup,'" Seavey said. "I said, 'That's just mental, you can make one.' The second time she came out, I joked and said, 'Now I believe you.' But she made a lot of other shots."
Richardson had just six points, but she pilfered the ball nine times, had five rebounds and had seven assists.
"I'm not the tallest person on the court, so I feel I have to make it up somehow," said Richardson, who stands an even 5-feet. "I do my best to assist people and get steals. I try to make a big presence out there for myself."
"(Ashley's) like our little ball of fire," said Davenport. "She's really fast and gets in the other players' heads and causes them to turn the ball over constantly which gives us opportunities on offense."
"Ashley had almost a triple-double and is one of the smallest kids on the floor," Seavey added.
Lee quietly had a big night, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Cormier added eight points, Belanger had six, Ackley and Dimick four apiece and Lynch three.
Every Falcon who saw the floor did something positive.
"A lot of players are stepping up," Davenport said. "That takes pressure off me and it's good for them. It builds confidence that they can score.'
"We cheer each other on," Richardson said. "I know the younger kids can feel intimidated sometimes, but we them to keep their heads out there."
"We have more kids contributing," Seavey added. "We're trying to develop a little depth. We had depth issues early on. It's mostly lack of experience. It's good tonight that we got kids some court time and got them to contribute in one category or another."
Freeport finished with a 42-33 edge on the glass, stole the ball 30 times, forced 43 turnovers, while giving the ball away 28 times, and made 17-of-27 free throws.
Kennebunk was paced by 11 points from Bradley. Doyle had eight points and five boards. Richardson finished with eight points, nine steals and six rebounds. Pepin and Tartre both had five points, Fogg finished with three, Cressey had two and Moore one. The Rams went 11-of-27 from the free throw line.
While the Rams return to action Tuesday at Greely, Freeport is home against Poland Tuesday, then goes to Lake Region Thursday and Traip Saturday of next week.
The Falcons know they're capable of beating anyone, but needs to start doing so to ensure a return trip to the postseason. As of press time, Freeport is 14th in the Western Class B Heal Points standings, but only 10 teams make the playoffs.
"Defense is what we need to work on," said Davenport. "We have to make sure we don't give up the bunnies we gave up tonight."
"We need to play a whole 32 minutes," Richardson said. "That's been our biggest struggle all year. We've either come out and played a strong first half or a strong second half. We need to piece it all together and then we'll be golden."
"We're 2-5 and could easily by 5-2," Seavey added. "We'll keep plugging away. It's not necessarily quantity, it's quality wins we need. I like the direction we're heading."